Gorillaz is an English musical and visual project created in 1998 by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The project consists of Gorillaz music itself and an extensive fictional universe depicting a "virtual band" of cartoon characters. This band has four animated members: 2D (lead vocalist, keyboard, and melodica), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar and drum machine), Noodle (guitar, keyboard, and backing vocals) and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion). Their fictional universe is explored through the band's website and music videos, as well as a number of other media, such as short cartoons. The music is a collaboration between various musicians, with Albarn being the only permanent musical contributor.
The band's 2001 debut album Gorillaz sold over seven million copies and earned them an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2001, but the nomination was later withdrawn at the band's request. Their second studio album, Demon Days, released in 2005, went five times platinum in the UK,double platinum in the United States, earned five Grammy Award nominations for 2006 and won one of them in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category. The band has won numerous other awards, including two MTV Video Music Awards, an NME Award, three MTV Europe Music Awards, and have been nominated for nine Brit Awards. The combined sales of the Gorillaz and Demon Days albums had exceeded 15 million by 2007. The band's third studio album, Plastic Beach, was released in March 2010. Their latest album, The Fall, was released in December 2010 as a free download for fan club members, then in April 2011 as a physical release. Their style is experimental and a composition of multiple musical genres, with a large number of influences including alternative, rock, hip hop, electronica, dub, reggae and pop.
The future of the project was once under speculation due to the status of Albarn and Hewlett's friendship; however, both have sorted their differences and stated that the project will continue at some point in the future.
Formation and early years (1997–1999)
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett first met in 1990 when Graham Coxon, a fan of Hewlett's work, asked him to interview Blur, which was a band both Albarn and Coxon had only recently formed. 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 one of the band's acquaintances, he often didn't get along with its members, especially after he started going out with Coxon's ex-girlfriend, Jane Olliver. Despite this, Albarn and Hewlett started sharing a flat on Westbourne Grove in London in 1997. Hewlett had recently broken up with Olliver and Albarn was also at the end of his highly publicised relationship with Justine Frischmann of Elastica.
The idea to create Gorillaz came about when the two were watching MTV: "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 cartoon band, something that would be a comment on that," Hewlett has said. The band originally identified themselves as "Gorilla" and the first song they recorded was "Ghost Train" which was later released as a B-side on their single "Rock the House" and the B-side compilation G Sides. The trio of musicians behind Gorillaz' first incarnation included Damon Albarn, Del the Funky Homosapien and Dan the Automator, who had previously worked together on the track "Time Keeps on Slipping" for Deltron 3030's eponymous debut album.
Phase One: Celebrity Take Down (1999–2003)
"Clint Eastwood" exemplifies the mix of musical styles found on the band's debut album, combining hip hop, rock, electronic and dub influences. The verses are rapped by Del the Funky Homosapien and the chorus is sung by 2D (voiced by Damon Albarn).
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The band's first release was the EP Tomorrow Comes Today, released in 2000. The band's first single, "Clint Eastwood", was released on 5 March 2001. It was produced by hip hop producer Dan the Automator and originally featured Luton-based rap group Phi Life Cypher, but the version that appears on the album features American rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, known on the album as Del tha' Ghost Rapper, a spirit in the band's drummer Russel Hobbs. The Phi Life Cypher version of "Clint Eastwood" appears on the B-side album G-Sides, and in concert the song has been performed by Phi Life Cypher as well as Snoop Dogg, Eslam Jawaad, Bashy, and Kano. Later that same month, their first full-length album, the self-titled Gorillaz, was released, producing four singles: "Clint Eastwood", "19-2000", "Tomorrow Comes Today", and "Rock the House". "19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)" became popular after being featured in both an Ice Breakers commercial, as well as in EA Sports' FIFA Football 2002. Around this time, a half-hour TV mockumentary entitled Charts of Darkness was released. It follows Channel 4 news reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy attempting to track down Albarn and Hewlett after they were placed in an insane asylum.
The end of the year brought the song "911", a collaboration between Gorillaz and hip-hop group D12 (without Eminem) and Terry Hall about the September 11 attacks. Meanwhile G Sides, a compilation of the B-sides from the Tomorrow Comes Today EP and first three singles, was released in Japan on 12 December 2001 and quickly followed with international releases in early 2002. The new year also saw the band perform at the 2002 BRIT Awards, appearing in 3D animation on four large screens along with rap accompaniment by Phi Life Cypher. The band was nominated for six awards at the event, including Best British Group, Best British Album and Best British Newcomer, but left the award show empty-handed. Finally, Laika Come Home, a dub remix album, containing most of the tracks from Gorillaz reworked by Spacemonkeyz, was released in June 2002. The single to follow, "Lil' Dub Chefin'", contained an original track by the Spacemonkeyz titled "Spacemonkeyz Theme".
In November 2002, a DVD titled Phase One: Celebrity Take Down was released, giving the phase its name. The DVD contains the four Phase One promos, the abandoned video for "5/4", the Charts of Darkness documentary, the five Gorilla Bitez (short vignettes), a tour of the website by the MEL 9000 server and more. The DVD's menu was designed much like the band's website and depicts an abandoned Kong Studios. Rumours were circulating at this time that the Gorillaz team were busy preparing a film, but at an EMI interview, they later revealed that plans for the film were abandoned. Haruka Kuroda, who voices the character Noodle, told the fan website Gorillaz-Unofficial that Jamie Hewlett rejected many scripts before giving up on the film. Hewlett later explained why the film was abandoned, "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."
During an interview with Albarn on Triple J in 2010, he states that, although not released exclusively under the Gorillaz name, he considers Blur's 1997 single "On Your Own", released for their eponymous fifth album, Blur, to be "one of the first Gorillaz tunes".
Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades (2004–2007)
"Feel Good Inc."
Similar to the band's debut, Feel Good Inc., from their second album, combines elements of alternative rock, trip hop and alternative hip hop, featuring rap verses by De La Soul.
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On 8 December 2004, the band's website reopened with an exclusive video entitled "Rock It". Along with the music video, there was an announcement of a new album on the way, which would be produced by Danger Mouse. A talent contest entitled Search for a Star was also launched on 15 December 2004, allowing fans to send in a minute-long clip of video or audio or an image file. A viral marketing project named Reject False Icons was formed criticizing modern pop figures.
The first single from the album was "Feel Good Inc.", released as an EP in Japan and as a CD single in Europe. The single entered the UK Singles Chart at No. 22, several weeks before the CD single was released due to the single being released as a 7" vinyl in April, and new charts regulations included sales at online music stores, where the song had been available since 22 March. "Feel Good Inc." managed to reach No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart the week it was released, being the band's highest ever positioned single up to that point in time. The single stayed in the top ten for eight consecutive weeks. In the United States, it peaked at No. 14. The song also garnered a Record of the Year nomination for the 2006 Grammy Awards later that year. It was later included in the PlayStation 2 karaoke video game SingStar. It is included in Activision's Guitar Hero 5 and was released as downloadable content on Harmonix and MTV Games' Rock Band.
The album Demon Days was released on 11 May 2005 in Japan, 23 May in the United Kingdom and Australia, and on 24 May in the United States. The album debuted at No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, but fell as low as No. 29 in just seven weeks. However, as the music video for the second single "DARE" started getting played on MTV and other music channels, Demon Days rose up to the top 10 again. "DARE" was released on 29 August 2005 in the UK, where it debuted at No. 1. A Japanese EP followed on 7 September. "DARE" eventually reached No. 87 in the United States, also becoming a Top 10 hit on the Modern Rock listings. Shortly afterwards, Gorillaz contributed an exclusive track entitled "Hong Kong" to the charity compilation Help!: A Day in the Life released on 10 September 2005.
The third single was "Dirty Harry", which had already been released as a promotional single earlier that year. It was released in the United Kingdom on 21 November 2005. On its first week, it charted at No. 6. The release of the single raised the album once again back up to the top 10. The fourth and final single was the double A-side, "Kids with Guns"/"El Mañana". It was released in the UK on 10 April 2006. Unlike its Top 10 predecessors, "Kids With Guns" / "El Mañana" reached No. 27 upon its release in the UK. A week later, the single had fallen out of the Top 40 in the UK (see 2006 in British music). By the end of 2005, Demon Days had sold over a million copies in the UK, making it the UK's fifth best selling album of 2005.Demon Days has since gone five times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the United States, triple platinum in Australia and has sold over 6 million copies worldwide. At the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards in Miami on 28 August, Gorillaz won two awards for "Feel Good Inc.", including the award for Breakthrough Video.
Gorillaz performed "Dirty Harry" at the 2006 BRIT Awards in London, and the band was nominated for Best British Group, and Best British Album (Demon Days). Plans were unveiled for Gorillaz to go on a "holographic" world tour in 2007 and 2008. The cartoon members would be shown as virtual characters on stage using Musion Eyeliner technology, giving them a lifelike appearance on stage. The virtual characters were first used at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards on 3 November 2005 and again at the 2006 Grammy Awards on 8 February 2006 with the addition of a virtual Madonna, where the band played a pre-recorded version of "Feel Good Inc." However, the tour was eventually called off due to budget issues. Jamie Hewlett has stated that "...it was extremely expensive, extremely difficult, a million and one things can go wrong, every second that the thing's playing."
In 2005, a set of Gorillaz figures were released by Kidrobot to coincide with the release of Demon Days. Two variations of the set were released, known as the Red and Black editions, and a limited edition Noodle from the music video for "DARE" was also released. It is not known how many of these figures were released.
Three new sets of Gorillaz vinyl figures were released in 2006. The Basic set which was limited to 60 000, was released on 16 October 2006 and the 2-tone, limited to 1000 and White edition which was limited to 4000, sets were released on 2 November 2006.
The Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades DVD was released on 30 October in the United Kingdom, and 31 October in the United States. The official Gorillaz illustrated autobiography, titled Rise of the Ogre, was released on 31 October 2006 in the United Kingdom, and 2 November in the United States. D-Sides, a compilation of B-side and remixes, was released on 19 November 2007 in the UK and on 20 November 2007 in the US.
Hopes for a Gorillaz film were revived in 2006 when Hewlett stated that they would be producing the film on their own. American film producer and The Weinstein Company co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, was said to be collaborating with Albarn and Hewlett. In a September 2006 interview with Uncut magazine, Albarn was reported saying "[Gorillaz] has been a fantastic journey which isn't over, because we're making a film. We've got Terry Gilliam involved. But as far as being in a big band and putting pop music out there, it's finished. We won't be doing that any more." In an interview with the Gorillaz-Unofficial fansite, Jamie Hewlett and Cass Browne revealed that in the film the band members will act as other characters presenting a new story, instead of playing themselves. Hewlett said that the film's soundtrack will be the next Gorillaz album. "The soundtrack will be the third album. Damon will do the soundtrack, which will be the soundtrack, which will be the third album." As of April 2007, Cass Browne was still finishing the script and Albarn said that he hoped production of the film will begin in September 2007. No further news was heard about the film until February 2008 when, in an interview with Gorillaz-Unofficial, Hewlett said "Ultimately we didn't think that feel we're in a position to make the kind of movie we want to make with Gorillaz at the moment. [...] But I'd still like to make a full, lavishly-animated Gorillaz movie someday."
On 24 October 2007, the official Gorillaz fansite announced that a documentary film about the Gorillaz, titled Bananaz, would be released. The film, directed by Ceri Levy, documents the previous seven years of the band. The film was released online on the Babelgum website on 20 April 2009 followed by the DVD release on 1 June 2009. Gorillaz appeared on the Martina Topley-Bird song "Soldier Boy" along with rapper Roots Manuva, the song interpolates certain elements from the unreleased Gorillaz demo "Snakes & Ladders" which features both artists.
Phase Three: Escape to Plastic Beach (2008–2012)
Featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack, "Stylo" contained electronic influences. A genre previously untouched by the band.
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In late 2007, Albarn and Hewlett began working on Carousel, a new Gorillaz project which eventually evolved into the band's third studio album Plastic Beach.
Albarn said "I'm making this the biggest and most pop record I've ever made in many ways, but with all my experience to try and at least present something that has got depth." The album features guest performances by Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Gruff Rhys, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Kano, Bashy, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVA, and The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.
On 18 January 2010, it was announced that Gorillaz would be headlining the final night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on 18 April 2010. The first single from the album, "Stylo", featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def was made available for download 26 January 2010. Further singles from the album include "On Melancholy Hill", "Superfast Jellyfish" and "Rhinestone Eyes", as well as "White Flag", which was released exclusively for Record Store Day 2010.
Plastic Beach was first released on 3 March 2010 in Japan, followed by multiple other dates for other countries. The album received positive reviews from critics. To fit the Plastic Beach theme, the Gorillaz website was dramatically altered and changed. A virtual tour of the Plastic Beach was added, including a new Gorillaz game titled Escape to the Plastic Beach. Several 'Shorts' of each band member was included in the follow-up to the album's release, to give fans an understanding of the fictional band members' story before their arrival to the island. A Windows 7 theme was also released. In early July 2010, they announced their first world tour, titled the "Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour".
In October 2010, Damon Albarn announced to the media that he would not let the cast of Glee cover the band's songs, claiming that the music on the Fox network's TV show is a "very poor substitute for the real thing". This statement led most people to believe that Gorillaz had been asked by Glee producers to lend their music to the show, which they had not. Albarn responded to the confusion with a laugh and said "and now they definitely won't."
On 5 October 2010, Gorillaz announced their new single "Doncamatic" featuring Daley. It premiered later that same day on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 show. The single was released on 22 November 2010.
On 8 December 2010, Albarn confirmed via an interview that a Gorillaz album recorded on the American leg of the Escape to Plastic Beach tour will be released to download for free exclusively to paying fan club members from the Gorillaz website on Christmas Day, 25 December 2010. On 15 December 2010, Albarn confirmed whilst interviewed on Triple J that the new album would be titled The Fall as it was recorded on their American tour in October. The official video for "Phoner to Arizona" was also released on Gorillaz' official website for free on 24 December 2010. It was announced that Gorillaz would be performing on 16 March 2011 at the MTV Woodie awards. They were also nominated for the Best Video Woodie for "Stylo" at the MTV woodie awards.
Gorillaz released a digital single of the tracks "Revolving Doors" and "Amarillo" from their new album The Fall on 14 March 2011. Photos were released of frontman Damon Albarn and rapper Pharrell Williams recording with an iPad, Omnichord and a Korg Donca Matic when on Gorillaz' Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour, Albarn has stated in an interview that was not sure when the track would be released.
On 18 April 2011, Gorillaz announced the release of their own version of the iPad app iElectribe, by Korg - which features loops and samples taken from The Fall as well as other samples. The new Gorillaz version features a Gorillaz designed and styled interface, and is customized to generate Gorillaz samples from their album The Fall and includes 128 new sounds created by Gorillaz and 64 ready-to-use pre-programmed patterns from Gorillaz, Stephen Sedgwick (Gorillaz' engineer) and Korg. There have been noted problems with the app's availability outside of the United Kingdom. The app was based on Korg's Electribe: R device app.
On 5 October 2011, Gorillaz announced their first "greatest hits" compilation, The Singles Collection 2001–2011, which was released on 28 November 2011.
On 9 February 2012, Gorillaz announced "DoYaThing", a single to promote the Gorillaz-branded Converse shoes that were soon to be released. The song would be part of Converse's "Three Artists, One Song" projects, with the two collaborators being James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and André 3000 of Outkast. The track was available for free download on Converse's website, and in Journeys stores by way of scanning a QR code. An explicit, 13 minute-long version of the song became available for listening shortly after on Gorillaz.com. Jamie Hewlett returned to direct the single's music video, featuring animated versions of the two collaborators on the track.
The video, which premiered on 29 February 2012 shows the original four Gorillaz members reunited in a three bedroom flat at 212 Wobble Street, London. Also appearing are "The Boogeyman" and André 3000 (wearing a black mask with a white X on it), who surprises 2D in various places. Russel, still a giant, rests on the roof of the building. Noodle's windmill island which featured in "Feel Good Inc." and "El Mañana" is afloat again and anchored to the side of the building. Murdoc is shown to be recording new installments of his radio show from the apartment, while Noodle sleeps. The video ends with 2D receiving an eviction notice from a baboon in a postman's uniform (apparently Murphy's avatar in the project), putting the permanency of the band's residence into question once again.
"Indefinite hiatus" and other projects (2012–present)
In April 2012, Albarn told The Guardian that he and Hewlett had fallen out and that future Gorillaz projects were "unlikely". Tension between the two had been building during phase 3, as Albarn had felt that "we were at cross purposes somewhat on [Plastic Beach]" and that the visuals were not matching the music very well. However, in an interview with The Independent, Hewlett stated "I just want to do some of my own stuff, and Damon has many projects — he's always doing 10 things at once —, so it's all right to separate for a bit and try different things", and that while the concept of Gorillaz has "run its course for now, it doesn't mean it's packed away for good", although a future collaboration with Albarn would be something "completely different." He also revealed that he would like to revisit some of the unfinished projects that they worked on between albums.
On 25 April, in an interview with Metro, Albarn later clarified that his previous statements were "from an article which was an interesting take on a very long conversation". When asked about the future of the Gorillaz, he went on to say that once he had worked out his differences with Jamie Hewlett, he was confident that they'd make another record. When asked if sorting his differences with Hewlett would be difficult, Albarn said:
"I don't think so. We've been through too much together for it to be that big of a mountain to climb. We've just fallen out like mates do sometimes. I'm not the only person to fall out with mates and then make up again — everyone does it."
On 27 March 2013, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's opera Monkey: Journey to the West was announced to be re-shown in New York from 6–28 July.
On June 24, 2013, Jamie Hewlett stated that he and Albarn plan to someday record a follow-up to their 2010 album Plastic Beach. Hewlett also confirmed that a new Blur album was in the works, and that work on Gorillaz would not continue until the Blur album was finished.
During the group hiatus, in 2013, while hosting a show for BBC Radio 2, Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon played a previously unreleased Gorillaz track called "Whirlwind", which was used in a teaser trailer and was intended for Plastic Beach.
In April of 2014, Albarn told The National Post that he "wouldn't mind having another stab at a Gorillaz record." He also addressed the possibility with theNME, saying: "I can definitely see another Gorillaz-esque record at some point, yeah. That will almost definitely happen. I could put a Gorillaz record out next week; I’ve got enough stuff that I haven’t finished. The only thing really that defines a Gorillaz record in my head is when I just play most of it on keyboards. I’ve just been in Paris with Jamie Hewlett. There are points in everyone’s relationship where they fall out with people that they’re close to and then they reconciles, hopefully, and actually, you know, the relationship’s probably in a healthier place as a result of that."
In March 2001, Gorillaz played their first show at the Scala in London before embarking on a UK tour later that Summer, with one date in Paris and two in Japan. During this tour the live band played behind a giant projector screen which covered the whole stage, on which was projected various visuals and images created by Jamie Hewlett. After taking a short break over the holidays, the tour resumed with a North American leg in February 2002. Upon arriving in America, the band's bassist, Junior Dan, was apprehended and arrested by American authorities on drugs and firearms charges from several decades ago. He was replaced for the remainder of the tour by Richard Occhipinti. After completing the North American leg of the tour, the band played at the Isle of MTV festival in Lisbon, Portugal. This was the last live performance of Phase One.
From 1 - 5 November 2005, Gorillaz played a 5 night residency at the Manchester Opera House in Manchester, England. The event was filmed by an EMI film crew for a DVD release, Demon Days Live, in late March 2006. It was later announced that an American version of the event would take place from 2 to 6 April 2006 at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. Within an hour of release tickets were sold out. The 6 April show was filmed for a live webcast at MSN Video.Palladia (then known as MHD) also broadcast an Apollo Theater show in HDTV on 31 December 2006. A world tour was planned using hologram technology in 2007, however due to extreme costs and fine technical difficulties, the tour was cancelled.
In March 2010, Gorillaz began a short 6 date tour as "rehearsal" shows for their headlining slot at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The shows were open exclusively to Gorillaz Sub Division fan club members and featured no visuals whatsoever. These performances were the bands first public performances in four years. Gorillaz headlined the final night of the Coachella Festival on 18 April 2010 as their first proper, full show of Phase 3. On 27 April they were the main guests on Later... with Jools Holland. In addition, Gorillaz played a two-night residency at London's Camden Roundhouse (29 and 30 April 2010). Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash performed guitar and bass respectively with the band and more than once in the evening chords from The Clash song "Guns of Brixton" were heard as a subtle reference to their presence.
Gorillaz kicked off their first ever world tour in October 2010, with some preceding festival dates in the Summer, such as at the Byblos Festival in Lebanon, the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the Glastonbury Festival in England and one show at the Citadel of Damascus in Syria. . The Escape to Plastic Beach Tour took them across North America in October, Europe in November, and finally through Australia, New Zealand, and with one date in Hong Kong in December. During the final show of the tour at the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand on 21 December 2010, Damon Albarn announced that it would be their final show with the Plastic Beach line up.
In the half-hour TV mockumentary Charts of Darkness, it was explicitly stated that Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were behind the project. Albarn said "There could be fifty [people] here, but there's two".
The band's music videos (save "Rock It" and "Tomorrow Comes Today") are created by Passion Pictures. All visuals are created by Jamie Hewlett and his design company Zombie Flesh Eaters. For Plastic Beach, the live band's lineup includes half of The Clash (Mick Jones and Paul Simonon).
- Gorillaz (2001)
- Demon Days (2005)
- Plastic Beach (2010)
- The Fall (2011)
- Phase One Tour (2001–2002)
- Demon Days Live (2005–2006)
- Escape to Plastic Beach Tour (2010)