Updated: Aug 26, 2021
by Hans Ebert
What musician Damon Albarn and outré
comics artist/designer Jamie Hewlett did by creating the virtual band Gorillaz was break all the rules and stop, at least some people, from making music that was vapid and formulaic.
Gorillaz showed everything that could be done when having the freedom to create and with no pressure to be “a hit” or have hits.
Knowing the need of Albarn and Hewlett to always push the envelope and break new ground, the two artists never wanted to see whatever they were creating fall into that pigeon hole of dumbed-down doo dah.
Being in London during the early days of Gorillaz coming together, anyone who visited the offices of manager Chris Morrison saw the creative process taking place. It was narcotic and rebellious- punk, but with tired cynicism taking over from anger. One couldn’t help being drawn into the global gumbo being mixed.
This was a transfusion of radical confusion that brought the Tank Girl influenced work of artist Hewlett with the music going on in the head of Albarn and gave everything its own brand personality. It’s there for all to see and hear in the videos they’ve produced and keep producing.
Whatever Gorillaz were producing couldn’t be labelled. What was being created wasn’t something being put together just to be different. That never works. It comes out sounding contrived. And full of jive.
No, this was a free flowing outlet for creativity replete with pox marks et all. Perfection is often overrated. Imperfection sometimes stands out from all the sheep. Stands out from all the sameness.
As for Damon Albarn, there’s always something going on in his head. Some of these projects work, but nothing can be ignored- like the various Blur records, the side project that was The Good, The Bad, which I personally think remains a very overlooked recording, and he and Jamie’s ambitious “Monkey: Journey To The West”.
I was with EMI at the time when Gorillaz was launched. Other than Damon and Jamie, driving Gorillaz was co-manager Niamf Byrne.
Though having met Damon and Jamie when they were holidaying in Hong Kong and spent a memorable night out before I had to leave for a conference in Singapore, it was Niamf with whom I had the most interaction- especially about the potential of marketing Noodle in China to all the young real life Noodles, especially those in Beijing.
Though the above didn’t happen for one reason or another, I was involved in a Lunar New Year Remix of “Feel Good Inc”. It was a huge hit whenever it came on LOUD AND BANGING when the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Happy Wednesday brand had its CNY promotions.
After all these years, Gorillaz remains way ahead of the curve. The various teams and incarnations over the years have produced and influenced more artists and producers and anarchic cartoon series than many think.
Gorillaz also don’t fall into any one particular genre. I don’t think they know how to be this- one genre- and have worked with different producers and musicians, everyone from Bobby Womack, Snoop Dogg and Octavian to George Benson and Robert Smith from The Cure.
Thinking about it, I can’t even remember when Music started to be broken down and put into various boxes with their own “charts” and, with other than confusion, these “charts” creating a certain divisive culture. This isn’t what music is meant to do.
Gorillaz? Who knows who they might have brought into their space balls and mix and who aren’t here today. Prince? Bowie? Miles Davis? Barry White? Marvin Gaye? Aretha?
Surely, this is what music should be- an art form that brings everything together that many might not think would work- but does by sidestepping worrying where things might go wrong. Second guessing the dreaded “What Ifs” means constantly walking on eggshells as there’s a lack of self-confidence. There’s no room for doubt when creating anything that comes from within.
Damon Albarn has never walked on eggshells. Sure, the man can be difficult and, as I discovered some years ago by sending him a text about the “Monkey” project, he gets touchy about what he sees as criticism. It wasn’t, mate. Maybe it was something said in haste after a little over-indulgence.
One thing to be said about Damon is that when he he walks, his balls are so massive that one can hear them clang from miles away. It’s what was needed to create Gorillaz.
It’s what’s needed to air out whatever it is hiding dormant inside and really really really needs to come out and make its presence felt.
The world needs less monkeys and more Gorillaz.