Posts Tagged ‘Band’

The Gorillaz

April 8, 2019

I first became aware of the Gorillaz when they debuted their first single in late 2000. I first heard it in music video format at the tail end of music videos being a mainstream sort of thing. (With YouTube, they have come back a bit but younguns don’t know about MTV and VH1 back in the day). I was immediately taken by this song even though it took me a while to remember the name. The single was called “Clint Eastwood” and I loved the merger between the brass instrument samples, the dub influences, the electronica, the hip hop flair, and the rock vocals. This was all accompanied by some really awesome animation which made it probably my favorite music video of all time. At the time, I thought this might have been a one-shot thing. I loved the music and I looked forward to more singles but the animation was probably not going to be a thing. Little did I know that the animation was going to be their gimmick. The animation continued and we got actual lore produced by these new rocking cartoon characters.

The Gorillaz are a band founded by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. Albarn was doing great with Blur but he wanted to do some more experimental stuff but did not seem to want to be the face of another band. That brought in Hewlett who, among other things, was the creator of Tank Girl and a master at a particular art style. The idea of the band is that Albarn is a mainstay but any musician or guest can rotate in and perform on any track or album. The first group was Albarn, Mike Smith, Cass Browne, Simon Katz, Miho Hitori, and Dan the Automator but there have been over two dozen musicians that have been part of the band at one point or another and that does not count guests. This has led to an ever-evolving sound as new musicians and new ideas are introduced to the band.

But there is even more than that. Jamie Hewlett’s contribution is to help make these cartoon characters into almost living breathing people. Part of that is his excellent artwork and character design. He made four distinct characters that each look interesting. Then, after a few singles were released, they actual animated skits where we got to know the band members better. That meant that actual voice actors were hired and we got to see these cartoons actually talk to us and each other. We learned their backstories. The lead vocalist is 2-D, a young British man who has blank eyes due to being in two different car crashes. The bassist is Murdoc, a satan worshipping conniver who put the band together. The lead guitarist is Noodle, a Japanese girl who speaks little English but is a guitar prodigy. Finally, there is Russell, the band’s American drummer who has the power to channel spirits. These spirits are usually how they explain the guests on their albums.

Eventually, the band got popular enough that they had to figure out how to do live performances. At first, they would have the live performers behind a screen and images from the music videos playing on the screen. At one point, they just had the live performers appear on stage with only a skit from the protesting cartoon characters as an explanation. Finally, technology caught up and they were able to do some performances with the characters projected as holograms. This has definitely led to some awesome and memorable moments. As with their sound, they continue to evolve their presentation both in live performances and in their music videos. To date, there have been six albums, three side albums, several EPs, and a bunch of tours. Every album they have ever put out is that rare album that I can listen to all the way through without skipping and they all have several songs that I absolutely love.

Funny story, I was actually so obsessed with this band that I researched their first album for an actual research paper. In my second semester in college, I was in an expository writing class with a focus on writing research papers on Pop Culture. My early papers in the class were actually based on MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. The final paper that I wrote was a thirty page paper on Joe Sparks, The Chipmunks, and The Gorillaz. I explored the idea of musicians who would perform through cartoon characters instead of showing their faces. My theory was that they did so in order to allow more artistic freedom. If they performed through a brand instead of their own image, they did not have to adhere to their previous style. I wish I still had a copy of that paper because I would definitely post it here but I loved exploring the different themes. I ended up interviewing Sparks after sending him a draft of the paper but I wish I could have interviewed Albarn and Hewlett for the paper but I was just some punk kid trying his best.

(Written on 4/2/19)


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