Gorillaz

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Gorillaz
The virtual Gorillaz band members, from left to right, Russel Hobbs, Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, and Noodle
The virtual Gorillaz band members, from left to right, Russel Hobbs, Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, and Noodle
Background information
OriginLondon, England
Genres
Years active1998–present
Labels
Associated acts
Websitegorillaz.com
MembersNon-virtual:
Damon Albarn
Jamie Hewlett
Remi Kabaka Jr.
Virtual:
2-D
Murdoc Niccals
Russel Hobbs
Noodle
Past membersVirtual:
Paula Cracker
Cyborg Noodle
Ace

Gorillaz are a British virtual band created in 1998 by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. The band primarily consists of four animated members: Stuart "2-D" Pot, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. Their fictional universe is presented in music videos, interviews and short cartoons. In reality, Albarn is the only permanent musical contributor, and Gorillaz' music often features collaborations with a wide range of featured artists. Remi Kabaka Jr. became producer for the band in 2016 after several years providing the voice of Russel Hobbs and was listed as an official member alongside Albarn and Hewlett in the 2019 documentary Gorillaz: Reject False Icons.[1]

With Gorillaz, Albarn departed from the distinct Britpop of his band Blur, exploring a variety of musical styles including hip hop, electronic music, and world music through an "eccentrically postmodern" approach.[2] The band's 2001 debut album Gorillaz, which featured dub and Latin influences, went triple platinum in the UK and double platinum in Europe, with sales driven by the success of the album's lead single "Clint Eastwood". Their second studio album, Demon Days (2005), went 6 times platinum in the UK[3] and double platinum in the US and spawned the successful lead single "Feel Good Inc.".[4][5][6]

The band's third album, Plastic Beach (2010), featured environmentalist themes, an electropop approach and an expanded roster of featured artists. Their fourth album, The Fall was recorded on the road during the Escape to Plastic Beach Tour and released on 25 December 2010. The band's fifth album, Humanz, was released after a 7-year hiatus on 28 April 2017.[7] Their sixth album, The Now Now (2018), featured stripped-down production and a greater musical focus on Albarn. Gorillaz' latest project is Song Machine, a music-based web series with "episodes" that consist of standalone singles and accompanying music videos featuring different guests each episode, resulting in their seventh album, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez (2020).[8]

Gorillaz has presented itself live in a variety of different ways throughout the band's history, such as hiding the live band from the audience's view in the early years of the project, displaying holographic animated band members on stage via computer graphics and traditional live touring featuring a fully visible live band.[9] The band have sold over 20 million records worldwide and are cited by Guinness World Records as the world's "Most Successful Virtual Band".[10][11] They have won a Grammy Award, two MTV Video Music Awards, an NME Award and three MTV Europe Music Awards.[12] They have also been nominated for 10 Brit Awards and won Best British Group at the 2018 Brit Awards.[13][14]

History[edit]

Creation (1990–1999)[edit]

Multi-instrumentalist musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, the co-creators of Gorillaz

Musician Damon Albarn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett met in 1990 when guitarist Graham Coxon, a fan of Hewlett's work, asked him to interview Blur, which Albarn and Coxon had recently formed.[15] The interview was published in Deadline magazine, home of Hewlett's comic strip Tank Girl. Hewlett initially thought Albarn was "arsey, a wanker;" and despite becoming acquaintances with the band, they often did not get on, especially after Hewlett began seeing Coxon's ex-girlfriend Jane Olliver.[15] Despite this, Albarn and Hewlett started sharing a flat on Westbourne Grove in London in 1997.[16] Hewlett had recently broken up with Olliver and Albarn was at the end of his highly publicised relationship with Justine Frischmann of Elastica.[15]

The idea to create Gorillaz came about when Albarn and Hewlett were watching MTV. Hewlett said, "If you watch MTV for too long, it's a bit like hell – there's nothing of substance there. So we got this idea for a virtual band, something that would be a comment on that."[17] Albarn recalled the idea similarly, saying "This was the beginning of the sort of boy band explosion... and it just felt so manufactured. And we were like, well let's make a manufactured band but make it kind of interesting."[18] The band originally identified themselves as "Gorilla" and the first song they recorded was "Ghost Train,"[19] which was later released as a B-side on their single "Rock the House".

Although not released under the Gorillaz name, Albarn has said that "one of the first ever Gorillaz tunes" was Blur's 1997 single "On Your Own", which was released for their fifth studio album Blur.[20]

Gorillaz (2000–03)[edit]

From 1998 to 2000, Albarn recorded for Gorillaz' self-titled debut album at his newly opened Studio 13 in London as well as at Geejam Studios in Jamaica.[21] The sessions resulted in the band's first release, the EP Tomorrow Comes Today, released on 27 November 2000, which consisted mostly of tracks which would later appear on the album and also included the band's first music video for "Tomorrow Comes Today", which introduced the virtual band members for the first time.

With Gorillaz, Albarn began to branch out into other genres which he had not explored with Blur, such as hip-hop, dub and Latin music, a process he described as liberating: "One of the reasons I began Gorillaz is I had a lot of rhythms I never thought I could use with Blur. A lot of that stuff never really seemed to manifest itself in the music we made together as Blur."[22] Albarn originally began work on the album by himself, however eventually invited American hip-hop producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura to serve as producer on the album, explaining "I called Dan the Automator in after I'd done more than half of it and felt it would be benefit from having somebody else's focus. So I just rang him and asked whether he was interested in helping me finish it off."[22] Nakamura and Albarn had recently collaborated on Deltron 3030, the debut album by the hip-hop supergroup of the same name featuring rapper Del the Funky Homosapien and DJ Kid Koala, both of whom Nakamura recruited to assist in finishing Gorillaz material. Del would feature on two tracks on the album, including "Clint Eastwood", the lead single while Kid Koala contributed turntables to various tracks.[21] The album featured additional collaborations with Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club, Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto and Tina Weymouth of The Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, representing a pattern of collaboration with a wide range of artists which would later become a staple of Gorillaz as a project.

American hip-hop producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura produced the band's debut album

Gorillaz was released on 26 March 2001 and was a major commercial success, debuting at #3 on the UK Albums Chart and #14 on the US Billboard 200, going on to sell over 7 million copies worldwide, powered by the success of the "Clint Eastwood" single.[23][24][25][26] The album was promoted with the singles "Clint Eastwood", "19-2000" and "Rock the House", in addition to the previously released "Tomorrow Comes Today", with each single featuring a music video directed by Hewlett starring the virtual band members. Hewlett also helmed the design of the band's website, which was presented as an interactive tour of the band's fictional "Kong Studios" home and recording studio, featuring interactive games and explorative elements.[27] Following the release of the album, the band embarked on a brief tour of Europe, Japan and the United States to support the album in which a live band featuring Albarn played completely obscured behind a giant screen on which Hewlett's accompanying visuals were projected. The virtual band member's voice actors were also present at some shows and spoke live to the audience to give the impression that the fictional band was present on stage. In later interviews, Albarn would describe the band's first tour as difficult due to the limitations imposed by the band playing behind a screen: "For someone who had just spent the last ten years out front being a frontman [with Blur], it was a really weird experience. And I have to say, some nights I just wanted to get a knife and just cut [the screen] and stick my head through."[28] The album was followed by the B-sides compilation G-Sides released in December 2001.

On 7 December 2001, the band released the single "911" a collaboration with hip hop group D12 (without Eminem) and singer Terry Hall of The Specials about the September 11 attacks.[29] At the 2002 Brit Awards the virtual members of Gorillaz "performed" for the first time, appearing in 3D animation on four large screens along with rap accompaniment by Phi Life Cypher, a production which reportedly cost £300,000 to create.[30] The band were nominated for four Brit Awards, including Best British Group, Best British Album and British Breakthrough Act,[31] but did not win any awards.[32]

On 1 July 2002, a remix album titled Laika Come Home was released, containing most of the tracks from Gorillaz remixed in dub and reggae style by the DJ group Spacemonkeyz.[33] On 18 November 2002, the band released the DVD Phase One: Celebrity Take Down, which contained all of the band's released visual content up to that point along with other extras.[34]

After the success of the debut album, Albarn and Hewlett briefly explored the possibility of creating a Gorillaz theatrical film, but Hewlett claimed the duo later lost interest: "We lost all interest in doing it as soon as we started meeting with studios and talking to these Hollywood executive types, we just weren't on the same page. We said, fuck it, we'll sit on the idea until we can do it ourselves, and maybe even raise the money ourselves."[35]

Demon Days (2004–07)[edit]

Albarn spent the majority of 2003 on tour with Blur in support of their newly released album Think Tank, however upon completion of the tour decided to return to Gorillaz, reuniting with Hewlett to prepare for a second album. Hewlett explained that the duo chose to continue Gorillaz to prove that the project was not "a gimmick": "If you do it again, it's no longer a gimmick, and if it works then we've proved a point."[36] The result was Demon Days, released on 11 May 2005. The album was another major commercial success, debuting at No. 1 on the UK Albums Charts and #6 on the US Billboard 200, and has since gone six times platinum in the UK,[37] double platinum in the United States,[38] and triple platinum in Australia,[39] outperforming sales of the first album and becoming the band's most successful album to date.[40] The album's success was partially driven by the success of the lead single "Feel Good Inc." featuring hip-hop group De La Soul, which topped Billboard's Alternative Songs chart in the U.S. for eight consecutive weeks and was featured in a commercial for Apple's iPod.[41] The album was also supported by the later singles "Dare", "Dirty Harry", and the double A-side "Kids with Guns" / "El Mañana".

Albarn asked Danger Mouse to produce the band's second album Demon Days after hearing his mashup album The Grey Album

Demon Days found the band taking a darker tone, partially influenced by a train journey Albarn had taken with his family through impoverished rural China.[42] Albarn described the album as a concept album: "The whole album kind of tells the story of the night — staying up during the night — but it's also an allegory. It's what we're living in basically, the world in a state of night."[43] Believing that the album needed "a slightly different approach" compared to the first album, Albarn enlisted American producer Brian Burton, better known by his stage name Danger Mouse, to produce the album, whom Albarn praised as "one of the best young producers in the world" after hearing his 2004 mashup album The Grey Album.[43] Burton felt he and Albarn had a high degree of affinity with each other, stating in an interview on the creation of the album: "We never had any arguments. We even have that finish-each-other’s-sentences thing happening. There are a lot of the same influences between us, like Ennio Morricone and psychedelic pop-rock, but he has 10 years on me, so I have some catching up to do. Where he can school me on new wave and punk of the late ’70s/early ’80s, I can school him on a lot of hip-hop. We’re very competitive and pushed each other."[44] Similar to the first album, Demon Days features collaborations with several different artists, including Bootie Brown, Shaun Ryder, Ike Turner, MF Doom (who was recording with Danger Mouse as Danger Doom at the time) and Martina Topley-Bird, among others.[45]

The band performed in silhouette during the Demon Days Live performances (pictured here with De La Soul on stage)

The band chose to forgo traditional live touring in support of Demon Days, instead limiting live performance during the album cycle to a five night residency in November 2005 at the Manchester Opera House billed as Demon Days Live.[46] The concerts saw the band performing the album in full each night with most featured artists from the album present. Unlike the debut album's tour, the live band was visible on stage in view of the audience but obscured by lighting in such a way that only their silhouettes were visible, with a screen above the band displaying Hewlett's visuals alongside each song.[47] The residency was later repeated in April 2006 at New York City's Apollo Theater and the Manchester performances were later released on DVD as Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House.[48][49]

The virtual Gorillaz members again "performed" at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards in November 2005,[50] and again at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2006, appearing to perform on stage via Musion Eyeliner technology.[51] Albarn later expressed disappointment at the execution of the performance, citing the low volume level required so as to not disturb the technology: "That was tough... They started and it was so quiet cause they've got this piece of film that you've got to pull over the stage so any bass frequencies would just mess up the illusion completely."[52] At the Grammys, the band won Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Feel Good Inc.", which was also nominated for Record of the Year.[53] Albarn and Hewlett explored the idea of producing a full "live holographic tour" featuring the virtual Gorillaz appearing on stage with Munsion Eyeliner technology after the Grammys performance, but the tour was ultimately never realized due to the tremendous expense and logistical issues that it would have resulted in.[54]

In October 2006 the band released the book Rise of the Ogre. Presented as an autobiography of the band ostensibly written by the fictional band members and expanding on the band's fictional backstory and universe, the book was actually written by official Gorillaz script writer and live drummer Cass Browne and featured new artwork by Hewlett.[55] Later the same month, the band released another DVD, Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades compiling much of the band's visual content from the album cycle. A second B-sides compilation, D-Sides was released in November 2007, featuring B-sides and remixes associated with Demon Days as well as unreleased tracks from the sessions for the album.[56][57] In April 2009, the documentary film Bananaz was released. Directed by Ceri Levy, the film documents the behind-the-scenes history of the band from 2000 to 2006.[58]

Plastic Beach and The Fall (2008–13)[edit]

Albarn and Hewlett's next project together was the opera Monkey: Journey to the West based on the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West, which premiered at the 2007 Manchester International Festival. While not officially a Gorillaz project, Albarn mentioned in an interview that the project was "Gorillaz, really but we can't call it that for legal reasons."[59]

After completing work on Monkey in late 2007, Albarn and Hewlett began working on a new Gorillaz project entitled Carousel, described by Albarn as being about "the mystical aspects of Britain". Hewlett described Carousel in a 2008 interview as "even bigger and more difficult than Monkey... It’s sort of like a film but not with one narrative story. There’s many stories, told around a bigger story, set to music, and done in live action, animation, all different styles. Originally it was a film but now we think it’s a film and it’s a stage thing as well. Damon‘s written around 70 songs for it, and I’ve got great plans for the visuals."[60] The Carousel concept was eventually dropped with Albarn and Hewlett's work evolving into the third Gorillaz studio album Plastic Beach.[61]

Drawing upon environmentalist themes, Plastic Beach was inspired by the idea of a "secret floating island deep in the South Pacific... made up of the detritus, debris and washed up remnants of humanity" inspired by marine pollution such as plastic that Albarn had found in a beach near one of his homes in Devon as well as the Great Pacific garbage patch.[62] Unlike previous Gorillaz albums, Albarn made the decision to produce Plastic Beach by himself, with no co-producer.[63] The album was recorded throughout 2008 and 2009 in London, New York City and Syria although production of the album was briefly interrupted so that Albarn could join Blur for a reunion tour in the summer of 2009, with Albarn explaining "there's no way you can do that and that [Blur and Gorillaz] at the same time."[61] Plastic Beach saw Gorillaz move into a more electronic pop sound, with Albarn describing the album as "the most pop record I've ever made" and saying that he took special care to make the album's lyrics and melodies clear and focused compared to previous albums.[61] Plastic Beach also featured the largest cast of collaborators featured yet on a Gorillaz album, fulfilling Albarn's goal of "work[ing] with an incredibly eclectic, surprising cast of people"[61] including artists such as Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Paul Simonon, Mick Jones, Little Dragon, Lou Reed and Gruff Rhys among others, and also included orchestral contributions from Sinfonia Viva and the Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra.[63] Albarn explained the expanded roster of featured artists represented his and Hewlett's new vision of Gorillaz as a project, explaining in a July 2008 interview that "Gorillaz now to us is not like four animated characters any more – it’s more like an organisation of people doing new projects... That’s my ideal model."

[64]

The 2010 live shows supporting Plastic Beach saw the live band performing in full view of the audience for the first time.

Released on 3 March 2010, Plastic Beach debuted at #2 on both the UK Albums Chart and the US Billboard 200 chart, the band's highest placing debut chart position. The album was supported by the lead single "Stylo" featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack released in January 2010 and the later singles "On Melancholy Hill" and "Rhinestone Eyes". To promote the album, the band embarked on the Escape to Plastic Beach Tour, the band's first world tour and also their first live performances in which the live band performed fully in view of the audience on stage with no visual obstructions. The tour, which featured many of the collaborative artists from Plastic Beach and saw the live band wearing naval attire, was later described by Albarn as having been extremely costly to produce, with the band barely breaking even on the shows, saying "I loved doing it, but economically it was a fucking disaster."[65] The tour was preceded by headline performances at several international music festivals, including the Coachella and Glastonbury festivals. On 21 November 2010, while still on tour, the band released the non-album single "Doncamatic" featuring British singer Daley.[66]

During the North American leg of the Escape to Plastic Beach tour in the fall of 2010, Albarn continued recording Gorillaz songs entirely on his iPad. The recordings were later released as the album The Fall, first released digitally on Christmas Day 2010 and later given a physical release on 19 April 2011.[67][68] Albarn said the album served as a diary of the American leg of the tour, explaining that the tracks were presented exactly as they were on the day they were written and recorded with no additional production or overdubs: "I literally made it on the road. I didn't write it before, I didn't prepare it. I just did it day by day as a kind of diary of my experience in America. If I left it until the New Year to release it then the cynics out there would say, 'Oh well, it's been tampered with', but if I put it out now they'd know that I haven't done anything because I've been on tour ever since."[69] The band later released a "Gorillaz edition" of the Korg iElectribe music production app for iPad, featuring many of the same samples and sounds used by Albarn to create The Fall.[70][71]

On 23 February 2012, Gorillaz released "DoYaThing", a single to promote a Gorillaz-branded collection of Converse shoes which were released shortly after. The song was a part of Converse's "Three Artists, One Song" project, with the two additional collaborators being James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and André 3000 of Outkast. Two different edits of the song were released: a four-and-a-half minute radio edit released on Converse's website and the full 13-minute version of the song released on the Gorillaz website. Hewlett returned to direct the single's music video, featuring fictionalized animated versions of Murphy and André interacting with the virtual Gorillaz band members.[72] The song received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise given to André 3000's contributions to the track.[73][74]

In April 2012, Albarn told The Guardian that he and Hewlett had fallen out and that future Gorillaz projects were "unlikely".[75] Tension between the two had been building, partly due to a belief held by Hewlett that his contributions to Gorillaz were being minimized. Speaking to The Guardian in April 2017, Hewlett explained: "Damon had half the Clash on stage, and Bobby Womack and Mos Def and De La Soul, and fucking Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Bashy and everyone else. It was the greatest band ever. And the screen on stage behind them seemed to get smaller every day. I’d say, ‘Have we got a new screen?’ and the tour manager was like, ‘No, it’s the same screen.’ Because it seemed to me like it was getting smaller."[76] Albarn gave his side of the story in a separate interview, saying "I think we were at a cross purposes somewhat on that last record [Plastic Beach], which is a shame. It was one of those things, the music and the videos weren't working as well together, but I felt we'd made a really good record and I was into it."[75] On 25 April 2012, in an interview with Metro, Albarn was more optimistic about Gorillaz' future, saying that once he had worked out his differences with Hewlett, he was sure that they would make another record.[77] In June 2013, Hewlett confirmed that he and Albarn planned to someday continue Gorillaz and record a follow-up album to Plastic Beach, saying "We'll come back to it when the time is right."[78][79]

Hiatus and Humanz (2014–17)[edit]

Following the release of DoYaThing and the publicization of Albarn and Hewlett's fall-out in 2012, Gorillaz entered a multiyear hiatus. During the hiatus, Albarn released a solo album, Everyday Robots, scored stage productions and continued to record and tour with Blur, while Hewlett held art exhibitions and attempted to create a film project which was ultimately never realized.[80] While on tour in support of Everyday Robots in 2014, Albarn signaled openness to returning to Gorillaz, telling The National Post that he "wouldn't mind having another stab at a Gorillaz record."[81] Two months later he reported that he had "been writing quite a lot of songs on the road for Gorillaz".[82] and at the end of 2014 confirmed in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that he was planning to record another Gorillaz album.[83] Speaking about his relationship with Hewlett, Albarn said that the pair's well-publicized fall-out had helped their relationship in the long term.[84] Hewlett described the moment when he and Albarn agreed to continue Gorillaz at an afterparty after one of Albarn's solo shows in 2014: "We'd had a bit to drink, and he said, 'Do you want to do another one?' And I said, 'Do you?' and he said, 'Do you?' And I said, 'Yeah, sure.' I started work on it straight away, learning to draw the characters again. I played around by myself for eight months while he was performing with Blur in 2015."[85]

American hip-hop and house producer The Twilite Tone co-produced the band's fifth album Humanz

Recording sessions for the band's fifth studio album Humanz began in late 2015 and continued through 2016, taking place in London, New York City, Paris and Jamaica.[86][87] Albarn enlisted American hip-hop and house producer Anthony Khan, known by his stage name The Twilite Tone, to co-produce the album. Albarn chose Khan from a list of possible producers compiled by Parlophone, the band's record label after Albarn and Khan spoke via Skype. Humanz was also co-produced by Remi Kabaka Jr., a friend of Albarn's who had worked with him in the non-profit musical organization Africa Express and also has been the voice actor for the Gorillaz virtual band member Russel Hobbs since 2000.[86][87] In conceptualizing the album, Albarn and Khan envisioned Humanz as being the soundtrack for "a party for the end of the world", with Albarn specifically imagining a future in which Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election as context for the album's narrative (Trump becoming president was still considered an unlikely event at the time of recording), explaining "Let's use that as a kind of dark fantasy for this record, let's imagine the night Donald Trump wins the election and how we're all going to feel that night."[88] Khan stated that "The idea of Donald Trump being president allowed us to create a narrative together. I suggested that the album should be about joy, pain and urgency. That was to be our state of mind before we even touched a keyboard or an MPC. Especially in American music, dare I say black music, there’s a way of communicating joy that at the same time allows you to feel the struggle the person has been through. And the urgency is there because something needs to be done. So that was the mantra. I wanted to blend Damon, a Briton, with the joy and pain and struggle that African-American music can express."[86] Humanz again featured a large cast of featured artists, including Popcaan, Vince Staples, DRAM, Jehnny Beth, Pusha T, Peven Everett, Danny Brown, Grace Jones and Mavis Staples, among others. The first track from the album released publicly was "Hallelujah Money" featuring Benjamin Clementine, released on 20 January 2017 with an accompanying video featuring Clementine. While not an official single, Albarn explained that the band chose to release the track on the day of Trump's inauguration because "It was meant to be something sung at the imaginary inauguration of Donald Trump, which turned out to be the real inauguration of Donald Trump, so we released it because we had imagined that happening and it did happen."[89]

Gorillaz (with Albarn to the left) on stage at the Brixton Academy in London, June 2017

Humanz was released on 28 April 2017, the band's first new studio album in 7 years. Featuring a "modern-sounding urban hip-hop/R&B sensibility",[86] the album debuted at #2 on both the UK Album charts and the US Billboard 200. Humanz received generally positive reviews from critics, although received some criticism from fans and critics for what was perceived as a diminished presence from Albarn in contrast to the abundance of featured artists.[90][91] The album was released in both standard and deluxe editions, with the deluxe edition featuring an additional 6 bonus tracks and was promoted by the lead single "Saturnz Barz" featuring Popcaan and the later single "Strobelite" featuring Peven Everett. The Hewlett-directed music video for "Saturnz Barz" made use of YouTube's 360-degree video format and reportedly cost $800,000 to create.[92][93]

The band embarked on the Humanz Tour to support the album from the summer of 2017 to early 2018. Like the band's previous tour, the Humanz Tour featured the live band in full view of the audience with a large screen behind them displaying Hewlett-created visuals and featured several of the different collaborative artists from the band's history. At 53 shows, the Humanz Tour was the largest in the band's history and featured setlists including a wide variety of songs from the band's back catalog.[94] The tour was preceded by a handful of European warm-up shows, including the first Demon Dayz Festival held on 10 June 2017 at the Dreamland Margate theme park, a Gorillaz curated music festival which was later repeated in Los Angeles in October 2018. On 8 June 2017 the band released the non-album single "Sleeping Powder" with an accompanying music video and on 3 November 2017 a "Super Deluxe" version of Humanz, featuring an additional 14 unreleased tracks from the album's sessions, including alternative versions of previously released songs as well as the single "Garage Palace" featuring Little Simz.

The Now Now (2018–19)[edit]

Albarn continued recording while on the road during the Humanz Tour, and mentioned in an interview with Q Magazine in September 2017 that he was planning on releasing the material as a future Gorillaz album. Comparing the production of the album to The Fall, which was also recorded while the band was on tour, Albarn mentioned that "It will be a more complete record than The Fall, but hopefully have that spontaneity."[95] Albarn signaled his desire to complete and release the album quickly, adding that "I really like the idea of making new music and playing it live almost simultaneously" and "If we're going to do more Gorillaz we don't want to wait seven years because, y'know, we're getting on a bit now.[95] The band later debuted a new song "Idaho", which was later included on the album, at a concert in Seattle on 30 September 2017 with Albarn saying it had been written in the days prior.[96]

During a break in the Humanz Tour in February 2018, Albarn returned to London where he worked with producer James Ford, known for his work with Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine, and Kabaka Jr. to finish the newly written material, resulting in the band's sixth studio album The Now Now released on 29 June 2018. Featuring "simple, mostly upbeat songs" and 1980s new wave influences,[97] the album was noted for its distinctly small list of featured artists compared to previous Gorillaz work, with only two tracks featuring any outside artists (The album's lead single "Humility" featuring George Benson and "Hollywood" featuring Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle). Albarn mentioned that the few numbers of featured artists was partially due to the album's quick production, which in turn was a result of Albarn wanting to finish the album before the band's touring schedule resumed: "We've been very lucky to be offered all the festivals this year on the back of the last record [Humanz]... but I didn't want to do that unless I had something new to work with, so the only option was to make another record really quickly and not have lots of guests on it, because that takes a long time to organize; just do it all myself, really."[98] Albarn also explained that with The Now Now he sought to make a Gorillaz album "where I'm just singing for once" and that the album is "pretty much just me singing, very sort of in the world of 2-D."[99]

Gorillaz performing at Barclays Center, New York City on The Now Now Tour in October 2018

In the fictional Gorillaz storyline, the band introduced Ace from Cartoon Network's animated series The Powerpuff Girls as a temporary bassist of the band during The Now Now album cycle, filling in for the imprisoned Murdoc Niccals.[100] Explaining the crossover in an interview with the BBC, Albarn said "We were massive fans of The Powerpuff Girls when they came out, the energy of that cartoon was really cool, and we kind of know the creator of it (Craig McCracken). It was a very organic thing."[101]

The band's remaining 2018 live dates were billed as The Now Now Tour to support the album, and included a performance in Tokyo on 22 June 2018 billed as "The Now Now World Premiere" in which the band played the full album live for the first and only time, a performance which was later broadcast by Boiler Room.[102] On 16 December 2019, the documentary Gorillaz: Reject False Icons was screened worldwide on a one-day theatrical release. Filmed and directed by Hewlett's son Denholm, the documentary showcases a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Humanz and The Now Now as well as the album's associated tours.[103][104] One week after the film's theatrical release, a "Director's Cut" version of the film featuring additional footage was released on the official Gorillaz YouTube channel in three parts. In the credits for Reject False Icons, Kabaka Jr. was listed as an official member of the band (labeled as "A&R/Producer") alongside Albarn and Hewlett for the first time.[105][106][107]

Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez (2020–present)[edit]

Hewlett (left) and Albarn (right) pictured with the animated band members in a 2020 publicity photo for Song Machine

On 29 January 2020, the band announced its new project Song Machine. Eschewing the typical album format of releasing music, Song Machine is instead a web series that sees the band releasing one new song a month as "episodes" to the series, with 11 episodes releasing to comprise the first "season" of Song Machine.[108][109] Elaborating on the idea behind Song Machine in a radio interview shortly after the announcement of the project, Albarn explained that "We no longer kind of see ourselves as constrained to making albums. We can now make episodes and seasons."[110] Each episode features previously unannounced guest musicians on new Gorillaz material, with the first being "Momentary Bliss", which was released on 31 January and features both British rapper Slowthai and the Kent-based punk rock duo Slaves.[111]

Upon the premiere of "Momentary Bliss", Albarn revealed that the group had been in the studio with Schoolboy Q and Sampa the Great among others, although he did say that these songs were likely to be saved for future episodes of Song Machine.[112] The group also teased a possible collaboration with Australian band Tame Impala on Instagram.[113]

On 27 February, the band released the second episode of Song Machine entitled "Désolé". The song features Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara.[114] The third track, "Aries," released on 9 April and featured Peter Hook and Georgia.[115] The fourth track "How Far?" featuring Tony Allen and Skepta was released 2 May. This song was released without an accompanying music video as a tribute to Allen, who died on 30 April.[116]

On 26 May, Gorillaz announced the release of a new book titled Gorillaz Almanac. Gorillaz Almanac comes in three editions: standard, deluxe and super deluxe, all of which are set to release on 16 October with a physical release of season one of Song Machine included with each copy.[117]

On 9 June, the band released "Friday 13th", the fourth episode of Song Machine. The track features French-British rapper Octavian.[118]

On 20 July, the band released "Pac-Man", the fifth episode of Song Machine, in honor of Pac-Man's 40th anniversary.[119] The track features American rapper Schoolboy Q.[120]

On 9 September, the band released "Strange Timez", the sixth episode of Song Machine. The track features Robert Smith, from The Cure. Gorillaz also announced a full new album's title and tracklist set to be released on 23 October 2020, titled Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, featuring further appearances from Elton John, 6lack, JPEGMafia, Kano, Roxani Arias, Moonchild Sanelly and Chai among others.[121]

On October 1st, the band released "The Pink Phantom", the seventh episode of Song Machine. The track features as previously announced, Sir Elton John and American rapper 6lack.[122]

A few days from the upcoming release of Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, Gorillaz co-creator Damon Albarn confirmed that the band already has a brand new song for the Season Two of Song Machine, and that the mentioned second part of the project will see the light earlier than expected[123]

Style and legacy[edit]

Writers and critics have variously described Gorillaz as art pop,[124] alternative rock,[125] hip hop,[126] electronic,[127] trip hop,[128] pop,[129] dark pop,[130] alternative hip hop,[131] rap rock,[132] indie rock,[133] bedroom pop,[134] dance-rock,[135] new wave,[136] funk[136] and worldbeat.[2] The band's aesthetic and general approach has been described as postmodern.[2] According to AllMusic Gorillaz blend Britpop and hip-hop,[137] while The Guardian described the band as "a sort of dub/hip-hop/lo-fi indie/world music hybrid".[138] According to PopMatters, the band's early work foreshadowed "the melding of hip-hop, rock, and electronic elements in pop music" that grew in significance in the next decade.[139]

"[Influencing] to us, is the greatest achievement of Gorillaz. It's that we know that a very large percentage of our audience are kids, who go on gorillaz.com, who go on gorillaz-unofficial.com, and through seeing the cartoons and hearing the tune, buying the record, are finding out about this stuff that they knew nothing about. So they're learning about Vlad The Impaler, or Ronald Searle, or The Specials... so it's like an education. They really get into it. And they discover it, the music we grew up on."

- Jamie Hewlett, [140]

Gorillaz’ main musical influences include Massive Attack, The Specials, Big Audio Dynamite, Public Image Ltd, Tom Tom Club, Fun Boy Three, Unkle, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul,[141][142][143][144][145] as well as musicians such as The Human League, The Kinks, XTC, Simple Minds, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Beck, Wire, Fela Kuti, Sly and The Family Stone, Earth Wind and Fire, Augustus Pablo, Zapp, and DJ Kool Herc.[146][147][148] Gorillaz’ primary visual influences include the works of Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes,[149] Mad Magazine,[150][151] The Simpsons,[152] and Liquid Television.[153] The idea for Gorillaz was inspired by the many cartoon bands that came before them in the 60s such as The Banana Splits, The Archies, Josie and The Pussycats, and Alvin and The Chipmunks, and real bands with fictional stage personas like ABC (circa How To Be A Zillionaire), and Silicon Teens.[154][155]

Musical artists who have been influenced by Gorillaz include Major Lazer,[156] Dethklok,[157][158] Rat Boy,[159] Chromeo,[160] Flume,[161] Foster the People,[162] The 1975,[163] 5 Seconds of Summer,[164] Awolnation,[165] Paramore,[166] Grimes,[167] Kesha,[168]A.G. Cook,[169] Flatbush Zombies,[170] Vic Mensa,[171] IDK,[172] Trippie Redd,[173] The Internet,[174] ASAP Rocky,[175] Lupe Fiasco,[176] Brockhampton,[177] and Odd Future.[178] Gorillaz have collaborated with a number of brands, including Motorola,[179] O2,[180] Internet Explorer 9,[181] Converse,[182] and Jaguar Cars.[183] They have also been featured in fashion magazines such as Maxim, Nylon, and Numéro.[184] The band's use of the internet and digital media for promotion as early as 2000 has been touched on in retrospective reviews for being ahead of its time.[185] Dazed magazine has summarised Gorillaz's impact as "completely reinvent[ing] the notion of what a band could be."[186]

Members[edit]

Live Band Members

2001-2002 (Gorillaz Live)
  • Damon Albarn – lead vocals, melodica
  • Simon Katz – guitar
  • Junior Dan – bass guitar (2001 only)
  • Roberto Occhipinti - bass guitar (2002 only)
  • Mike Smith – keyboards
  • Cass Brownedrums
  • Darren Galea - turntables
2005-2006 (Demon Days Live)
2010 (Escape to Plastic Beach Tour)
2017-2018 (Humanz Tour and The Now Now Tour)
  • Damon Albarn – lead vocals, piano, keyboards, guitar
  • Jeff Wootton - lead guitar
  • Seye Adelekan - bass guitar
  • Mike Smith - keyboards
  • Jesse Hackett - keyboards
  • Gabriel Wallace - drums
  • Karl Vanden Bossche - electronic drums, percussion

Discography[edit]

Studio albums

Tours[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Remi Kabaka Jr. became a music producer for the band in 2015 after several years providing the voice of Russel Hobbs and was listed as A&R producer alongside Albarn and Hewlett in the 2019 documentary Gorillaz: Reject False Icons.[1] He is also the creator of Gorillaz Sound System, project started in 2011.[citation needed]
  2. ^ In 2018, Murdoc was in jail during the course of The Now Now.

References[edit]

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  125. ^ The following references cite the band as alternative rock:
  126. ^ The following references cite the band as hip hop:
  127. ^ The following references describe the band as electronic or electronica:
  128. ^ The following references describe the band as trip hop:
  129. ^ The following references cite the band as pop:
  130. ^ The following references cite the band as dark pop:
  131. ^ The following references cite the band as alternative hip hop or alternative rap:
  132. ^ The following references cite the band as rap rock:
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