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GORILLAZ - Birmingham Academy - 25 September 2001   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004
There's a point when music becomes more than music.It becomes...well,product. Welcome to the wonderous merchandising opportunities of Gorillaz

Gorillaz, are supported tonight by some inept DJ playing big hip-hop tunes, which gives you a good example of what to expect; playing Jungle Brothers, Redman, Tribe called Quest , D12 and so forth : but with absolutely no finesse, beats and tracks mixing together as seamlessly as Chris Eubank or your dad mixing with boxing gloves while being deaf. But with the fact that Gorillaz themselves prefer to remain as anonymous as possible, though lets face it, everyone knows it Damon Albarn (Blur), Dan the Automator and some session bods, means they are trying to be as awkward as popstarish as possible without trying to be. Confused? You will be.

Its very difficult to look upon Gorillaz as nothing more than a rich mans folly. Damon Albarn, made millionaire, has no need to worry about where his next meal will ever come from as long as he licenses "song 2" to every tom, dick and idiot going. So in the true spirit of artistic indulgence, hes made a solo album, with collaborators, then pretended its not him while trading on the reputation of it, while claiming its all a "laff", a piss take of modern manufactured popmusic. In doing so, Gorillaz are no less manufactured no less artificial, than say, here'say or Five.

Starting off with what must have seemed like a bold artistic statement at the time, while preserving their anonymity, Gorillaz play the entire gig in silhouette from behind a white screen. Hardly original - PiL did that in 1983 in new York, and almost got bottled off for it. Now we applaud it as "art", and "high concept", when its blatantly taking the piss. In fact, Larry Mullen of U2 almost predicted it when in 1992, he said "people are coming to a gig, and watching televison: what more could you ask for?"; and this is exactly what we get. A band of self proclaimed artists, so self important that they take on abstract personalities to downplay their own importance, playing a gig where the thing the audience ever see are animations and projections set to a funk beat. You might as well put the CD on at home and watch Akira simultaneously. And for all the lukewarm reaction the band receive it, they deserve it. It's the ultimate conceit.

The ultimate conceit is that this is anywhere near bold or exciting: bands such as Can and Kraftwerk have been integrating a seamless audio-visual package, playing behind screens and indulging their own pretentious prog-rock indulgence in the art-rock scene for decades now. It took Gorillaz to take it to the mainstream and receive praise and plaudits (6 MTV award nominations? Mercury music nominations?) on basis of Damon Albarn's name alone, otherwise everyone would ignore their insipid funktionless funk pseudo-hip hop grooves as the irrelevant tosh it is. A band with a such a deficit of material they end up playing 2 of their singles again as encores, without actually leaving the stage, and this gig was sold out months in advance, simply on the fact its Damon bloody Albarns rich man's funk indulgence. Its like.."well, I've done indie, I've done art rock, what next? I know I'll call up some hip hip-hop producer for Mo'Wax and pretend there's always been a dance element to my music." That explains the hip-hop masterpiece of say, Popscene then eh?

If this was an old serial this would subtitled : "in which our intrepid hero gets to create a bunch of art-wank and gets acclaimed for it". There far better bands out there far more worthy of our attention, who don't resort in degrading and insulting their audience by alienating them by not even honouring us who've paid to see them, not literally see them. Quite simply, it's a case of the emperors new clothes, while some rich white middle-class affluent musician pretends he's black, from the street, hiring real talent in the process, and getting someone to toast over it to give it a multi- racial reggae vibe. Which fails, given that there's more black people on stage than there are in the audience : who seem to be comprised almost exclusively of 5 yr old kids and 30yr + old Blur fans.

Of course, in making a point about how much manufactured, faceless, anonymous and interchangeable pop bands are today in the current music scene, Damon probably thinks he's making a big artistic statement: He's not. He's just reinforcing the disposability and inherent flimsiness of the same people who buy Westlife and wouldn't recognise one of `em if they served burgers at McD's at a McJob. Or McMusic, which is what most pop music is about: Product, units, and nothing more. Gorillaz simply give us an interesting animated twist in it: this is presumably what we get when a Senseless Things sleeve designer lives out his fantasy and goes unchecked by sense or logic. He gave Hollywood tank girl for Christ's sake: what were they thinking? Ice T in a fucking kangeroo suit? In a sense, Tank Girl: the movie was more artistically valid than this, because it didn't hide behind the nudge nudge wink wink irony of all being a big in-joke, while other bands, who actually are doing it because they want to, not because of another white superstar's folly, go criminally ignored.

Oh , and the music? Oh, I forgot. Its easy to forget with such an `act' as Gorillaz. Image is as important to this band as it was to Westlife Boyzone, or the Shite Girls. Imagine a dub/reggae heavy version of Boyzone; with art-school punk-rock flashes thrown in. "Clint Eastwood" is Blur's "trailerpark" with different words; "Tomorrow Comes" is decent enough sub-funk-hip-hop-pop-pap electronica of the blandest kind. Its all memorable enough to sing along to but you'll forget it five minutes later. "5/4" is nothing more than the perverse cousin of Blurs' "Stereotypes", all sordid suburban sexuality - "Rock the House" is brainless to the point of brilliant inanity. "19-2000" really does shine out, as much as it can against the cartoon colours of this technicolour travesty. And when the slogan "Zombie Hip Hop" goes up between the songs tonight, I Could hardly have thought of a better description myself.

Come the end of the gig, the band come and play their 2 biggest singles again- obviously blessed with a surfeit of material there then. And then some bloke in front of me is ranting: "Its so fucking mindless. Its so 2-dimensional. You don't even care what you''re watching." At the top of his voice. He got a point: not the point Damon was trying to make with his psuedo-intellectual artistic analysis. But a point nonetheless: after a while of taking the piss so much, you end being a shining example of the system you started out to destroy. And Damon, in his millions, probably doesn't even

But I do. If Gorillaz are the future of music, then music is dead. Go read a book or something instead. Go to a local pub, see a real band. Not this bunch of crap, an artistic injoke , a rich mans folly and self indulgence into faux street cred designed to amuse passed off as art, an aural placebo for the crowd. We've better things to do than listen to rich men berate us for not making enough noise inbetween songs to satisfy their fragile ego's. Like form a band, learn an instrument, and play songs with meaning and passion instead.



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