1. From loathing to love
The two great minds behind the Gorillaz project, Damon Albarn, the charismatic singer of Blur and Jamie Hewlett, co-author of the comic book Tank Girl, absolutely hated each other before they formed the band. They first met in 1990 through Blur’s Graham Cox, who adored Hewlett’s drawings, for an interview published in the magazine Deadline. Hewlett thought Albarn was a wanker. And the fact that Hewlett at the time was dating Cox’s ex-girlfriend, Jane Oliver of Elastica further complicated matters. In spite of all that Albarn and Hewlett became flatmates in London in 1997. Hewlett eventually broke up with Jane around the same time as Albarn split from Elastica’s singer Justine. This concordance brought them together, artistic creativity being the best cure for a broken heart.
Interview Murdoc and 2D
2. A group that owes everything to the year of the monkey
The name Gorillaz comes from the fact that both Hewlett and Albarn were both in 1968, the year of the monkey. China has always been a mutual passion of theirs, along with Clint Eastwood, zombies and vampires. Fans of Chinese theater, they adapted a famous Chinese tale into an opera entitled Monkey: Journey to the West.
3. The (hidden) influence of MTV
Like Residents and Daft Punk, Gorillaz’s big intuition has been to hide behind invented characters at a time when pop stars’ faces (and bodies) are being constantly scrutinised. The idea came about while the two flatmates watched MTV. Hewlett suddenly realised that watching MTV for too long could drive you crazy because none of the bands are really that interesting visually. Hence the desire to stand out as a virtual band, existing only through animation. To begin with Albarn and Hewlett concealed the fact that it was them behind the project. The first musicians in Gorillaz, Albarn, Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala hid behind the invented band members called 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs and Noodle, who even gave fake interviews.
Teaser of “Humanz” album
4. An overwhelming ambition
In 2007, just before Gorillaz released their third album, Plastic Beach, Albarn revealed that he wanted to record “the biggest pop album ever made”. To do so he invited an impressive cast from all genres of music: Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and not forgetting the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. By mixing all sorts of influences, from electronic and rap to rock and reggae, Albarn broke the boundaries in his invention of new hybrid sounds. Visually Hewlett also raised the bar. He worked on a TV series about his characters and revealed that DreamWorks had started producing an animated film that was eventually abandoned because it was deemed too dark for a project costing millions of dollars.
5. The anti-Trump hymn
In January 2017, the English band released the single “Hallelujah Money”, one of the best tunes from the new album Humanz. This track, in collaboration with French singer Benjamin Clementine, was released the day before Donald Trump’s investiture. It is a vehement critique of the new US president along with his cult of money.
6. The consummate art of featuring
They’ve sold millions of albums and just keep reinventing themselves. For their latest album Humanz they created a virtual party around the world and a 360° video about “Saturnz Barz”. They even rebuilt the Spirit House seen the video, in three cities (Brooklyn, Berlin & Amsterdam). The featurings are equally impressive from Vince Staples, Grace Jones, Danny Brown, Kelela and De La Soul to Kali Uchis and believe it or, Noel Gallagher. Yes the two sworn enemies of 90s Brit pop are finally reconciled. Even monkeys have a dose of humanity...