Artist Of The Month – Gorillaz (April 2017)

Gorillaz

In a society dictated by the digital age, originality in content is always a welcome addition. Resurfacing from the depths of the digital realm after six years, British virtual band Gorillaz have finally popped up on the radar with exciting plans to make up for all the time lost: a wholesome new album they like to call ‘Humanz‘, all set to release on April 28, 2017. With a colossal upcoming production effort and killer comeback up their sleeves, we couldn’t think of an artist more fitting to be The Bangin Beats’ Artist Of The Month for April 2017.

A band built up since 1998, Gorillaz was the brainchild of Damon Albarn, of Rock Band Blur fame, and Tank Girl Comic co-creator Jamie Hewlett. The pair created a digitally stimulated reality that featured four original animated members meant to be purely fictitious and not inspired by any real-life personas: 2D as the lead vocalist and on keyboards, Murdoc Niccals on bass guitar and vocals duty, Noodle to cover guitar, keyboards, and vocals, while Russel Hobbs was put in charge of drums and percussion; as they take you on a mystical journey across their fictional universe via music videos, the band’s official website and short cartoons. Zipping back to the real world, here is the top fact: Damon Albarn is the sole permanent musical contributor, often carving out tunes in collaboration with a variety of musicians, as they colour the music sphere in shades of Alternative Rock, Trip Hop, Britpop, Hip Hop, Electronica, Indie, Dub, Reggae and even Pop, the air of magic bursting through every track.

The duo behind the puppet strings have an interesting backstory to begin with. It was in 1998: the recently single pair of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were flatmates in Westbourne Grove, London when an MTV-marathon session sparked an idea of brilliance. As outlined by Hewlett, “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,” speaking on what inspired the project. Thus, from the dark depths of their minds was born a refreshingly unique band, originally titled Gorilla. Following this inception, they recorded a song, with the musical contribution of Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala, called ‘Ghost Train’, which was later released as a B-side on their single ‘Rock the House’ and the B-side compilation G Sides.

Armed with creativity, a fresh strategy and pure talent, the journey that follows was filled with slamming positivity, chart-topping hits and music mastery across various collaborators.

In 2000, Gorillaz officially secured their first release with the EP ‘Tomorrow Comes Today‘, followed by the 2001 release of their first full-length album, the self-titled ‘Gorillaz’, featuring tracks  Clint Eastwood’, ’19-2000‘, ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’, and ‘Rock the House’ that received immense appreciation world over. Gaining over seven million sales  and an entry into the Guinness Records Most Successful Virtual Band, ’19–2000′ was the first that shot to fame quickly, placing No. 6 in the UK charts and being employed as the title theme for FIFA Video Game FIFA Football 2002. This debut album also won the 2001 British Phonographic Industry’s Mercury Awards, but was later requested to be taken back by the band who felt the nomination was like “carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity”. Released on 5 March 2001, the band’s first single was ‘Clint Eastwood’, a production by hip-hop homie Dan The Automator and American rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, better known as Del tha’ Ghost Rapper, band drummer Russel Hobbs inner spirit. However, the original version had the rapid lyrics of rap group Phi Life Cypher, yet became another release on the B-Side Album.

Following the devastating September 2011 Terrorist Attacks, Gorillaz offered their support with ‘911’, as they teamed up with Terry Hall and hip-hop gang D12 (minus Eminem). Meanwhile, the G-Sides compilation saw a Japanese release on 12 December 2001, followed by international releases in early 2002.

With the stakes of fame rising at rocket speed, it was time for the Gorillaz to show the audience their true face, an act they artfully staged with their 2002 Brit Awards, London performance on 22 February 2002, using 3D animation on four large screens along with rap accompaniment by Phi Life Cypher. The success came hard and fast, with the band being nominated for four Brit Awards, including Best British Group, Best British Album and Best British Newcomer.

It was in November 2002 that the DVD named Phase One: Celebrity Take Down was released and included the four Phase One promos, the abandoned ‘5/4’ video, Charts of Darkness documentary footage and five short comedy films based on the band characters called Gorilla Bitez, giving special details to design elements like the left-behind Kong Studios as a DVD Menu design. It was around this time that rumours about the Gorillaz team making a film ran rampant, before Hewlett admitted to the plans falling through due to their differences with studios and “Hollywood executive types”.

After laying low for about two years, the group ended 2004 with quite the bang, launching the ‘Rock It’ video on their website on 8 December 2004 and releasing the Demon Days album in May 2005 across Japan, US and Australia. This time around too, success was instant: with ‘Demon Days’ making it to the No. 1 position on the UK Albums chart list, and thus paving the way for a future filled with triumph.

Their third single ‘Dirty Harry’ began its release as a promotional single on 21 November 2005, but quickly made its way to No. 6 on the charts, propelling the entire album back to the top 10 once again. They then released their fourth and final single: the double A-side ‘Kids with Guns”/”El Mañana‘, but couldn’t garner the same support as their previous hits, earning the charts 27th rank.

However, even by the end of 2005, ‘Demon Days’ continued to prosper, selling over 6 million copies and going five times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the US and triple platinum in Australia, while also helping the band achieve nominations for Best British Group, and Best British Album.

On 28 August, Gorillaz also managed to bag two awards for ‘Feel Good Inc’ at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards and also the Breakthrough Video prize.

Finally, by 31 October 2005, the Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades DVD was issued, while an illustrated autobiography they called ‘Rise Of The Ogre’ was also published, graphically depicting the animated characters backstory in a powerful and punchy manner.

November 2007 saw the release of D-Sides, a combined list of B-side and other remixes. It was now time to take things up to another level: the Gorillaz chalked out plans for a holographic World Tour in 2007 and 2008, in which their cartoon characters would be converted into lifelike figures on stage using a technology known as Musion Eyeliner, an idea that only goes to prove the creative mastery beating within the Gorillaz. The string of innovation continued, with Kidrobot unveiling a set of Gorillaz figures that coincided with the Demon Days release, including variations like the Red and Black editions and a limited edition Noodle from the music video for ‘Dare’, as excitement levels climbed up. With a fandom presence that was only growing stronger, Gorillaz got their share of the silver screen with their documentary film ‘Bananaz’, a self-produced film directed by Ceri Levy, recording the band’s seven year journey through the musical hoops, released on the Babelgum website and DVD in 2009.

With their third album ‘Plastic Beach’, the boys tried to commercialise their appeal: making it more pro-pop, while retaining the depth its idea accompanied. Joined and voiced by a plethora of performers like Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Paul Simonon, De La Soul, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, they reworked the 2007 Carousel project into their latest album. The first single ‘Stylo’ featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def, was an electronically driven production with a catchy appeal as it made itself available for download on 26 January 2010. 

It was around this time that their festival fame kicked off as well, with Gorillaz being announced as the Headliners for the final night of Coachella 2010. Wrapped up in generosity, they decided to release the album made on the Escape To Plastic Beach America Tour as a free download exclusively for paying members of their website fan club on Christmas 2010, with the new album ‘Fall’ releasing just a day after the Gorillaz website unleashed the ‘Phoner To Arizona’ video.

Stepping things up a notch, in April 2011, Gorillaz came up with their own app called Korg, giving out loops and samples from The Fall and other creations, followed by a first-release of their best hits compilation ‘The Singles Collection 2001-2011’.

Securing a Converse brand with the “Three Artists, One Song” project, Gorillaz announced ‘DoYaThing’, a 13-minute long promotional single, which featured the other two collaborators as animated versions. However, despite this burgeoning success, the storm clouds had already begun brewing. It was in April 2012 that Albarn finally admitted to The Guardian that due to a fallout with Hewlett, Gorillaz projects were pretty much done for good, crushing the hearts of their hardcore fans. However, it wasn’t long until the fans got their chance to rejoice, as Albarn announced on 25 April that Hewlett and he had sorted out their issues and the horizon looked sunny for new records.

Since then, promises of a new album were being handed out at every interview, but on 19 October 2014, Albarn confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald that he had been fiercely working on new material and was planning a release sometime around 2016. He also stated that the public nature of their fall-out actually helped improve his relationship with Hewlett, leading the way for their partnership products.

Now that the duo’s project was back on, they pumped more energy into their effort, carving out an abridged timeline on 20 September 2016 that delves into interactive multimedia to narrate the stories of the animated characters, a retrospective that revolves around their lives since the hiatus. Titling each separately as “The Book Of…”, Gorillaz churn out their usual brand of twisted storytelling, laced with hints of mysticism and dipped into an interesting form of surrealism. They then moved on to designating an Instagram page for Noodle on 8 October 2016, after announcing this bad-ass, gun-yielding girl power symbol as the Global Ambassador of Jaguar Racing. They then dropped a brand-new release on 19 January 2017, appropriately titling it ‘Hallelujah Money’, and also the news of their very own festival called Demon Dayz Festival on 10 June 2017 at Dreamland Margate in Kent, where the group is all set to headline.

17 March 2017 saw the album’s unreleased tracklist leaked online, revealing the guest stars in this album, including the usual collaboration sources like De La Soul, yet hosting new members of the team like Grace Jones, Vince Staples, Pusha T, Rag’n’Bone Man and Anthony Hamilton. Via an Instagram announcement, Gorillaz consolidated their new album under the title ‘Humanz’ with a release scheduled for 28 April 2017. The album has been created with the intention to be feel-good and upbeat with a high BPM of at least 125, yet tinged with the dark shadows of a world in which nightmares walk the street and hold office. With the excitement only growing and ageing, Gorillaz put up new music videos like ‘Saturnz Barz’, using vocals from Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan, a galaxy of animation with ‘Andromeda’, raising expectations with ‘Ascension’ and ‘We’ve Got The Power’, boosting the anticipation involved in their allegorical new album about the world’s latest woes.

 

As they float through an electronic galaxy of good vibes, great music and blooming prosperity, Gorillaz have proved their skilled mastery and ability to tap into the public’s heart, achieving record milestones while bagging 61 nominations and winning 18. Amidst the roaring rollercoaster that was the adventure of Gorillaz, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett have come a long way from popcorn-fuelled MTV binge sessions, carving a magnetic place for themselves in the music industry. With the new album all set to release next month, tours confirmed all over the real world and the anticipation levels spiralling upwards, make sure to fasten your seat-belts for 28 April 2017 and have your pick of this legendary groups new chunky piece, and if taming those piercing horses is not your thing, make sure you pick up your pre-order copy right here!

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