My earliest musical memory takes place with my five year old self sat in front of the TV. Top of the Pops was a show that aired every week and featured the top artists on the charts performing their songs. I don’t have any vivid memories of any particular performances. However the most vivid memory I have from that age is a video of a band that didn’t show up, because they didn’t really exist.
Gorillaz are a virtual band comprising of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Tank Girl artist and creator Jamie Hewlett. The band has characters that perform in the world that existed in their music videos. It was Clint Eastwood and it’s video that had me hooked, a cartoon that was also music was much more interesting than real people performing. Of all the artists that stood on the top of the pops stage and performed, Gorillaz and their music video were the only one that stuck in my memory.
I ended up forgetting about Gorillaz quite quickly, I did have the attention span of a five year old after all. However the image of these massive apes dancing always stuck in my mind and was probably triggered every time I went to monkey world or whenever Goku transformed in Dragonball Z. However it is now 2005, I’m ten and Gorillaz have returned with new music, and a new world.
My parents could see my intense focus whenever their music videos came on TV, growing my obsession in the same way a show like Pokemon had. I watched cartoons more than anything else so it was nice to see music presented in a more relatable way. Obviously it helped that the music was awesome but the fact that Gorillaz was a cartoon is what has made them my favourite artist. Animation had been used as a technological tool for making music videos plenty of times before (ie. Take On Me by a-ha, Paranoid Android by Radiohead), however the animation was the band in this case and the whole campaign was based around it.
Gorillaz debut campaign had already helped establish characters and an aesthetic only possible with animation while helping the eponymous debut chart worldwide, including hitting 14 on the Billboard 200. Demon Days had now arrived and pushed Gorillaz to new heights.
The first single released from Demon Days was Feel Good Inc and it’s stunning music video. I recently found out that Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation powerhouse that has made some of my favourite films including Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, was a massive influence on Jamie Hewlett’s art style. I got into studio Ghibli a while after Gorillaz but I do believe that the style of the Demon Days campaign helped me relate to their films. The character Noodle playing acoustic guitar on the flying windmill is an image and emotion that will always stay with me because it was one of the driving forces behind me eventually picking up the guitar. To then see that beautiful and peaceful scene come under attack and destroyed in the video of El Manana, along with the song being completely heartbreaking, is one of the most emotional experiences I have had with music.
Along with that amazing island, Gorillaz also had their own virtual place of residence, Kong Studios, which was the scene of the video for Dare, and the final video for Dirty Harry showed Gorillaz in the desert, at the time my idea that they were just in a world of their own away from the world. After learning more about the song and Damon Albarn it eventually came to symbolise his strong stance against the war in Iraq and those fighting in the desert out there.
All these settings stuck with me just as vividly as the music and characters . It felt like the environment and locations were characters themselves and that has always resonated with me. I try to apply to this my own projects and some of the scenes in my visual album Blurred Lights were created with the picture of the setting in my head and then I built the songs built around that. For example, the opening track was meant to represent the aftermath of a chaotic night out with the main characters room completely destroyed that then flashed back to the start of the night out. The aim was really to get to that position by taking the story and music through multiple settings, the journey to town, the club, the horrible street where everyone was completely fucked as well as many other locations and this was established so help me write the music for this concept. What does a sleazy road by a club sound like? What does the feeling of knowing you’re about to hook up sound like?This is pretty much what drove me to write the songs for this project because all I wanted to do was paint a picture of these scenes. I’m awful at drawing and I wish I could animate but I still learnt so much from Demon Days beyond music and art. The vivid memories I have of it aren’t just of the songs and characters. They are of the places within the world that they created and took me to. All I hope I can do is the same with my own music.