photo manipulation by nacrowe
from its inception, GORILLAZ was designed as a hybrid multi-media/art/music project meant to provide a creative vehicle with no historical or cultural antecedents for BRITISH collaborators DAMON ALBARN (BLUR) and cartoonist JAMIE HEWLETT (of TANK GIRL fame). in essence ALBARN had long felt confined by the expectations and parlor games of the fickle and often churlish BRITISH tabloid music press and sought a way of removing himself from the equation. the documentary BANANAZ (HEAD FILM, 2008) serves as a behind-the-scenes documentation of notable recording, touring and press circuit madness surrounding the GORILLAZ (PARLOPHONE, 2001) and DARK DAYS (PARLOPHONE, 2001) albums.
given that the presentation of the band was done through cartoon characters, this provided ALBARN with the opportunity to really pursue musical collaborations and multiple musical genres with gusto. this can be seen with his choice of producers in DAN "THE AUTOMATOR" NAKAMURA and DANGER MOUSE, studio musicians in JUNIOR DAN (BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS), SIMON TONG (VERVE) and DAVE ROWNTREE (BLUR) as well as the litany of notable participants including DAN "THE AUTOMATOR" NAKAMURA, DEL THE FUNKEE HOMOSAPIEN, IBRAHIM FERRERA (BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB), KID KOALA, ROOTS MANUVA, BOOTIE BROWN (THE PHARCYDE), DANGER MOUSE, DE LA SOUL, MIHO HATORI (CIBO MATTO), D12, IKE TURNER, TINA WEYMOUTH (TALKING HEADS), NENEH CHERRY, MARTINA TOPLEY-BIRD, SHAUN RYDER (HAPPY MONDAYS), MF DOOM and even DENNIS HOPPER. and that incredible eclectic list really expands on subsequent releases. it really is an ingenious front that has a definite PINK FLOYD lineage despite what ALBARN thinks of their music (which is a noteworthy scene in the film).
for me the most interesting aspects of this film were not musical in nature and all centered around HEWLETT. watching snippets of his creative process was interesting given that this project arguably produced his most famous characters. just the thought and work that went into something that most people largely passively consume without a second's notice. a virtual band? sure, its not that different than JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS or THE ARCHIES, right? it is a deceivingly straightforward ruse that has a real depth behind it which makes this project continually interesting. you have both character development and an interest in seeing whom ALBARN feels worthy of collaboration.
it was also interesting seeing HEWLETT doing press interviews to baffled AMERICAN DJs on an extended press tour and what total chore that seems. its funny because HEWLETT not being a musician, does not hesitate to take the piss out of them, not caring about alienating the music industry. watching that was beyond entertaining since you know that kids in the know about his career and artistic legacy would appreciate his antics. i cant imagine how lame that must be to talk to drive-time early commute DJs in the midwest. just writing that sentence makes me shiver.
those first two records were especially great so BANANAZ was always going to be interesting no matter the quality. watching ALBARN having his guard down was a joy to watch given that the project was manufactured as a ploy to divorce his music from his public persona.
im surprised more havent followed in his wake. because culture has only gotten more toxic and it has become more virtual. we are all GORILLAZ now.