Gorillaz - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
When two dimensional cartoon character Murdoc Nicaals rammed his car into Uncle Norm’s Organ Emporium to steal synthesizers (injuring poor store clerk Stu-Pots in the process) little did he know his negligent hooliganism was the start of the best “virtual hip hop group” in history. Stu-Pots was rechristened “2-D” by Murdoch and enlisted into the band as vocalist and keyboard maestro. The two later recruited New York based drummer Russel Hobbs, who happened be possessed by the spirits of his slain hip hop brothers, as drummer and MC. After they placed an ad in the NME for a guitarist a FedEx crate arrived on their door step and a ten year old Japanese girl emerged and played “the riff to end all riffs” before speaking the only word in English she knew: “Noodle”. Gorillaz were born and the rest, as they say, is history.
If you believe the above spun yarn, then you too have bought into the mythology of Gorillaz, an electronic, alt-rock, hip hop fusion band of eclectic cartoon characters from the twisted imaginations of graphic novelist Jamie Hewlett and Blur frontman Damon Albarn. The story of the cartoon characters is often far more interesting than the men behind the scenes who gave them life, which is the point of Gorillaz. However far flung their story may be, Murdoc, 2D, Russel, and Noodle are meant to be the band, and for all intents and purposes they are since the performers behind the characters remain enigmatic. In reality, the idea behind Gorillaz came when former roommates Albarn and Hewlett decided to create a cartoon band that Hewlett would draw with music provided by Albarn and an alternating cast of guest musicians. Think of the Gorillaz as a surreal spin on the modern musical as each album provides the soundtrack of the characters lives.
As a teaser, Gorillaz released their debut EP, Tomorrow Comes Today (EMI) in late 2000. Since the EP arrived with no information it sparked interest in the underground club community as to who was actually behind the bizarre cartoon band. Before the release of Gorillaz next single the band launched an interactive website that allowed fans to explore the haunted studio of Murdoc, 2D, Russel, and Noodle. The site was overwhelmed with hits and when Gorillaz dropped the single, “Clint Eastwood” in the spring of 2001 it quickly became a worldwide hit and although Albarn and Hewlett continued to hide behind the cartoon façade, their identities were soon found out by the public. The group’s self titled debut album, Gorillaz (2001-Virgin) was released just a few weeks later to universal acclaim. Of course the liner notes to Gorillaz stated all songs were written by Murdoc, 2D, Russel, and Noodle with contributions from real life artists like Miho Hatori of Cibo Mato, Tina Weymouth & Chris Frantz of Tom Tom Club, Kid Koala, and Del the Funky Homosapien with production by hip hop artist Dan the Automator.
Filled with eerie instrumentation, sound effects, bizarre samples, and its fusion of rock, hip hop, and electronica the album provided the perfect soundtrack to the expanding Gorillaz universe, which now included popular cartoon music videos by Hewlett that told the story of the Murdoc, Noodle, 2D, and Russel. According to Gorillaz mythology, Murdoc acquired a haunted studio located atop a hill in a cemetery and dubbed it Kong Studios. The group recorded their first album at Kong before embarking on an epic 11 month tour of North America. After the tour Gorillaz relocated to a house in the Hollywood hills to pitch a movie project to various studio heads. Ironically, the film project story line was a case of art imitating life. In early 2002, Gorillaz released a B-sides and remixes compilation titled G Sides (Virgin) after which Hewlett began reading submitted scripts for a potential Gorillaz feature film. However meetings with Hollywood studio executives left a sour taste in Hewlett’s mouth and the project was shelved. The band did release the DVD, Phase One: Celebrity Take Down in the fall of 2002 that contained 5 short animated vignettes called Gorilla Bites and the documentary, Charts of Darkness.
Gorillaz were inactive throughout the majority 2003 and 2004 while Albarn recorded and toured with his full time band Blur. In December of the 2004 the Gorillaz website made a surprise announcement that a new album was under way under the guidance of electronic/hip hop producer Danger Mouse. The sophomore full length, Demon Days (Virgin) was released in the spring of 2005 and was also a critically acclaimed worldwide hit thanks to the alt rock hip hop flavored single “Feel Good Inc.”. This time the list of real life contributors included De La Soul, Debbier Harry of Blondie, Saun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, vocalist Martina Topley-Bird, former Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and actor Dennis Hopper. Demon Days continued the adventures of Murdoc, 2D, Russel, and Noodle. According to the Gorillaz story, the characters failed to get a green light for their film so the various members went their separate ways to find themselves. Murdoch spent some time in a Mexican prison, 2D returned home to work in his father’s carnival, Russel successfully exorcised his demon’s (literally) and spent some time living with Ike Turner, while Noodle returned to Japan to discover she was apart of secret super soldier testing program and that she spoke fluent English. After a year and half Noodle returned to Kong studios, defeated a zombie infestation, and got the band back together to record Demon Days.
After the success of Demon Days, Albarn and Hewlett announced plans to tour the album using holographic technology. Gorillaz unveiled the concept at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards with the real life band played behind a white curtain while holographs of the cartoon characters playing “Feel Good Inc.” were projected onto the stage. The band made a similar performance at the Grammy’s a few months later this time sharing the stage with Madonna. The live tour was eventually cancelled due to rising cost and the intensely elaborate nature of the show. In 2006, Albarn unveiled plans to form a new band with the Clash bassist Paul Simonon and shortly after the Gorillaz announced they would not be recording any new material. In mid-2007, the band announced plans to release another B-sides compilation titled D-Sides later in the year. Allegedly, Hewlett has been steadily working on the feature length Gorillaz film for quite some time, which Albarn has promised to score.