Monday 19 August 2019

Not too much monkey business, Damon

In a post-Trumpian world full of fake news, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's fake band Gorillaz makes perfect sense

Damon Albarn: ‘'There's really nobody like him,' says Jamie Hewlett
Damon Albarn: ‘'There's really nobody like him,' says Jamie Hewlett
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Gorillaz? Too much self-indulgent/navel-gazing monkey business? Not quite. They are on their fifth studio album now (the beautifully apocalyptic Humanz - buy it alone to hear D.R.A.M., Noel Gallagher and Savages' Jehnny Beth sing about the primal energy of universal love in a post-Trump planet on We Got the Power.)

What originally started out as Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's art-house multimedia project in 1998 has grown exponentially into something huge - both in artistic scope and international popularity: equal parts futuristic jamboree and genre-mashing hip-pop extravaganza.

Complete with an all-star cast of characters, too: from Lou Reed to Mr Noel Gallagher to De La Soul, to Bobby Womack, Snoop Dogg, the Syrian National Orchestra, Shaun Ryder, Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys and Mark E Smith.

The ex Blur singer and the iconic comic book designer respectively haven't reinvented the wheel but they have done something different with their anti-band made up of cartoon characters in a gloomy post-nuclear universe, a fake band in the aforementioned post-Trumpian world of fake news.

And they have sold far more copies than Blur ever did. (When U2 pulled out of the Glastonbury festival headline spot in 2010 after Bono had to recuperate after an operation on his spine, Gorillaz was drafted in to replace them on the main stage.)

Indeed, they are playing a much-trumpeted open-air show at Malahide Castle next summer.

I saw Gorillaz play an astonishing show at the Benicassim festival in Spain in 2010; with The Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon on either side of him - on guitar and bass no less - Albarn started the gig with a video montage featuring the aforesaid Snoop Dogg singing Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach.

"I ain't happy, I'm feelin' glad/I got sunshine in a bag/I'm useless, but not for long the future is comin' on," Damon sang on Gorillaz hit Clint Eastwood in 2001.

When once quizzed what kind of sunshine was in the bag, Damon replied: "I don't know that we can answer that one for you. That's top secret. That's the kind of information governments don't give out until 50 years after."

Interviewed together by New York magazine in 2010 about their then-new album Plastic Beach, the badinage between the two was infectious and not surprisingly, a little left of centre, but was not a little reflective of the synergy between the two former flatmates...

Hewlett, who drew all the characters for the album's visuals and videos, was reminded that when Demon Days, Gorlliaz's 2005 album, was released he said he was tired of drawing the characters.

"I was a little tired of it and needed to go away and try something else. So we went and did Monkey: Journey to the West [Albarn's 2008 soundtrack album with the UK Chinese Ensemble] and travelled around China and produced an opera."

Albarn: "A sort of opera. Not really an opera opera."

Hewlett: "It has elements of opera."

Albarn: "Fine, a popera. What do you want to call it?"

Hewlett: "An experience."

Albarn: "No, I don't want to call it an experience. "

Hewlett: "Well, that's why I called it an opera."

Albarn: "Okay, a flopera."

"There's really nobody like him," Hewlett said recently of Albarn. "Everybody of his generation, bands like Oasis and Suede - he's gone beyond that. If Blur experimented the way he does with Gorillaz, Blur fans would say, 'Why are they doing hip-hop? Why are they electronic?' That was a frustration for Damon. It isn't for me. I can draw whatever I f***ing want. But for a songwriter, it's great - to suddenly realise you can do what you want." And how.

Gorillaz play Malahide Castle on June 9

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