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Flavor Flav's Clock
Ask anyone: the first image that pops into their mind whenever anyone says the words “Public Enemy” (well OK, after Chris Brown) is Flavor Flav frozen mid-exhortation, complete with gigantic clock necklace flying away from his body. Chuck D’s impassioned, incendiary polemics are a distant second, much to Chuck’s probable chagrin. “The reason why I wear this clock is because it represents time being the most important element in our life, “ says Flav, who started out just wearing stopwatches around his neck before being dared to graduate to full-sized clocks.
Steven Tyler's Mic Scarf
When asked about his habit of tying an enormous scarf around his mic stand at each Aerosmith show, Steven Tyler told Blender he originally was just looking for a place to keep his favourite scarf and macramé shirt close by while the band performed, for good luck. In 2003, he admitted in his autobiography that he didn’t keep them around just for the karmic blessing: he was also using the pockets to hold Qualuudes.
Would Des Moines’ lovable tribe of metal miscreants be half as famous (or as commercially viable) without their trademark headgear? Maybe, but they probably would’ve fired one of the auxiliary clowns long ago. “I really don’t care what you think, this is who I am,” percussionist Shawn Crahan apparently told his bandmates just before Slipknot’s first gig in 1995, as he brandished a clown mask he got from a Halloween store, and the rest is history… as in, the rest of the band saw Crahan was really serious about the whole mask thing and quickly readjusted their vision for the group. “Damn, he really loves that mask” – Corey Taylor in 1995, maybe.
Deadmau5's Mouse Helmet
Speaking of the headpieces of those who don’t do much onstage, Deadmau5’s eye-catching collection of mouse head helmets certainly helped the Toronto DJ and producer stand out from the dance music pack during his (and EDM’s) ascendance to mainstream cultural relevance (and now, decline) over the past half-decade or so. The heads are commissioned from the Jim Henson Creature Shop, come in a rainbow of colours and boast a number of different functions like LED displays and light-up eyes. The mouse head is a powerful tool: even the world’s happiest, most ruthlessly powerful megacorp is scared of it.
David Byrne's Big Suit
The most enduring image from the Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense (besides the lamp dance, anyway) is David Byrne spasming around during “Girlfriend is Better” in a gigantic business suit better suited to Hagrid than the wispy, more Harry-esque Byrne. Inspired by traditional Japanese Noh theatre, Byrne decided the best way to ramp up the Talking Heads’ stage show during was to gradually increase the size of his suit until midway through the performance he looked like he was wearing a giant grey mattress.
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The Beastie Boys’ Giant Penis
Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D rocked out with their hydraulic-powered, 20 foot tall cock out throughout their "Fight For Your Right" era concerts. This culminated in the trio hauling the massive member out during their opening act stint on Madonna’s 1985 Virgin tour, an act which I’m sure the parents of 5,000 teenagers appreciated nightly.
The P-Funk Mothership
Dr. Funkenstein (a.k.a. George Clinton) knew he would need a vehicle finely calibrated to deliver purestrain funk if Parliament-Funkadelic was going to be able to output the cosmic levels of Supergroovalisticposifunkstication that the world needed. To that end, he created the P-Funk Mothership, a full-scale model of a funkified UFO that would land onstage at many of the band's live shows throughout the 1970s. The Mothership was acquired by the Smithsonian Museum in 2011, where it will remain until the world is crying out for a funk injection once more, or it becomes financially unprofitable to maintain, whichever comes first.
Devo's Energy Domes
First worn during their 1980 Freedom of Choice tour, Devo’s trademark terraced hats were inspired by Aztec temples and the German Bauhaus movement. They also have more than just aesthetic reasons for the iconic shape, at least if you take Mark Mothersbaugh at his word: “You probably know this very well, but your orgone energy goes out the top of your head and it dissipates out the top, but if you wear an energy dome it recycles that energy”. Yeah, it’s common knowledge, but just FYI.
ILoveMakonnen's Creepy Doll Head
According to Atlanta hip-hop breakout sensation Makonnen, he started carrying his trademark doll head (“Martha”) around after a stint under house arrest saw him attend cosmetology school, where he customized his “training head” with garish makeup and colours and then realized its potential as a brand mascot. Strangely enough, that’s exactly the same origin story as the Just For Laughs goblin .
Jonathan Davis' H.R. Giger Mic Stand
According to H.R. Giger, the only direction he received from Korn singer Jonathan Davis after being commissioned to create a functional mic stand/sculpture was that it should be “biomechanical and very erotic.” Not exactly a problem for the artist behind the world’s most famous penis-headed monster. No, not Christian Slater.
During their 1980s heyday, West Coast hair metal mainstays W.A.S.P. went beyond their spandex and headband-clad contemporaries when it came to stage shows: Frontman Blackie Lawless would periodically chop up piles of raw meat onstage and throw it into the audience, a gesture which I’m sure your average hair metal fan would appreciate. “Cool, free meat! Looks like Randy’s eatin’ tonight!” – guy in studded leather chaps. W.A.S.P. would eventually regret their allegiance to ham hocks and salmonella poisoning: a gig in Helsinki saw guitarist Chris Holmes (he of the most soul-sucking pool video known to man) knocked out when a fan threw an entire frozen roast at his head.
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Simply Saucer’s Skull Theremin
Hamilton’s own Simply Saucer blur the line between mascot, prop, and instrument (as well as genres like Krautrock and psych) with their skull-endowed theremin (“Skully”), operated during shows by former Killjoys frontman Mike Trebilcock.
Gorgoroth’s demonic stage setup
The Norwegian black metallers were investigated by Polish police and dropped from their label for a 2004 concert in Kraków which featured four naked crucifed models, sheeps' heads on stakes, 80 liters of animal blood, and of course, a healthy helping of Satanic symbology. The investigation focused on allegations of animal cruelty and intentional religious offense, but in the end, the band were not charged as they were unaware anything they were doing was illegal, though the concert organizer was fined. Still, you can’t beat that ambiance.
Chuggo's Mystic Skull Staff
Surprised the music press didn’t really pick up on this during the heyday of “Ah C’mon”, but every member of the now-defunct Lakeshore Stranglers drew their hip-hop energy from ancient relics they raided from dangerous tombs. Chuggo’s skull scepter just happened to be the most powerful .
GWAR's... well, everything
All hail the reigning kings and queen of the stage prop. Picking a favourite element from the Virginia metal monsters’ stage show is a tall order, but I gotta go with Gor-Gor, the murderous intergalactic T-Rex.
Forget fantastic songwriting, mind-blowing technical chops, or even plain old stunning good looks: all of them are passé at this point. Nowadays, everyone knows the only way to take your music career to the next level is a good stage prop or intriguing gimmick; something in the live show that makes people stand up and take notice.
“Whoa! This band has a robot playing maracas! They are worth my time and eventually, perhaps an infinitesimally small portion of my money!” is what you’re aiming for here.
A funk mothership, a demonic pentagram, or even just a mystical plastic skull staff for those who don’t want to break the bank will do wonders for your profile, and the best part is: you don’t even have to write better music! To get you inspired, here are 15 of the most memorable stage props and gimmicks that artists have hauled out over the years.