I was always obsessed with how musicians looked, probably because I always felt music should be deeply connected with the general visual presentation, and if musicians didn’t care about some special concert outfits and their show then in many cases I couldn’t care less about their music (you can imagine what a torture 90’s were to me). Some would say “Hey, if you wanna see clowns, just go to a circus”, but there would be a huge point missed. Foremost I’d say for my money I would always want to get a massive bang and not just four guys in jeans staring at their sneakers. A lot of musicians don’t need anything special or they’re way to shy to try something, but luckily there are quite a few bands nowadays attempting to express themselves both musically and visually.
At the same time it would be quite interesting and inspiring to take a close look into the stream of history and find a couple of examples of the bands who didn’t just look special, but also asserted some huge influence on other bands in terms of stage clothing. You know, it can be quite a lot of sweet show acts, but there must be someone who started it all. How about some kind of a “best of the best” article? Let’s go and give some credit to those who deserve it!
In the very end of 60’s the hippie wave was streaming back taking away everything that was usual for the most favorite bands of that time – velvet pants, natural light colors, floral insertions and world peace ideas. The new guys, the rock idols of 70’s were a lot more striking and even brutal in a way, they didn’t care about the planet Earth, but wanted to conquer it making the audience face their darker side. And if Alice Cooper wasn’t the first one who introduced the early 70’s rock scene to some really shocking outfits and gimmicks (Arthur Brown anybody?), he was still the most notable show rocker of that era. His early Alice Cooper Band was one of the most bizarre acts out there, being also one of the most hated (by critics and parents) bands on the planet and Alice did everything to make it be that way. His early image was rather feminine / transsexual and the mix of his brutal, macabre, alcohol-loving behavior and skin-tight rather female clothes was driving the society really mad! Just imagine, in 1972 the band was banned from playing in the entire UK while having a #1 album in the UK charts! That’s how you should irritate people, young bands, watch and learn :) Too bad while destroying the social stereotypes Alice nearly destroyed himself…
He returned to the stage in 1986 as a different man – sober yet way more brutal than ever before! In black leather, metal and laces. In spite of the fact that he never went beyond the limits of classic horror rock fashion ever since, Alice Cooper can be still considered to be the first real inspiration for all the following generation of shock rock heroes.
Nearly at the same time when Cooper was storming the global charts with his first hit singles there was another band, that was taking the image thing quite serious – Sweet from UK. Being an ultimate party rock band at heart Sweet grabbed the hippie fashion and took it to the limit and beyond. Jeans were replaced with literally anything that shined and sparked, the natural colors were gone for silver and gold. The clothes become as skinny, sexy (well, in a way people were seeing it back then) and flamboyant as it only could get. Addition of various fluffy things, magician cloaks and even feather boas gave it some sort of a transsexual appeal (something that the band New York Dolls was trying to do in US). To some extent they influenced a lot of rock bands in 70’s, including our next heroes – KISS.
We already had a separate big article about these masked rock’n’roll heroes, but we see no reason not to give KISS a couple more sentences. While having probably the most talented creative team on Earth behind them and connections with the coolest clothing designers and photographers of their time, these guys have managed to create something so unique and global that it keeps influencing the show business even nowadays. I seriously can’t imagine what somebody could possibly add to the stagewear after KISS! It can sound a bit pretentious, but I think all that’s left for the bands who’d like to look differently is… well, to copy KISS one way or another, because if you come up with a great and fresh idea for a costume – metal, leather, spandex, codpieces, cloaks, spikes, mirror pieces, diamonds, stones, chains, fur, platform boots and so on, and so on, and so on – believe me, KISS have already tried that :)
80’s were getting ready to become an era of pink suits and green ties, but then Motley Crue appeared on the horizon. Being a crispy composition of glam metal and punk musically, visually they were rather a thundering mix of the punk culture with a huge dose of KISS legacy. Why are we mentioning them if there was hardly anything new in their looks? Well, because weirdly enough Motley Crue has become a role model for 99% of the 80’s glam scene, including the fashion. Sometimes it seemed all the Sunset Strip bands were waiting for Motley Crue to change their stage costumes to start wearing almost exactly the same drags for their own shows. Even better – there were times when Crue copied KISS, but in the very middle of 80’s KISS started to copy the Crue’s outfits and that was just priceless :) So I think it’s very safe to say that in terms of the 80’s rock stage fashion this band was the one to influence all the others. Kudos!
The band W.A.S.P. has gained much less popularity than Crue, but still built a significant milestone in everything related to the stage fashion. In their early years the band inherited much from the glam scene while never trying to look clean and harmless. The band’s leader Blackie Lawless was a perfect incarnation of a sexually curious maniac in his high leopard boots, some dangerously huge cuts on the backside of his spandex pants and classic rotary saws on his leather bracers. Nothing too special, but still W.A.S.P. became quite an inspiration for a lot of latter theatrical rock acts.
In general 80’s were the fashion paradise for anybody who would care enough to spend time on his stage clothing. The rock’n’roll bands used to trip over one another yearning to become the most outrageous, appealing and sexy, but not always original… Still there’s no reason we shouldn’t mention such bands as Judas Priest for visualising the most “metal” group ever, Manowar for their Conan-like leather-and-metal brutality and epicness, and Twisted Sister for simply pushing it all to the very limit of total absurdity :)
As for the special stage clothing the very beginning of the new century wasn’t very generous with us. Everybody looked more or less the same back then. Probably our world was still hurt by the grunge invention and needed some more time to lick its wounds… And everything would be quite dull if Lordi didn’t come along! With their monstrous, larger-than-life costumes (designed and made by the singer Mr.Lordi himself!) the band practically became the new KISS, especially since the original Lordi members were the big KISS fans. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to talk about the influence Lordi have on the new generations of rock bands, because frankly nobody can come even close to their unreachably high level of stage fashion. Still I had to mention Lordi in this article, just to remind myself there’s still hope for us all.
Ok, may be I missed GWAR who were there long before Lordi, but… c’mon, the GWAR’s costumes are not even costumes! The band still looks more like a bunch of people wearing something indescribable made of human and animal parts :) Aaargghhhh!
Marilyn Manson is here, because he was the man who brought the goth fashion from the small underground clubs to the light of day. Of course if you were all into the dark scene before, his 90’s character could seem not too original to you, but for the wide world Manson has become some sort of an Anti-Prometheus who brought us all dirt, ripped tights, goth platform boots and male corsets. Kids loved him and parents hated him – isn’t it a perfect success formula?! However several years later Manson made a smooth transition into way more glamourous character leaving his sado-masochistic drag far behind… Too bad, we’ll miss his Antichrist Superstar. Still the late idea with a stage costume with female breasts was really awesome :)
Speaking generally the goth community has given us lots and lots visual styles, usually very striking though not always suggesting something really new. One of very positive examples of taking something old and designing a quite original style on its basis was the American artist Emilie Autumn. Her perfect mix of the goth aesthetics, the classic Victorian fashion and delicately selected steampunk elements gave birth to something really great-looking – so great that later I’ve seen many goth artists trying to implement something similar.
And finally here’s it, something sweet for the grand finale – the visual kei, a whole big musical sub-genre where looking outrageously overwhelming is a big “must”! Many bands from Japan look kind of unusual, but if it’s a visual kei band you can expect something especially swanky, like an act looking like the characters from a Japanese super hero cartoon or a video game. No matter if it’s classic rock Japan X, goth heroes Moi Dix Mois, kawaii death metal band Babymetal or power metal act Versailles – each musician would look perfectly and every detail of every costume will be on its place. Not sure about you, but I’m glad there’s a place in this world where people would rather die than come on stage wearing t-shirts and jeans :)