Skeleton-Man – The Birth, Bones & Beats Behind

Why a lit up skeleton suit?

The earliest ideas

It all started at the BOOM festival in Portugal in 2004 where the idea came to me after I had a bone henna drawing done on my hands. Beautiful but ruined the second you wiped your fingers. The solution seemed obvious; why not wear a skeleton suit? Next year the first version of Skeleton-Man saw the light of night at the Sonic Festival in Italy.

Trying the first suit in 2005 made by Line Berg Madsen and Kristine Mieritz (with eternal thanks!!)

Hence, from the outset Skeleton-Man was conceived in music, dance and festivities. And the concept – if you want to call it that – was simply that I found a dancing skeleton funny. At the time I hadn’t had many thoughts about it but pressed for an answer I might have replied that a dancing skeleton is funny because it depicts death .. very much alive! And that’s both a contradiction in terms, nonsensical and silly … and childish, playful and celebratory. All qualities I can say much good about.

For many years that was the sole purpose of Skeleton-Man. A suit for festivals and the occasional costume party. When I stuck to it through the years it was simply because it was always well received no matter audience or occasion; A street or underground electronic party in Copenhagen, Burning Man, festivals in Italy and Brazil, Cambodia or Roskilde Festival. No matter where, age, culture or gender it elicits smiles. My guess is that it is because a skeleton instinctively appeals on a fundamental level. And since I was also improving my production skills it felt second nature to keep developing and investigating the character.

Actually it’s not quite true the suit has never elicited negative responses. Shortly after this picture was taken in Las Vegas in 2019 an intoxicated, young man passed by uttering: “That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen”. But, especially, the insistence with which “ridiculous” was uttered made it impossible not to take as a compliment.

So .. is Skeleton-Man a secret alter-ego?

This is another question I get asked a lot. Well, I will definitely admit that the suit affects me but doesn’t most clothing? Put on a suit and tie and you are likely to feel more confident when negotiating than if you wear a jogging suit. Likewise, put on a skeleton suit and chances are you will let your guard down simply because things are already a little silly and you might as well laugh it off. You may even act a bit more intuitively just to defuse the situation. Do that long and often enough perhaps you will even start to feel that you have an obligation of sorts to “honour” the skeleton persona you’re bringing to life.

“The Executive” (Semko Balcerski, Las Vegas 2019)

Cause that is also what you are doing. You’re creating a character that is very much YOU but also a blue print for any person. After all, we all have a skeleton. As such and in some strange ways you end up representing (all of) humanity in the suit. I know this is a grand claim but think about it. When people see a skeleton at a party (or anywhere) they will rather have one dancing around having a good time and spreading joy than one moaning in a corner that nobody wants to dance. I know this applies regardless of who you are but so much more when you show up as a universal archetype character. Metaphorically you represent everybody.

And so, is Skeleton-Man my alter-ego? Well, yes, in the sense I always try to let go of inhibitions, shyness and modesty when I’m Skeleton-Man. For me Skeleton-Man should represent “something larger than life”; a colossal life force of energy, love and compassion and a second-to-none attitude that will swoop you away if you let him. This, at least, is the goal I try to embody with mistakes, shyness and lots of shortcomings along the way. So perhaps it is more correct to say that Skeleton-Man is the alter-ego that I aspire to be.

Do-It-Yourself – no one else will!

The process of making the suits also introduced me to the wondrous world of DIY (Do-It-Yourself). And let me tell you; If you haven’t yet pursued a hobby involving as much DIY as possible you are missing out on a great chance to learn cool stuff.

In my creative zone with my sewing machine, computer and lots of El Wire

For some DIY involves extremely arduous projects requiring thousand of hours of work. One of my favourite projects is building your own space satellite. Yes, you read that right. Your. Own. Space. Satellite. There’s a DIY plan for that. Baking your own cookies is every bit as much DIY, though. And that’s the beauty of DIY. You start from where you are. And when you hit a road block there are tons of people on the internet ready to help.

For me to make skeleton suits I just needed to be comfortable with three things; cutting paper shaped bones, soldering and sowing. Well, anybody can use a scissor and sow and soldering I picked up from Youtube videos and practice. From there it was just a matter of trial and error. Cumbersome sometimes, yes, but not difficult by any means. And as I would learn, if you go the extra mile and learn something completely new, like how to operate a sewing machine, new worlds unfolds yet again.

And that’s probably what I’ve enjoyed most about making skeleton suits. Learning crafts I never imagined I would master and the unexpected doors this has opened.

DJ Skeleton-Man

No Skeleton-Man story is complete without DJ Skeleton-Man. So much so, in fact, that he deserves a separate post. But let me just include a few words here.

My DJ’ing career actually goes back to the early 00s when I was studying law at the University of Copenhagen. Back then I DJ’ed with vinyl at the international student parties in Studenterhuset (plus the occasional wedding). After my graduation in 2006, however, my DJ’ing activities became a lot more sporadic. Then in 2016 I discovered the easiness of being a DJ with today’s CDJ controllers (goodbye milk crates packed with vinyl, hello usb stick). This warmed me up to DJ’ing again as did the fact that I started to find more and more electronic music that really hit my mark.

This rekindled passion for DJ’ing coincided with the development of Skeleton-Man and it felt natural to mix the two (pun intended).

Enter Sartre and Kierkegaard..

With Skeleton-Man being conceived as a party suit it was a surprise that, ever so often, someone would mention that the suit was a bit scary. It did make me realise, though, that Skeleton-Man was more than just light hearted entertainment. He also touched on some primal instincts and this only reaffirmed my interest in the character.

Simultaneously, my passion for existential literature blossomed after reading Irvin Yalom’s powerfull book “Existential Psychotherapy” from 1980. In his book Irvin Yalom investigates what the calls the ultimate concerns of life; The terror of death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. The book made a profound impact on me and was instrumental in changing my life course. I guess it is no wonder, then, that ever since I’ve wanted to share his insightful thoughts and ideas. I’m personal testament that they have the power to change you.

Again it seemed obvious that I had to combine my interests. On the one hand, there was Skeleton-Man. The embodiment of death, yet, very much alive, dancing, partying, DJ’ing and doing his utmost to celebrate life in unison with others. On the other hand, the existential tradition contemplating life solemnly and in an intellectual light. The physical side and the rational side. The carefree and the carefull side. With Skeleton-Man roaming in both. Life and death. Black and white. Darkness and light.

The Skeleton-Man Show Death: The High Price of Living

It seems obvious to me that there is a connection somewhere and ever since I’ve been working on establishing it. Eventually this led to the creation of the Skeleton-Man Show Death: The High Price of Living.

But the last piece of the puzzle was meeting the amazing, one and only Semko Balcerski. He is the first photographer that could see, understand and capture the drama and lightning magic that is Skeleton-Man. And direct me when I don’t see the light, so to speak.

Skeleton-Man / Evening photo in Joshua Tree

This has provided the Skeleton-Man project with a wealth of photo material that can back up the different aspects. It also means that today I offer introductions to existentialism using unique imagery, sound and lights.

All these efforts are designed to overstimulate the senses and gush the audience into a state where they let down their guard. On the one hand, the visuals and sounds are designed to overwhelm the spectator with their aesthetics. On the other hand, there is an undercurrent to them that is designed to pull the spectator out on deeper waters where it is natural to contemplate the big questions of existence. In this manner, I believe, the idea of death becomes more natural and less intimidating to contemplate.

Put in other words the Skeleton-Man Show Death: The High Price of Living is our suggestion for a modern day death ritual. A ceremonial gathering where we consider the idea of personal death using modern tools, images, sounds and lights. Where the audience subtly but potently is provoked to challenge everyday beliefs and practices and exit, perhaps a little shaken and confused, but also – and especially!! – with a renewed sense of proportionality, life appetite and a thirst and lust for making every day count. In the words of Irvin Yalom the idea of death is simply the most powerful guide, the tallest and brightest light house that mercilessly will put a bright spot on what really matters in your life.

In a follow-up blog post I will go into more details about the show. For now, however, you can read more here or download a PDF presentation of the show here.

The Death of Skeleton-Man

And so my journey with Skeleton-Man continues. Well, at least for as long as I can carry the suit. One day also Skeleton-Man will be gone.

“Homebound” (Semko Balcerski, Bornholm 2020)

This theme will also have to be left for another blog post where I will dwell more deeply into my personal story. Suffice to say that the agonizing glare of death has also looked into my eye and gripped me with horror. Sometimes I even wonder if my Skeleton-Man endeavours are just an excuse to intellectualise death and keep it at bay.

But, alas, this is for a separate post on Michael Wolffhechel, the man behind Skeleton-Man.

Summing up

For now I hope the above has shed more light on Skeleton-Man. I also hope you can tell he is a work in progress and ever developing. Which is exactly as it should be. Humans change throughout life and just as it is one the main tasks of the mature adult to come to terms with his aging and earthly decay so too Skeleton-Man must grow older and change. One day at a time.

I hope you want to join and follow the journey. For now thanks for getting a bit more acquainted with Skeleton-Man and the idea behind.

And remember, you can always contact me if you would like to book the show Death: The Price of Living or if you are looking for a DJ.

Skeleton-Man / The End in the Horizon from the top of the Hill
“The View” (Semko Balcerski, Death Valley 2019)