The band's eponymous debut album, released in 2001, sold over seven million copies and earned them an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize 2001, but the nomination was later withdrawn at the band's request. Their second studio album, Demon Days, was released in 2005 and included the singles "Feel Good Inc.", "Dare", "Dirty Harry" and "Kids with Guns"/"El Mañana". Demon Days went five times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the United States and earned five Grammy Award nominations for 2006 and won one of them in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category. Gorillaz have also released two B-sides compilations and a remix album. The combined sales of Gorillaz and Demon Days had, by 2007, exceeded 15 million albums. The band's third studio album, titled Plastic Beach, will be released on 8 March 2010 in the United Kingdom and 9 March 2010 in the United States.
Early years (1998–1999)
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett created Gorillaz in 1998 when they were both living together in a flat on Westbourne Grove. The idea to create the band came about when the two were watching MTV, "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," Hewlett said. The band originally identified themselves as "Gorilla", and the first song they recorded was "Ghost Train", later released as a B-side on their single "Rock the House" and the B-side compilation G-Sides. The trio of musicians behind Gorillaz' first incarnation, Albarn, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Dan the Automator, had previously worked together on the track "Time Keeps on Slipping" for Deltron 3030's eponymous debut album. The song can be seen as the genesis of the musical style that continued into Gorillaz' first album.
Phase One: Celebrity Takedown (2000–2003)
The band's first release was Tomorrow Comes Today EP, released in 2000. It was very well received in the UK underground music scene and generated a lot of word-of-mouth advertising, as well as a large shroud of mystery over who was behind Gorillaz and what could be expected from the band in the months to come. Promo outlets circulated a booklet with the fictional backstory behind the cartoon band. The band's official website, www.gorillaz.com, is a virtual representation of Kong Studios, the band's studio and home. Inside, visitors can browse through each member's bedroom, their recording environment and even the hallways and bathrooms. Each room also has bonus surprises and games to play: for example, the lobby has a remix machine, the cafeteria contains the message board on the wall and Murdoc's Winnebago contains a voodoo doll of 2D. Each member also has their own computer which contains pictures, samples used in various Gorillaz songs, their favorite websites and their e-mail inboxes. Because of the nature of the site, an official fansite, fans.gorillaz.com, was created to hold the standard band website information, including news, a discography and the band's touring schedules.
The band's first single, "Clint Eastwood", was released on 5 March 2001. It became a smash hit and put Gorillaz into the global spotlight. Later that same month, their first full-length album, the self-titled Gorillaz, was released, producing four singles: "Clint Eastwood", "19-2000", "Tomorrow Comes Today", and "Rock the House". Each of the singles' videos contained humorous and often ridiculous storylines and imagery, though "Clint Eastwood" and "19-2000" were the only singles to break through the American music scene. "19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)" became popular after being featured in both an Ice Breakers commercial, as well as in EA Sports' FIFA Football 2002. Around this time, a half-hour TV mockumentary entitled Charts of Darkness was released. It follows Channel 4 news reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy attempting to track down Albarn and Hewlett after they were placed in an insane asylum. The special also interviews Rachel Stevens of S Club 7 fame and a few of the band's voice talents, who had been given roles to play.
The end of the year brought the song "911", a collaboration between the Gorillaz and rap artists D12 (without Eminem) and Terry Hall about the September 11 attacks. Meanwhile G-Sides, a compilation of the B-sides from the Tomorrow Comes Today EP and first three singles, was released in Japan on 12 December 2001 and quickly followed with international releases in early 2002. The new year also saw the band perform at the 2002 BRIT Awards, appearing in 3D animation on four large screens along with rap accompaniment by Phi Life Cypher. The band were nominated for six awards at the event, including Best British Group, Best British Album and Best British Newcomer, but left the award show empty-handed. Finally, Laika Come Home, a dub remix album, containing most of the tracks from Gorillaz reworked by Spacemonkeyz, was released in June 2002. The single to follow, "Lil' Dub Chefin'", contained an original track by the Spacemonkeyz titled "Spacemonkeyz Theme".
In November 2002, a DVD titled Phase One: Celebrity Take Down was released. The DVD contains the four Phase One promos, the abandoned video for "5/4", the Charts of Darkness documentary, the five Gorilla Bitez (short vignettes), a tour of the website by the MEL 9000 server and more. The DVD's menu was designed much like the band's website and depicts an abandoned Kong Studios. Along with the release of the DVD, the band's website closed down almost completely. Kong Studios was no longer accessible, instead, visitors could only enter a police cabin, where the message board and chats were still accessible. From there, a small robot called G.R.3.G. could be used to explore the abandoned Kong Studios in a 3D Shockwave environment, though doing so would only grant access to a few games. The Abandoned Gorillaz Site
Rumors were circulating at this time that the Gorillaz team were busy preparing a film, but an EMI interview, they later revealed that plans for the film were abandoned. In an interview with Haruka Kuroda (the voice of Noodle), Kuroda stated that Jamie Hewlett rejected many scripts before giving up on the film. Hewlett later explained why the film was abandoned, "We lost all interest in doing it as soon as we started meeting with studios and talking to these Hollywood executive types, we just weren't on the same page. We said, fuck it, we'll sit on the idea until we can do it ourselves, and maybe even raise the money ourselves."
Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades (2004–2007)
On 8 December 2004, the band's website reopened with an exclusive video entitled "Rock It". Along with the music video, there was an announcement of a new album on the way, which would be produced by Danger Mouse. A talent contest entitled Search for a Star was also launched on 15 December 2004, allowing fans to send in a minute-long clip of video or audio or an image file. The prize included collaborating with the band to create the music and video for "El Mañana", the fourth single for the new album, as well as getting their own room on the newly rebuilt Kong Studios website. A second promotional booklet was issued, recapping the previously issued booklet, as well as detailing the failed film production in Hollywood and the breakup and reforming of Gorillaz. A viral marketing project named Reject False Icons was formed criticizing modern pop figures.
The first single from the album was "Feel Good Inc.", released as an EP in Japan and as a CD single in Europe and Australia. The single entered the UK Singles Chart at #22, several weeks before the CD single was released due to the single being released as a 7" vinyl in April, and new charts regulations included sales at online music stores, where the song had been available since 22 March. "Feel Good Inc." managed to reach #2 in the UK Singles Chart the week it was released, being the band's highest ever positioned single up to that point in time. The single stayed in the top ten for eight consecutive weeks. In the United States, it peaked at #14. The song also garnered a Record of the Year nomination for the 2006 Grammy Awards later that year. It was later included in the popular Playstation 2 title SingStar, a game where player attempt to sing along karaoke style.
The album, Demon Days, was released on 11 May 2005 in Japan, 23 May in the United Kingdom and Australia, and on 24 May in the United States. The album debuted at #1 on the UK Albums Chart, but fell as low as #29 in just seven weeks. However, as the music video for the second single "DARE" started getting played on MTV and other music channels, Demon Days rose up to the top 10 again. "DARE" was released on 29 August 2005 in the UK, where it debuted at #1. A Japanese EP followed on 7 September. "DARE" eventually reached #87 in the United States, also becoming a Top 10 hit on the Modern Rock listings. Shortly afterwards, Gorillaz contributed an exclusive track entitled "Hong Kong" to the charity compilation Help!: A Day in the Life released on 10 September 2005.
The third single off Demon Days was "Dirty Harry", which had already been released as a promotional single earlier that year. It was released in the United Kingdom on 21 November 2005. On its first week, it charted at #6. The release of the single raised the album once again back up to the top 10. The fourth and final single was the double A-side, "Kids with Guns"/"El Mañana". It was released in the UK on 10 April 2006. Unlike its Top 10 predecessors, "Kids With Guns" / "El Mañana" reached #27 upon its release in the UK. A week later, the single had fallen out of the Top 40 in the UK (see 2006 in British music). By the end of 2005, Demon Days had sold over a million copies in the UK, making it the UK's fifth best selling album of 2005. Demon Days has since gone five times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the United States, triple platinum in Australia and has sold over 6 million copies worldwide.
Plans were unveiled for Gorillaz to go on a holographic world tour in 2007 and 2008. The cartoon members would be shown as holograms on stage using Musion Eyeliner technology, giving them a life-like appearance on stage. The holograms were first used at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards on 3 November 2005 and again at the 2006 Grammy Awards on 8 February 2006 with the addition of a virtual Madonna, where the band played a pre-recorded version of "Feel Good Inc." However, the tour was eventually called off due to budget issues. Jamie Hewlett has stated that "...it was extremely expensive, extremely difficult, a million and one things can go wrong, every second that the thing's playing."
In 2005, a set of Gorillaz figures were released by Kidrobot to coincide with the release of Demon Days. Two variations of the set were released, known as the Red and Black editions, and a limited edition Noodle from the music video for "DARE" was also released. Three new sets of Gorillaz vinyl figures were released in 2006. The Basic set was released on 16 October 2006 and the 2-tone and White edition sets were released on 2 November 2006. A Gorillaz mobile phone game called Gorillaz Entertainment System (GES) was published by Gorillaz Partnership under license to RealNetworks in the spring of 2006 in Europe, and summer of 2006 in the United States. The game was developed by Gorillaz Partnership in association with Zombie Flesh Eaters and Mr. Goodliving Ltd. Gorillaz Entertainment System (GES) features four character-based games, each with their own individual gameplay and style. The games combined classic arcade style games and contemporary Gorillaz artwork.
On 21 September 2006, the main lobby of Kong Studios was destroyed for unknown reasons and a teaser clip for Slowboat to Hades appeared and could be played on a TV screen. The Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades DVD was released on 30 October in the United Kingdom, and 31 October in the United States. The official Gorillaz illustrated autobiography, titled Rise of the Ogre, was released on 31 October 2006 in the United Kingdom, and 2 November in the United States. D-Sides, a compilation of B-side and remixes, was released on 19 November 2007 in the UK and on 20 November 2007 in the US.
Hopes for a Gorillaz film were revived in 2006 when Hewlett stated that they would be producing the film on their own. American film producer and Weinstein Company co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, was also said to be collaborating with Albarn and Hewlett. In a September 2006 interview with Uncut magazine, Albarn was reported saying "[Gorillaz] 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 any more." In an interview with the Gorillaz-Unofficial fansite, Jamie Hewlett and Cass Browne revealed that in the film the band members will act as other characters presenting a new story, instead of playing themselves. Hewlett also said that the film's soundtrack will be the next Gorillaz album. "The soundtrack will be the third album. Damon will do the soundtrack, which will be the soundtrack, which will be the third album." As of April 2007, Cass Browne is still finishing the script and Albarn has said that he hopes production of the film will begin in September 2007. No further news was heard about the film until February 2008 when, in an interview with Gorillaz-Unofficial, Hewlett said "Ultimately we didn't think that feel we're in a position to make the kind of movie we want to make with Gorillaz at the moment. [...] But I'd still like to make a full, lavishly-animated Gorillaz movie someday."
On 24 October 2007, the official Gorillaz fansite announced that a documentary film about the Gorillaz, titled Bananaz, would be released. The film, directed by Ceri Levy, documents the previous seven years of the band. The film was released online on the Babelgum website on 20 April 2009 followed by the DVD release on 1 June 2009.
Phase Three (2007–present)
In late 2007, Albarn and Hewlett began working on Carousel, a new Gorillaz project which eventually evolved into the band's third studio album Plastic Beach. The album will be released on 8 March 2010 in the United Kingdom and 9 March 2010 in the United States. Albarn said "I'm making this one the most pop record I've ever made in many ways, but with all my experience to try and at least present something that has got depth." The album will feature guest performances by 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, and The National Orchestra for Arabic Music.
The first single from the album, "Stylo", featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def was leaked on 20 January 2010 in a Tumblr blog post by a Russian fan and then consequently made available for streaming through the band's official website as announced on Murdoc's Twitter page saying that "If anyone's going to leak my single it'll be me!". Parlophone president Miles Leonard described the song as "a dark, twisted track that sounds like the 'Saturday Night Fever' soundtrack on MDMA." "Stylo" will be available for download 26 January 2010.
On 18 January 2010, it was announced that Gorillaz will be headlining the final night of the Coachella music festival on 18 April 2010.