Death masks and redemption: Inside Static-X's Wisconsin Death Trip tour

Static-x on the wisconsin death trip tour
(Image credit: Joe Daly)

The meteoric rise of Static-X at the end of the 90s was as surprising to the men involved as it was a revelation to the music world. The band — frontman/guitarist Wayne Static, bassist Tony Campos, guitarist/keyboardist Koichi Fukuda and drummer Ken Jay — formed in Los Angeles during the mid-90s without any clear ambitions beyond having a bit of fun. 

Then, one day, Wayne turned up with a tiny machine under his arm, and things would never be the same again. Tony recalls, “One day Wayne brought in his old drum machine and he said, ‘Check out this beat,’ and that’s how we got started with the programming and the electronics and it just kind of stuck.”

That sound — an exhilarating barrage of slamming industrial riffs, pulsating techno beats and Wayne’s sharp, frenzied howls — twisted, morphed and expanded until its full realisation on the band’s transcendent 1999, platinum-selling masterpiece, Wisconsin Death Trip. On the back of those twelve tracks, Static-X would release six albums and tour the world before imploding in 2009, as interpersonal differences mounted along with Wayne’s substance abuse issues. Sadly, Wayne died of a fatal overdose in November, 2014.

Static-X on the wisconsin death trip tour

Xer0 performing in a Wayne Static mask, complete with signature hair-do (Image credit: Joe Daly)

Though Static-X’s legacy seemed destined to linger as one of music’s tragically unfinished stories, Tony, Koichi and Ken reunited last fall and announced that they were working on a new album, featuring a trove of Wayne’s unused vocal tracks, unfinished songs and other original compositions left behind. 

Moreover, they announced a tour with fellow 90s stalwarts DevilDriver, Dope and Wednesday 13, which brings us here tonight to The Observatory. 

Somewhat controversially, the band have enlisted a mysterious, unidentified vocalist named Xer0, who has been performing in a mask with Wayne’s trademark electrified hair. "Our intention is to pay ultimate respect to Wayne and to celebrate the music that has been in all of our hearts for more than 20 years," says Tony. "It's all about channeling the vibe from 1999 to the best of our ability and playing those classic Static-X songs live and loud."

Tonight’s show is a sell-out, and after an arresting set from Wednesday 13, Dope use their half hour to prime the house with a set of bouncy alt-metal jams that leave the audience roaring and drenched in sweat, followed by a thoroughly pummeling set from DevilDriver. Though stylistically they hew to a more modern sound than the other acts, the Dez Fafara-led quartet set an unrelenting pace with hit after hit, including two Coal Chamber songs (Loco and Fiend).

Static-X on the wisconsin death trip tour

(Image credit: Joe Daly)

Finally, Static-X emerge and while we’re keenly aware that Wayne is not with us tonight, the mysterious figure at centre stage legitimately disarms us for a moment. Standing motionless, head down and back-lit, he looks just like Wayne. 

With Tony to his right and Koichi at his left, Ken counts off and the three surge into Bled For Days. It sounds utterly fucking phenomenal. Somehow, Xer0 has mastered the ability to infuse his performance with style and vitality without ever making it about him

A steady parade of belters, including Wisconsin Death Trip, Fix, Love Dump and Start A War, send the audience into a shirtless frenzy of moshing, crowd-surfing and throaty, beer-sodden singalongs. The band can’t conceal their grins as the audience bellows with delight with the start of each song. As the final note of Push It fills the room and a smiling band take their final bow, there’s no sadness nor any sense of loss. Just pure joy.

Static-X are taking the Wisconsin Death Trip tour to Europe before heading out on a second US leg later in the year. 

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.