A documentary about the virtual cross-genre band, Gorillaz, is to be released on December 16 for one night only. The band was created by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett and consists of four animated members including Stuart “2-D” Pot, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs that exist in a phantasmic universe. The documentary, Gorillaz: Reject False Icons, directed by Denholm Hewlett, was filmed over the course of three years, two albums and one world tour.
It features appearances from Vince Staples, Pusha T, Danny Brown, Yasiin Bey and more. We expect more content after this new film as Albarn has also stated that a new album is in the works.
Gorillaz marks one of UK music’s most ambitious and interesting undertakings. Created by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett in 1998, the virtual band has gone on to score number one albums in multiple countries, collaborate with artists such as MF DOOM, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Neneh Cherry and Lou Reed, and launch their own festival. A deep and immersive back story has also been constructed around the cartoon, with each band member, from 2D to Murdoc, from Noodle to Russel Hobbs has their own story as the group move from phase to phase.
Relive 10 of Gorillaz’s most iconic moments below:
Let’s start at the start. The entire reason Gorillaz came into being and we’ve been gifted with so much incredible music over the years is because one day flatmates Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were watching MTV and got fed up of all the landfill dross on display with a dismaying lack of aesthetic. So they decided to form a virtual band where they could construct and design every inch of the back story and imagery to be bursting with colour and life.
“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,”said Hewlett. The result was a chart-topping, world-conquering project. Strong effort.
In October 2010 Damon Albarn made the step the publicly announce that US musical TV show Glee would not be granted permission to cover Gorillaz tracks. It’s a decision that made sense, given that Glee turned out to be a flash in the pan phenomenon with about as much cultural credibility as an Ed Sheeran DJ set. The thing is, Glee hadn’t actually approached Gorillaz to ask. We love that Albarn felt necessary to state this emphatically regardless. And we love his wry response to the confusion even more: “And now they definitely won’t!”
The Mercury Prize: the most sought after album prize in UK music? Or a bit of a joke that is holds little meaning? Since Elbow once beat Burial’s ‘Untrue’, we’re inclined to go with the latter. But as many buy into the former, Gorillaz actively rejecting a nomination in 2001 was quite a statement, especially because they were nailed on as favourites to scoop the gong. The manner in which they pulled out was also two massive fingers up to the prize that tries to desperately to cling to its notion of prestige. An animated video clip of virtual bassist Murdoc Nicals was released in which he remarked:
“Mercury award? Sounds a bit heavy, man! Y’know sorta like carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity. No thanks, man! Why don’t you nominate some other poor muppet!”
This was also done without the knowledge of Gorillaz’s record label Parlophone, with the company going into panic mode and declaring only it had the authority to withdraw the nomination. Meanwhile, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett sat back and made no comment. It perfectly matched the sense of playfulness they had put into the construction of Gorillaz.
A Guinness World Record is an award we’d all secretly love to hold. Being the best in the world, ever, at something is a decent achievement for anyone’s CV. So when the release of the group’s debut album selling seven million copies bagged them the Guinness World Record for Most Successful Virtual Band in 2001 it was a moment to celebrate. I mean, look at the competition: there was Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mystik Spiral from Daria and that boy band Bart Simpson joined that was secretly a covert propaganda machine for the Navy.
“Get the cool shoeshine.” We’re not exactly sure what Albarn was getting on at in this lyric from the band’s debut album Top X single ‘X’. Has such a thing as a “cool shoeshine” ever existed? The process of rubbing blackened powder into formal footwear is about as dull and formulaic as it gets. Which is why it’s kind of hilarious that Shoe Zone adopted the lyric as its slogan. If you’re not familiar with Shoe Zone, aka you’ve never been a child living in Britain and in the education system, it’s a soulless shop that sells boring school shoes. Going to Shoe Zone as kid evoked only damp feelings of sadness at the ending of holidays and the start of a new term. So the fact it used a nonsensical Gorillaz lyric to try and brand itself as cool kind of makes sense in a twisted and not-at-all-cool kind of way.
Early on in Gorillaz’s history the band were a bit more secretive about the people behind the project and live performance took the shop of pre-recorded music playing while massive 3D holograms took centre stage. The 2002 Brit Awards performance of this ilk was an almighty spectacle, with 2D’s empty eye sockets starting deep into the void and Murdoc’s cat-like tongue flickering out menacingly, and rappers Phi Life Cypher joining them on stage. As Dazed pointed out, this also likely marked the first occasion in which a musician (Albarn) was able to perform live on TV while watching from a seat in the crowd. Gorillaz are constant innovators.
Getting booked in Panorama Bar, playing the main room at Time Warp, headlining fabric Room 1: there are some special musical milestones that are worth celebrating for any performer. By anyone’s standards, headlining Glastonbury is up there among the upper, upper echelons. Gorillaz’s performance was special for a number of reasons: it made Damon Albarn the first
person to ever headline the festival two years running (following Blur’s slot in 2009), they brought out a string of high profile guests including Lou Reed, Kano and Snoop Dogg, and it also meant the Glastonbury crowd/TV watchers were saved from suffering through originally planned headliner’s U2 for another year.
Blur and Oasis was a beef for the ages, which resulted in Noel Gallagher public proclaiming he wished Blur would “catch AIDS and die”. So, even now all these years later, it was a shock to see Noel appearing as a collaborator on the new Gorillaz track ‘We Got The Power’. (Despite Murdoc expressing he was more of an Oasis fan in this Noisey interview.) The opening lyrics of the track, “We got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens”, feel especially poignant in light of the collab.
That’s right, the virtual band Gorillaz live in the same universe as critically-acclaimed cartoon superheroes the Powerpuff Girls. In the 2002 feature film the girls’ nemesis Mojo Jojo is seen reading a newspaper advertising a Gorillaz concert (see above). There’s also an episode where the character Frankie dresses up as Tank Girl, the main character in Jamie Hewlett’s comic series of the same name.
Not content with keeping the Gorillaz self-contained, in 2003 Albarn recorded backing vocals for the Bristolian band Massive Attack. Under the guise of 2D, his contributions can be heard on ‘Small Time Shot Away’ on Massive Attack’s fourth studio album, ‘100th Window’. Massive attack co-founder and only original member on the record Robert Del Naja (who also may be Banksy) goes by the nickname ‘3D’. A match made in virtual heaven. Perhaps next time they could link with X Factor winning boy band 1D for a release on 4AD?
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GORILLAZ NEW DOCUMENTARY IN THEATERS THIS DEC. For one night only, we will have an inside look on the virtual band A documentary about the virtual cross-genre band, Gorillaz, is to be released on December 16 for one night only. The band was created by musician Damon Albarn and artist ...