Gorillaz, the multi-media music project helmed by former Blur front man Damon Albarn and Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett, is the most intriguing, and perhaps one of the most important, music groups to emerge from the '00s. Nowhere was that more obvious than Sunday night at Coachella, when Gorillaz sucked the crowd from virtually every other portion of Empire Polo Field for a rousing conclusion to the festival. If the sound of tens of thousands of weary festival-goers singing along to “Clint Eastwood” weren't proof enough, here's why you should be paying attention to the band.
It's Getting Hyperreal in Here
For Coachella, Damon Albarn and the gang played on stage with a large screen above them featured mostly animated footage of Gorillaz with a few live action clips, including a video performance from Plastic Beach contributor Snoop Dogg. While the show was more of a live/video hybrid than might have been expected, much of the audience (myself included) couldn't see the stage. Instead, our eyes darted back and forth from jumbo screens that were essentially broadcasting the concert to screen filled with Jamie Hewlett's visuals. Combine this with performances from people who weren't actually on stage, like Snoop Dogg on “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach,” as well as live guest appearances from The Clash's Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, De La Soul and more, and the line between reality and fiction blurs. If you're starting to think of Jean Baudrillard right now, you're not alone.
Genres Are Dead (Almost)
There was a time when young people were frequently defined by the music in their collection. You were an indie rocker, a goth, a raver, a hip-hop kid, and if you went outside of the musical boundaries set by your social circle, it might have been done in secret. But everything changed as the new century dawned. Pop stars like Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears unleashed hits that even the biggest indie snobs couldn't ignore, new technology (file sharing, YouTube, etc.) made finding new music easier than ever and iPods allowed people to create playlists as random as they liked. Gorillaz are a part of this wave, a band helmed by a Britpop star and featuring a revolving cast of artists with backgrounds ranging from hip-hop to punk to world music. There's no way you can pigeonhole Gorillaz, not when you move from hip-hop beats to belly dance grooves to sweet pop ballads in one set.
Time to Geek Out
If Gorillaz had come out fifteen or twenty years ago, people might have thought it was a joke, or a cute novelty. But, Gorillaz hit after DJs had already become superstars for playing records alongside wild, psychedelic visuals and after a lengthy list of strange cartoons for adults had become cult favorites. Maybe the project didn't seem so weird in that context, but it still challenged the belief of “real music” as being people with traditional instruments strumming on a stage with traditional rock star swagger. When you see the band live, it's a true multi-media experience. Gorillaz co-founder Jamie Hewlett, who is responsible for the band's visual representation, is as integral as Damon Albarn. You simply cannot separate the two in this project. Having the chance to geek out over character design while you're dancing in a polo field is still something of a novel concept. Enjoy it.