Gorillaz is a virtual band created in 1998 by Damon Albarn of Britpop band Blur, and Jamie Hewlett, co-creator of the comic book Tank Girl. The band is composed of four animated band members: 2D (vocals, keyboard), Murdoc (bass guitar), Noodle (lead guitar and occasional vocals) and Russel (drums and percussion). The band's music is a collaboration between various musicians; Albarn being the only permanent musical contributor. Their style is broadly alternative rock, but with a large number of other influences including: britpop, dub, hip-hop, and pop music.
In 2001, the band's eponymous debut album 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 It was nominated for the Mercury Prize 2001, but the nomination was later withdrawn at the band's request. Their second studio album, Demon Days, was released in 2005 and included the singles "Feel Good Inc.", "Dare", "Dirty Harry" and "Kids with Guns"/"El Ma?ana". Demon Days went five times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the United States and earned five Grammy Award nominations for 2006 and won one of them in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category. Gorillaz have also released two B-sides compilations and a remix album. The combined sales of Gorillaz and Demon Days had, by 2007, exceeded 15 million albums. The group is currently working on their third studio album.
Early years (1998?1999)
Gorillaz co-creator Damon Albarn, 2007
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett created Gorillaz in 1998 when they were both living together in a flat on Westbourne Grove. The idea to create the band 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 said. The band originally identified themselves as "Gorilla", and the first song they recorded was "Ghost Train", 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, Albarn, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Dan the Automator, had previously worked together on the track "Time Keeps on Slipping" for Deltron 3030's eponymous debut album. The song can be seen as the genesis of the musical style that continued into Gorillaz' first album.
Phase One: Celebrity Takedown (2000?2003)
The band's first release was Tomorrow Comes Today EP, released in 2000. It was very well received in the UK underground music scene and generated a lot of word-of-mouth advertising, as well as a large shroud of mystery over who was behind Gorillaz and what could be expected from the band in the months to come. Promo outlets circulated a booklet with the fictional backstory behind the cartoon band. The band's official website, www.gorillaz.com, is a virtual representation of Kong Studios, the band's studio and home. Inside, visitors can browse through each member's bedroom, their recording environment and even the hallways and bathrooms. Each room also has bonus surprises and games to play: for example, the lobby has a remix machine, the cafeteria contains the message board on the wall and Murdoc's Winnebago contains a voodoo doll of 2D. Each member also has their own computer which contains pictures, samples used in various Gorillaz songs, their favorite websites and their e-mail inboxes. Because of the nature of the site, an official fansite, fans.gorillaz.com, was created to hold the standard band website information, including news, a discography and the band's touring schedules.
"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 tha Funkee Homosapien and the chorus is sung by 2D (Damon Albarn).
The band's first single, "Clint Eastwood", was released on 5 March 2001. It became a smash hit and put Gorillaz into the global spotlight. 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". Each of the singles' videos contained humorous and often ridiculous storylines and imagery, though "Clint Eastwood" and "19-2000" were the only singles to break through the American music scene. "19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)" became popular after being featured in both an Ice Breakers commercial, as well as in EA Sports' FIFA 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 special also interviews Rachel Stevens of S Club 7 fame and a few of the band's voice talents, who had been given roles to play.
The end of the year brought the song "911", a collaboration between the Gorillaz and rap artists D12 (without Eminem) and Terry Hall about the September 11, 2001 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 were 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. 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. Along with the release of the DVD, the band's website closed down almost completely. Kong Studios was no longer accessible, instead, visitors could only enter a police cabin, where the message board and chats were still accessible. From there, a small robot called G.R.3.G. could be used to explore the abandoned Kong Studios in a 3D Shockwave environment, though doing so would only grant access to a few games. The Abandoned Gorillaz Site
Rumors were circulating at this time that the Gorillaz team were busy preparing a film, but an EMI interview later revealed that plans for the film were abandoned. In an interview with Haruka Kuroda (the voice of Noodle), Kuroda stated that Jamie Hewlett rejected many scripts before giving up on the movie. 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."
Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades (2004?2008)
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. The prize included collaborating with the band to create the music and video for "El Ma?ana", the fourth single for the new album, as well as getting their own room on the newly rebuilt Kong Studios website. A second promotional booklet was issued, recapping the previously issued booklet, as well as detailing the failed movie production in Hollywood and the breakup and reforming of Gorillaz. 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 and Australia. The single entered the UK Singles Chart at #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 #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 #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 popular Playstation 2 title "Singstar", a game where player attempt to sing along karaoke style.
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 #1 on the UK Album Charts, but fell as low as #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 #1. A Japanese EP followed on 7 September. "DARE" eventually reached #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 off Demon Days 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 #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 Ma?ana". It was released in the UK on 10 April 2006. Unlike its Top 10 predecessors, "Kids With Guns" / "El Ma?ana" reached #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.
De La Soul performing "Feel Good Inc." with the Gorillaz at the Demon Days Live concert in Manchester.
Plans were unveiled for Gorillaz to go on a holographic world tour in 2007 and 2008. The cartoon members would be shown as holograms on stage using Musion Eyeliner technology, giving them a life-like appearance on stage. The holograms 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. Three new sets of Gorillaz vinyl figures were released in 2006. The Basic set was released on 16 October 2006 and the 2-tone and White edition sets were released on 2 November 2006. A Gorillaz mobile phone game called Gorillaz Entertainment System (GES) was published by Gorillaz Partnership under license to RealNetworks in the spring of 2006 in Europe, and summer of 2006 in the United States. The game was developed by Gorillaz Partnership in association with Zombie Flesh Eaters and Mr. Goodliving Ltd. Gorillaz Entertainment System (GES) features four character-based games, each with their own individual gameplay and style. The games combined classic arcade style games and contemporary Gorillaz artwork.
On 21 September 2006, the main lobby of Kong Studios was destroyed for unknown reasons and a teaser clip for Slowboat to Hades appeared and could be played on a TV screen. 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 U.S.
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 Weinstein Company co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, was also said to be collaborating with Albarn and Hewlett. In a September 2006 interview with Uncut magazine, Albarn was reported saying " 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 movie the band members will act as other characters presenting a new story, instead of playing themselves. Hewlett also said that the movie'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 is still finishing the script and Albarn has said that he hopes 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.
In the November 2007 issue of Q magazine, when asked what his top priority for 2008 was, Damon Albarn replied "Well, I'm doing the next Gorillaz thing, but it won't be called Gorillaz. In the February 2008 Gorillaz-Unofficial interview, Hewlett elaborated on this saying "I think the idea behind it is that it's like how The Who presented their movies ? Tommy and Quadrophenia and so on. Those were presented as by 'The Who' even though none of the members of the band were in the movies. I don't think anyone from The Who was in Quadrophenia. But it's the same people working on it, that's the principle." In a July 2008 interview with The Observer he also said, "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 - Gorillaz is a group of people who gave you this, and now want to give you new stuff."
In the Observer interview, Hewlett said that there is "a new project which Damon and I are working on now, called Carousel, which is even bigger and more difficult than Monkey, and it isn't going to fit anywhere and no one's going to like it, ha ha ha! We've started work - I've done a lot of visuals and Damon's done a lot of music but we haven't figured out how they're going to fit together. I can't say much about it yet but 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, well ... originally it was a film but now we think it's a film and it's a stage thing as well and... look, it's basically us doing what the fuck we want without worrying about whether it's for a record company or a film company or whatever. So I'm not sure how it'll pan out, or even if it will happen. But Damon's written around 70 songs for it, and I've got great plans for the visuals, but right now, at this moment, it's still just a really good idea."
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett stated in an interview with CBC News on 17 September 2008 that they will be doing another Gorillaz album. Hewlett says that from their work on Monkey, "we just learned more about what we do, musically and artistically. That's a great place to come at when we come to another Gorillaz album. It doesn't have to be animation and music." Hewlett also expressed annoyance at having to draw the band members again, "I'm so fucking bored of drawing those characters. But then we had a moment where we had a new angle on it... I'm gonna adapt them." In a later interview Hewlett said, "they'll be the same characters, but a little bit older and told in a different way." An article by the Toronto Star stated that the duo hope to begin work on the album in January 2009. Albarn also said that he wants "to work with an incredibly eclectic, surprising cast of people." On 14 January 2009, Damon Albarn made an appearance as a guest DJ on BBC Radio 1, premiering demos of three new Gorillaz songs, which are entitled "Electric Shock", "Broken" and "Stylo". According to EMI, the album is expected to be released within their current financial year which ends March 2010. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Posdnuos of De La Soul said that the group had provided vocals for two songs on the upcoming Gorillaz album, "Electric Shock" and "Sloped Tropics", and revealed that the third album's tentative title was "Plastic Beach". British garage rock band The Horrors have recorded a track with Albarn which may appear on the album.
2D - (born in Crawley, United Kingdom) - vocals, keyboards
Murdoc Niccals - (born in Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom) - bass guitar
Russel Hobbs - (born in New York, United States) - drums, percussion
Noodle - (born in Osaka, Japan) - guitar, vocals
Del ? vocals: A ghostly depiction of Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and the blue phantom in the "Clint Eastwood" and "Rock the House" music videos and the Gorilla Bite "Jump The Gut" was, one could say, another band member. In 2003, he was finally separated from Russel when the Grim Reaper turned up to claim him; he appeared as a mass of living ectoplasm and said his final goodbye to his old friend before leaving. The shock of losing the friend who had hidden inside his body all that time, coupled with Russel's continuing belief that the Reaper was stalking him, lead to a trauma that took Russel an entire year to recuperate.
Paula Cracker ? Guitar: 2D's ex-girlfriend and the band's original guitarist. She played guitar in Ghost Train. In the Gorillaz storyline, she was ultimately fired and replaced with Noodle after Paula was caught having sex with Murdoc in the studio toilet. Later, Paula Cracker is one of several people hired by Jimmy Manson to eliminate Gorillaz. Her status post-Jimmy Manson is unknown. It was stated in Rise of the Ogre that Paula was sick in the head, on strong medication, and has a personal grudge against current guitarist Noodle. During her brief time in Gorillaz, she was described as "the weak link" by the rest of the band; Murdoc called her "depressingly ugly" and 2D never disagreed, only saying that it was the principle of Murdoc stealing his girlfriend.
There have been waves of speculation surrounding who is actually behind Gorillaz ever since Tomorrow Comes Today was first released. In the half-hour TV mockumentary Charts of Darkness, it was explicitly stated that Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were behind the project. However, many people work on various aspects of Gorillaz. To quote Albarn, "There could be fifty here, but there's two." In short, the Gorillaz as real, singular human beings do not exist. Rather, they represent the many people working on the project. More or less, the only thing that has remained constant in every song is that Albarn performs the singing voice for 2D.
During the "hidden" credits to the DVD Phase One: Celebrity Take Down, it states the names of the creators, the voice talents and those responsible for performing live. This list of the group's integral performers has changed drastically since the first album, with the exception of Albarn himself. For a more or less complete list of people involved in Gorillaz, see this site.
In the most recent live performances (Demon Days Live), the roles of 2D (vocals and piano) are assigned to Damon Albarn as 2D, Noodle's (guitar and backing vocals) to Simon Tong and Rosie Wilson respectively, Murdoc's (bass guitar) to Morgan Nicholls, and Russel's (drums) to Cass Browne. However, there are two touring keyboardists (one on a piano and the other on a synthesizer), so one could say that both of these people also perform the role of 2D. Similarly, there is both a drummer and percussionist on the tour, both at a drum kit, so these people are essentially both Russel.
The band's artwork are created by Hewlett and his company Zombie Flesh Eaters. The band's music videos (for the exception of "Rock It" and "Tomorrow Comes Today") are created by Passion Pictures whose animators include Pete Candeland and 2000AD artist Rufus Dayglo.
Phase One live performances
For the tours affiliated with the debut album, the physical band played behind a specially designed screen which covered the entire stage area. Videos, animatics and image collages were projected onto the audience side of the screen, while choreographed lights behind the screen lit up silhouettes of the physical band, creating a meld of the physical and animated. For their first tour of the United States, two screens were used; one was simply the animatics, while the second, lower screen displayed the band's silhouettes along with various quotes from interviews to make the fictional band members appear to be present, talking to the audience (particularly, Murdoc and 2D). In the majority of the shows only Noodle and Russel spoke live to the audience. 2D spoke in only a few shows and Murdoc is known to only have spoken during one show, which was the only show where all four band members spoke live to the audience.
Phase Two live performances
Following the release of their Demon Days album, Gorillaz began an American radio tour. In keeping with the style of the band the 'Demon Detour' featured a set of songs played on select radio stations, along with comments by the four band members.
Gorillaz played five sold out shows at the Apollo Theater, New York in April 2006
Between 1 November and 5 November 2005, there was a Gorillaz "festival" billed as Demon Days Live with collaborators from Demon Days (Neneh Cherry, Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Ike Turner, Roots Manuva, Martina Topley-Bird and Shaun Ryder all appeared live; for other collaborators such as Dennis Hopper and Ibrahim Ferrer, recordings were used) and Damon Albarn performing songs from the album live on those five nights at the Manchester Opera House. The visual element of the evenings was provided by Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett and displayed on screens on the stage, and the artists performed in front of the screens, with Damon Albarn in silhouette form for most of the concert (unlike previous concerts, where the musicians were behind the screens, with only silhouettes visible). 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 April 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 broadcasted an Apollo Theater show in HDTV on 31 December 2006.
For the band's live performances at the 2005/2006 award shows, a different visual effects technique was used to project the band onto the stage: similar to the Pepper's ghost trick, the Musion Eyeliner system allowed animations of the band to be projected on transparent film placed in front of the stage, creating the appearance that the band members were actually present on the stage. The first such performance by the band was made on 3 November 2005, the third night of the Demon Days Live performances, when the band simultaneously appeared at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon, Portugal and performed their song "Feel Good Inc.". At the 2006 Grammy Awards, held on 8 February 2006, Gorillaz opened the show using the same technique, sharing the stage with a virtual Madonna. Their performance was a mash-up of the Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc." and Madonna's "Hung Up". However, there was a slight problem concerning the projections. The music on all of these occasions was rather low in volume, which Jamie Hewlett revealed to be a flaw with the Musion Eyeliner system: if the music was too loud, the screens reflecting the band on stage would vibrate, making their images blurry. This happened with the mash-up performance with Madonna's "Hung Up". A week later, on 15 February 2006, Gorillaz performed their song "Dirty Harry" at the 2006 BRIT Awards, with Bootie Brown and the Children's Choir San Fernandez. This concert had giant versions of the video clips on large screens, with Bootie Brown and the Children's Choir San Fernandez to either side of the screens. A similar, but not completely identical, version of this performance was shown on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and the video was projected at the 2006 Designer of the Year Award exhibition, which Jamie Hewlett later won.
A world tour was planned using the hologram technology described above. However, due to extreme costs and fine technical difficulties, the tour was cancelled.