Thursday, May 11, 2017

Most Successful Virtual Band: Gorillaz "Adding Substance to Pop"

Most Successful Virtual Band: The Gorillaz “Adding Substance to Pop”

Genre: Avant-Pop, Experimental Pop, Alternative Rock, Brit Pop, Trip Hop, Hip Hop, Electronica, Indie, Dub, Reggae and Pop.

Awards: Grammy Award, Two MTV Video Music Awards, NME Award, (New Musical Express) Three MTV Europe Music Awards, Nominated for Nine Brit Awards

Studio Albums Gorillaz 2001 Demon Days 2005 Plastic Beach 2010 The Fall 2010 Humanz 2017

Tours Phase One Tour (2001-02) Demon Days Live (2005-06) Escape to Plastic Beach Tour (2010) Demon Days Festival (2017) Humanz Tour (2017)

Permanent Band Members Damon Albarn- Vocals, Keyboard, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums, Percussion, Melodica (1998-Present) Jamie Hewlett- Illustration, Visuals, FX (1998-Present)

Live Band Members Mike Smith- Keyboards (1998-Present) Jeff Wootton- Lead Guitar (2010-Present) Seye Adelekan- Bass guitar (2017-Present) Jesse Hackett- Keyboards (2010-Present) Gabriel Wallace- Drums, Percussion (2010-Present) Karl Vanden Bossche- Drums (2005-2007, 2010-Present)

Animated Band Members 2-D Murdoc Niccals Noodle Russel Hobbs

    The british virtual band Gorillaz was created in 1998 by “Blur” Musicians named Damon Albarn, and Graham Coxon. During a Blur interview Albarn and Coxon met Jamie Hewlett of Deadline Magazine. Hewlett began to hang out after the interview in with Damon sharing common interests. One evening they had a conversation at Albarns while he and Hewlett were watching MTV and Hewlett remarked…

 “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, and something that would comment on that.” [1]

    MTV during 1998 would have shown the Backstreet Boys, Third Eye Blind, Usher, Matchbox Twenty and other popular artists. These contemporary 1998 pop artists provided good jumping off contextual building points for the two to start creating their ideas and begin their Avant-Pop directed approach. Originally after formation the Gorillaz identified as singular “Gorilla” without the “z” and released their first song “Ghost Train”.

 
   
   Which lives on the second side of the single “Rock the House”, and the second side of compilation “G Sides”. The “Ghost Train”collaboration included Albarn, Del The Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala. The same producers that worked on “Time Keeps on Slipping” by Deltron 3030. Although Albarn still claims, “The first ever Gorillaz tunes was the Blur 1997 Single “Own Your Own”. [2]



    Jamie Hewlett was the artist to bring alive the 4 animated members that would eventually populate the Gorillaz media. This was the first virtual band that the world had ever seen. Hewletts previous comic work “Tank Girl” served as a jumping off point for the aesthetic of the animated members of the captivating virtual band. The virtual band consists of, 2-D who’s the lead vocalist that plays keyboards. Murdoc Niccals that plays bass guitar & vocals. Noodle plays guitar and keyboards. Russel Hobbs is the Drummer & percussion sounds. The four characters are completely fictional and are intended to not resemble any real contemporary musicians or themselves. At this point in time it was extremely avant-garde and experimental in the music video world to be using cartoon characters. It’s even more avant-garde in the sense that the cartoon characters were not resembling any real life musicians. What was really evocative was Albarn and Hewletts creation of a fictional universe for which these characters lived. Viewers can find characters in the video pieces jump from, 2-D book art to 3-D engineered characters side by side with non cartoon footage to create a realistic and non realistic surrealist landscapes. Fantastic revolutionary imagery that really grounded their work arises as being different than other MTV pop. You can find the band currently contributing the creative media on their website, and music videos, social media, and DVDs. Their website (www.gorillaz.com) provides instant interaction for visitors and has an open video during the duration of a surfers visit. The only places to click on the site include the tabs, News, Store, Fan Club Sign Up, and social media links. They currently use a disappearing sidebar that holds the band's visual and audio releases.
    For every Gorillaz release since “Blur’s 1997 Single, Own Your Own” (Albarn's proclaimed original Gorillaz song.) Damon Albarn has served as lead composer. Although every piece of their work serves as a collaboration between a variety of musicians responsible for covering such pop genre avenues. Most would classify the Gorillaz genre as Alternative Rock, Trip Hop, Hip Hop, Electronica, Indie-Dub, and Reggae. Arguably they set out to purify the pop genre itself in all aspects.     Albarn's and Hewlett’s success amongst others have continued to impress. However it’s more appropriate to label their content and visual delivery systems in a bundled critique in which they are extremely Avant-Pop with new ideas of visuals and performances that no one in their time has been releasing.
    The first Gorillaz album “Gorillaz” was a 15 track project released in 2001 and sold 7 million copies, and the Guinness book of world records awarded them the,

 “Most Successful Virtual Band.” [3]

   This award comes without question as they have continued to shape their own intermedial practice throughout their discography, visualizations, and merchandising. Not to mention avid attention to contemporary technological times allows them to develop amongst application releases and virtual projection performances all using the building block fictional characters in artistic environments. This avenue continues to propel their success as an avant-pop artist. The 2001 album “Gorillaz” included 4 very popular singles:

Clint Eastwood (first album release, memorable hit, back side containing song Dracula, vocals performed by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, the genre is electronic dub and hip hop, when Clint Eastwood released in early March, it landed at number 4 on the UK charts.)

 

 19-2000 (used for EA Sports FIFA video game 2002 [4], most memorable as “get the cool shoeshine” vocals by Damon Albarn, with a video of the Gorillaz riding around in their Geep, and mimicking MTV cribs).

 

 Tomorrow Comes Today (the first EP, including Tomorrow Dub, Tomorrow Comes Today Video, and Film Music.) Tomorrow Comes Today was co-produced with Hip Hop producer Dan the Automator, featuring Phi Life Cypher (UK Rap Group) and Del the Funky Homosapien (US Rapper).

 

 Rock The House (a hit amongst United Kingdom charts, vocals by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, during the time being sued by Doppelgangerz for stealing the idea for the “Gorillaz” the video had visuals associated with emotions the band was having, and portrayed some of the characters as satanists in kong studios)

 
 
   The same year as the September 11th attacks, D12 (Hip Hop band commonly in collaboration with rapper Eminem) was stranded in England without Eminem and Albarn invited D12 to the studio to start collaborating on a track on September 13th [5]. This project Albarn felt extremely appropriate as he was experimenting with middle-eastern music at the current point in time. [5] This would be an appropriate project to release to promote working together. This approach would be rather experimental in regards to western pop culture's current view towards the middle east as perpetuated through the media. This release titled "911" debuted in December of 2001.

    
 
   Gorillaz swung into 2002 performing February 22nd at the Brit Awards in London. This performance included 3-D animations on 4 large screens and included Phi Life Cypher rapping during the event. That year they were nominated for four Brit Awards, Best British Group, Best British Album, and Best British Newcomer. However they didn't win any. Dan the automator (Dan Nakamura) added in an Interview about the event...

 "You can't determine in advance how well a thing like this is going to do, It was done for fun, so it's always a surprise when it takes on a life of its own." [6]

     More importantly this notes the artistic vision of the Gorillaz, and processes that Gorillaz and their collaborators kept in common throughout production. Their next visual project built off of the Gorillaz 2001 album. They released the DVD. “Phase One: Celebrity Take Down”. This project included 4 visual pieces, “5/4”, “Charts of Darkness Documentary”, “Gorilla Bitez (Which included multiple skits with the band's virtual characters)” and “MEL 9000 Tour of the website” [7]. They even designed the DVD menu like the band's website starting to depict Kong Studios an important part of the virtual characters environment and personal story development involving Murdoc and Russel, 2-D, and Noodle. The media DVD release propelled the ideas of a film project that was soon abandoned by Albarn and Hewlett after multiple studio meetings with Hollywood executives amounting to Albarn saying,

 “Fuck it we'll sit on the idea until we can do it ourselves and maybe raise the money ourselves.” [8]

     Generally artists that venture down this lane of approach find more reward and control in production. Albarn and Hewlett are addicted to control and sometimes barely agree with each other let alone would be successful taking orders of direction from a studio that doesn't share the same building block vision. It also reinforces the logic of working with what you got. Which is a common theme of production for the group.
     In October of 2004 the Gorillaz released “Rock It” a website video to get fans ready for the album release of Demon Days in 2005.

  
 
   Demon Days hit Japan May 11th, May 23rd United Kingdom and May 24th the United States. The album debuted landing at number 1 and top of the UK Album Chart. Two of the more recognizable tracks:

   “Dirty Harry” was charted No.6 in the UK in its first week as a single release. Referencing “George Bush’s Mission Accomplished” speech, with an image for the cover resembling the film Full Metal Jacket’s.

 

    “Dare” was a number 1 United Kingdom hit and is sung completely by Damon Albarn, more memorable the lyrics “its coming up, its coming up, its coming up, its dare.” In this video 2-D walks around Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays live real head.

 

     Demon days sold 1 million copies in the UK in 2005. Since it has gone 5 Times platinum (platinum = selling 500,000 copies) in the UK, Double Platinum in the United States, Triple Platinum in Australia, selling a total of 6 million copies worldwide. [9] The 2005 MTV Video Music Awards gave the Gorillaz two awards for “Feel Good Inc”, Breakthrough video and best Visual Effects. They continued to perform “Feel Good Inc” in concert using music video parts in their performance.
     In 2005 Gorillaz also coordinated the Demon Days release with “Gorillaz Figurines” released by designer toy maker “Kidrobot”. The sets varied in editions and had sets of anywhere from limiting 1,000-60,000 limited issues in circulation. Quite genius approach to bringing sculptured on screen characters into fans hands. They released figures simultaneously with videos like “Dare” where character Noodle was sold in limited edition, amongst others. During the 2006 Brit Awards in London they performed “Dirty Harry”, and were nominated for Best British Group and Best British Album. They took the virtual characters a step further and created a fan frenzy when they did holographic performances at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards and the 2006 Grammy Awards.


 
   Their April 2006 announcement of Demon Days american tour, sold out in the begining hours. They then announced a plan for a holographic world tour in 2007. Where the cartoons would actually appear on stage using a technology called Musion Eyeliner. Musion Eyeliner would captivate audiences bringing colored lifesize and larger than life holograms moving across stage using the live stage illusion referred to as “Pepper’s ghost. The illusion is not truly a hologram because it places reflective material at an angle in front of the audience that is illuminated by a LED screen below so characters appear to 3D volume. 2006 was a visual high point for the group when Hewlett and Albarn started collaborating with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein from Weinstein company and Miramax films. September 2006 Albarn announced...

 “the band has been a fantastic journey which isn't over because we're making a film. We’ve got Terry Gilliam Involved. But as far as being in a big band and putting pop music out there it's finished. We won't be doing that anymore.” [10]

Little did they know about the projects to come… October 27 2007 the official Gorillaz fansite announced documentary film “Bananaz” would be released. A Film directed by Ceri Levy would document the previous band years. It was released on Babelgum Website April 20th 2009, and on DVD June 2009. Albarn & Hewlett began work on Carousel a visual project that actually birthed the band's third album Plastic Beach, shortly after commenting by Albarn that Gorillaz were done making music. Meanwhile Gorillaz simultaneously etching out the ongoing avant-pop adventure throughout his and Hewletts artistic practice. They didn't know they had a project to start until they were already working in their artistic practices of visuals and DVDs. More importantly they weren't ever done when they thought they were done. Reinforcing experimentation through process at its root. It was also important to their history in understanding that by staying on course they were able to extract and start to work with new ideas and stimulus for creation of new projects.
    Albarn takes a leap when talking to the public saying Plastic Beach, “is the biggest and most pop record I've ever made in many ways, but with all my experience i’ll try to and at least present something that has got depth…” [11]
    They planned on having Plastic Beach collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Gruff Rhys, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Kano, Bashy, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVA, the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. Here’s some notable popular tracks from the 16 track project.

 On Melancholy Hill (was a synthpop production that had Damon Albarn's charismatic lyrics that helps listeners become pulled out of a gloomy day, and focus on the brightening up the listening session with catchy lyrics “Up on melancholy hill, sits a manatee, just looking out for the day, when you're close to me!)

 

 Stylo (was a electro funk song that collaborated with Mos Def and Bobby Womack “convinced by his granddaughter”[12] to be on a Gorillaz track. You can also hear Damon Albarn through the back up vocals. The visuals use most real life footage of Bruce Willis driving a red Chevy El Camino, while Murdoc, 2-D, and Noodle find time to cause a fast pace car chase.

 

    January 18th they announced that they would be headlining the final night of Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival. The same year Damon Albarn made statements in an interview to defend the integrity and direction of the avant-pop work they have been making. During the same time he was under the impression that the cast of Glee wanted to cover the group's recent songs. To which Albarn said, “The Fox tv show is a poor substitute for the real thing.”[13] At this point the pop media industry can't expect anything less of a response from Albarn given they were soon to be releasing their idea to “Reject the false Icons” emphasizing thinking for yourself and more importantly to have ideas about power of self development and an anti popular culture ideology.
     December 8 2010, “Plastic Beach” was announced to be released for download for free to website fan club members on Christmas Day. The same day they released the album “The Fall” which was recorded on the American leg of the "Escape to Plastic Beach" tour. The Fall ended up being in collaboration with a release of the application iElectribe by Korg. A software development company developing for the iPad, and Apple Platforms. The application had Gorillaz designed interface, including 128 sound samples that were created by the band. Including 64 ready to use loops made by Gorillaz sound engineer Stephen Sedgwick and Korg designers. This is a big leap for any music group in the 20th century to jump into application collaboration and development. Reinforcing ideas that anyone can be an artist and to let fans become composers as well. Shortly after the iElectribe release the Gorillaz announced:

 Do Ya Thing (was a song that partnered with Converse in February 2012, on a project called Three Artists One Song project and included James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and Andre 3000 of Outkast. The single included a visual by Hewlett and animated versions of 2-D in 3D using green suits to map the directions of the character.





   In April Albarn told The Guardian [14] that Hewlett and Albarn had a “fall out” and future projects were unlikely due to tension building during Plastic Beach and The Fall. Word spread quickly through the fanbase. By the time it does however Albarn and Hewlett had already had their arguments worked out by the end of the same month. It’d be hard to believe Albarn and Hewlett would let a fall out occur at this point, but it was actually weird timing being after “The Fall” Album. This does however nail home the fundamental idea in collaboration, being sometimes you just have to take a punch for someone else's idea or not be afraid to let another collaborators idea weigh heavier than your own. Nevertheless to jumpstart the fanbase and kick things off they started scheming a follow up to Plastic Beach. They planned releasing new content in 2016 with so called upbeat humorous and positive melodies. [15] All the tracks contained nothing less than 125 bpm. One hundred and twenty five beats per minute is comparable to nodding your head repeatedly for .75 seconds up and down.

 “I'm starting recording in September for a new Gorillaz record, I've just been really, really busy so I haven't had a chance. I'd love to just get back into that routine of being at home and coming to the studio five days a week”[16], Albarn states.

    Reinforcing the concept of working in a present place in time conducive to completing projects and building off of pieces to make paths for new ideas. Not to mention the previous Hewlett, Albarn April argument has been referred to as making their collaborative friendship and relationship a lot stronger. In April 2016 Hewlett showed life of a new project on social media platform Instagram showing work on album featuring content from Liam Bailey, Albarn Himself, Twilite Tone, Vic Mensa and Jean Michael Jarre. They also jump started their media worlds and fan base by releasing interactive media stories about what the fictional band members have been up to sense the last project. They featured Noodle, in “The Book of Noodle” where she ended up in Japan tracking down a demon crime boss. Russel featured in “The Book of Russel” which had him on the shore of plastic beach in North Korea, and starved to point he shriveled back to normal size. Murdoc, in “The Book of Murdoc” was captured by the label EMI at sea and told to make another album. 2-D in “The Book of 2-D was swallowed by a whale named Massive Dick and washed up on an empty part of Cabo San Lucas surviving by eating the whale's blubber. They then gave Noodle her own instagram in October of 2016 augmenting her character personality in further clips. This marks a huge milestone for the virtual band as they continue to pave their own road through captivating their fan base and creating new relationships with viewers using compelling character stories on social media.
   This year (2017) has already been a big year for the Gorillaz. A new horizon is born as they are creating a unique festival called “Demon Dayz Festival” to start the 10th of June 2017 at Dreamland Margate, in Margate, England. Now becoming the first “virtual band” to have their own festival. The festival will feature virtual characters Noodle, 2-D, Murdoc, and Russel and other animations new and old, using new lights and installations and more Musion Eyeliner technology.
   The new 2017 project “Humanz” tracklist was initially leaked as one would expect given today's digital age. The actual “Humanz” album was said to drop via instagram on march 23rd saying the scheduled release date was the 28th of April 2017. Showing features of, De La Soul, Popcaan, Vince Staples, Pusha T, Rag n Bone Man, Anthony Hamilton, Kilo Kash, and Kali Uchis... Leading up to the release date singles started appearing on the band's youtube page.

"Saturnz Barz" (a hip hop, trip hop dancehall song with a music video came out in 360 view and normal view. This was a huge release and powerful hit featuring jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan and Abarn. The 360 video was named across the internet by Billboard and NME (New Music Entertainment) most successful debut of Virtual Reality music videos thus far. [17] Which is nothing short of surprising given the band's project history. It defeated the previous VR music video record that achieved 1.3 million plays total. Saturnz Barz actually got 3 million views in the first 48 hours.

 

“Andromeda” (was a visual and audio release on youtube that had an animated planet in galaxy featuring american rapper D.R.A.M. & Albarn is something one would consider post-disco, and alternative dance mixed with synthpop as it is a song one would find accompanied in an 80s club.

 

 “Ascension” was along the same type of visual, where the camera moves along a street on a left to right continuous pan through a dark city scape featuring american rapper Vince Staples. Marking the first of a Gorillaz, and a Vince Staples collaboration. This song would fall into the genre of alternative hip hop and alternative dance. Staples vocals on this piece fit the tempo very well and is extremely evocative.

 

 “We Got the Power” featured Jehnny Beth of english rock band "Savages" and Noel Gallagher of "Oasis". This visual was a stationary shot of the animated traffic jam on a multiple leveled highway. This amongst other pieces serving as a visual metaphor to go with the lyrical message. This track is a synthpop genre and actually has back up vocals by D.R.A.M for a second album collaboration.

 

 “Let Me Out” a trip hop and alternative hip hop track featured Vince Staples and Pusha T american rappers. The visual was the 4 animated band mates over a checkered visualizer that would move blocks around the video. To spread the message that the content doesn't have to be changing too much to be entertaining, that sometimes people just want something familiar, like social critiques on the inauguration of Donald Trump.

 

    Who knows what's next for Albarn, Hewlett, and Coxon, only time will tell as they meander through their upcoming performances and collaborations. One things for sure there's no argument that the Gorillaz are one of the most influential avant-pop experimental collaborative and revolutionary virtual band making compositions beyond music, in applications, merch and festivals. They constantly deliver beautifully melodic yet beneficial social criticisms for listeners, to disrupt the content that normally populates the pop industry and more so western culture through their lyrical content, instrument content and artistic process.
    Throughout their history they operated on foundational conceptual building blocks. Such blocks continued to propel projects based on their day one goals in 1997 since the have been "adding substance to the pop world". There’s plenty of hints and obvious pieces of content that lean us toward understanding Albarn, Hewlett and their collaborators aim. They're continuing to set the bar higher for themselves and every album release so fans and other artists are able to experience music in a visual and audio world that had yet to be explored since the Gorillaz came into the pop scene.
   The past two decades of pop have Albarn and Hewlett and their collaborators to thank for really beautiful pieces of music and virtual/live performances that will help carve out societies concentrations in a new mass communicated light and set forth new methods to approach and talk and communicate on current environmental & social problems, Gorillaz truly serve as revolutionary twentieth century Avant-Garde artists.

Presentation: http://prezi.com/bmto8hg_wpnr/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

 Sources

[9] “Artist Profile - Gorillaz” https://web.archive.org/web/20081115114738/http://www.emimusicpub.com/worldwide/artist_profile/gorillaz_profile.html . EMI. 2006.

 [13] Associated Press (10/12/2010) “Gorillaz: We Won’t Let ‘Glee’ Cover Our Songs”  Billboard.com. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/954190/gorillaz-we-wont-let-glee-cover-our-songs

[15] Book, Ryan. “Damon Albarn Writing A Musical While Flirting with Blur and Gorillaz Comebacks”  http://www.musictimes.com/articles/7797/20140721/damon-albarn-writing-musical-flirting-blur-gorillaz-comebacks.htm The Music Times. The Music Times. July 2014

[17] Britton, Luke (March 30, 2017) “Gorillaz Break Record with ‘Saturn Barz’ VR video” NME, http://www.nme.com/news/music/gorillaz-break-record-saturnz-barz-vr-video-2030640

[5] Brown, Cass; Gorillaz (2 November 2006). Rise of the Ogre https://scififantasylitchick.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/book-review-rise-of-the-ogre-by-cass-browne-gorillaz/ United States: Penguin. p. 43. ISBN 1-59448-931-9

[3] Cooper, James (19 November 2007). “Gorillaz: D-Sides” http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/6r25/

[16] “Damon Albarn: New Gorillaz Album Coming, Recording Starts in September http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/6634331/gorillaz-new-album-2015-damon-albarn . Billboard, Retrieved 31 July 2015

[4] David Roberts (2006). British Hit Singles & AlbumsRoberts, David. Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums. Guinness World Records Ltd. 18th edition (May 2005). ISBN 1-904994-00-8 London: Guinness World Records Limited

[1] Gaiman, Neil (July 2005). “Keeping It (Un)real”. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2005/07/gorillaz-2/

[6] Grant, Kieran (23 February 2002). “Gorillaz come out of the mist” http://jam.canoe.com/Music/Artists/G/Gorillaz/2002/02/23/745445.html

[12]  Greene, Andy (9 April 2009). “Gorillaz Attempt to Draft Bobby Womack For Upcoming Album” http://everything.explained.today/Plastic_Beach/

[8] Joseph, Michael (2 November 2006). "Gorillaz in the Midst". The Big Issue in Scotland (604):

[7] Mitchum, Rob (5 February 2003). “Phase One: Celebrity Take Down DVD” Pitchfork. http://pitchfork.com/article/record_review/18165-phase-one-celebrity-take-down-dvd/

[11] Morley, Paul (27 November 2009). “Paul Morley’s Showing Off… Damon Albarn”(MP3). The Guardian. 29 November 2009. http://audio.theguardian.tv/audio/kip/music/series/paul-morley-showing-off/1259329339795/8827/AlbarnMorleyFINAL.mp3

[10] Williamson, Nigel (November 2006). "West London Calling". Uncut: 88.

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