With sincere thanks to:
Cat on the Wall’s Mum,
Seye Adelekan (who was an absolute gent!)
and all those people we met but never got the names of.
Proofreading by Lydia Byron.
Note well, our usual fabulous photographer was unavailable for Demon Dayz. Only my mobile phone, which is knackered, was there to take pictures. Frankly, I hate recording gigs on my phone, so there isn’t much visual content here. If nothing else, I hope the blurry, out of focus photos make it more immersive for you…
It will likely surprise many that, for how enormous a fan I am of Gorillaz, I’ve never managed to see them live.
Since I first saw Noodle hoof a mack-off Zombie Gorilla in the face, on the 16 12-inch CRT screens behind the checkouts at my local Virgin Megastore, back in those heady days of 2001 when the Clint Eastwood video had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, our paths have crossed repeatedly. Before then, I had encountered the Tomorrow Comes Today video on Toonami. (back then, children, Toonami was just a block of late night programs on Cartoon Network.)
I was a child, and while I occasionally visited Kong Studios via the screaming half-dead beast of my grandparent’s knackered PC, the copy of self titled was strictly my mum’s, and I had never given it much thought besides. I knew the main singles and knew that it was all a bit naughty and weird, with everybody smoking, horror movies and Murdoc Niccals taking the limelight.
It was all enormously exciting, a band being built of cartoons. But it wasn’t until Demon Days that the group effectively took over my life, and 2D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle became my guiding light through the shit life threw at me. The first CD I ever bought for myself was DARE, for a Sony Portable CD Player that skipped every time I so much as whistled near it.
I sang in a ridiculous falsetto and a terrible, mock-Mancunian accent for months. Years. More than a decade now…
It was even later, then, that I learnt who Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett actually were. I simply never felt like I needed to know; but as time went on and my cynicism bit harder, finding the people behind it all felt that little bit more secure, one supposes.
At this point, at 23 years of age (hoho! Significant.) I’m apparently substantially older than many Gorillaz fans, having seen through the coming of three albums (two and three quarters, technically) and now sharing their taste for pure versatility and variety. Rock and roll, punk, hip hop, dub, electronica, funk, club, dance, house… practically everything; Murdoc and his cronies have all stomped their Cuban heels through it, and as a swift result, so have I. And now, as I sit here writing for a Webzine that focuses so much on the alternative side of life, it should hopefully, by now, be fairly obvious as to who’s truly responsible for making music such an exciting, intriguing and inspiring concept for my younger self.
Make no mistake; Gorillaz matter to me. They matter to me immensely, and in my eyes, they matter to music – an incredibly important gateway for pop listeners to discover a far larger, crazier world of eclectic, often independent tunes. Their remit is enormous, and they’ve led many people on paths to punk, funk, soul, rock and roll and many more besides. This is a group that’s interested in making you listen to other people – introduces worlds of horror, grime, darkness, politics and more. For many, it’s quite literally a group of people guiding you through life and things you simply don’t understand. I gained almost everything I know through them.
And yet, that live show was never forthcoming.
No wonder, then, that when we rolled into Kent on the 10th of June, 2017, I was excited. Heavily excited. Possibly the most excited I had ever been for…well, anything. We arrived at Dreamland Margate in scorching hot sun, the Scenic Railway screaming over us and the little park flooded with people. So where do we begin? Let’s start with Dreamland itself.
Dreamland is a strange little place. On paper, it sounds like some sort of Hipster park, dedicated to bare ankles, beards and flannel shirts – and food for people who don’t really need to eat gluten free. However, the moment we arrived, its true remit and endeavour was laid out in a fabulous selection of historic rides that I found as fascinating to watch as I did fun to ride. The bright paintwork, towering structures and music from the golden age of punks, mods and rockers that blared across the beautifully landscaped attraction was a sensory assault; a delightful Waltzer ride of insane colours and rhythm, with a real sense that it was all from a simpler time. In the scorching heat, surrounded by unusual food vans (all of which were fantastic, incidentally), just lazing in the grass.
The park is not only beautiful, but genuinely infectious – a unique little escape from the outside. I don’t see tabloids, I barely even see mobile phones. I just see people relaxing. It’s a sheer contrast to the still-dilapidated buildings surrounding the park, but the work is being put in – and from 1PM until Midnight, it felt like I was in a different world.
Dreamland Margate is by all means an enormous financial gamble, and by even greater means, still a work in progress – but the building blocks are there for something truly special. There was no better place for Gorillaz to be holding this cataclysmic event- and the technicolour surroundings only further accented the true prominence of what was due to happen that night.
So what was going on at Demon Dayz?
- Three venues with live music from Gorillaz and their collaborators, including the Gorillaz Sound System – all completely within the ticket price and clocking up to a choice of a whopping thirteen artists across the park.
- Cocktail bar selling exclusive Hennessy cocktails – pricey but very cool to look at and pretty damned tasty.
- The exclusive launch of Gorillaz Red Bull cans
- One of the first gigs to get access to the elusive new G Foot clothing line
- One ‘glitch room’ to get yourself glitched using a network of mirrors.
- The Gorillaz x E-On solar Kong on wheels – a converted airflow caravan, fitted inside and out to be a loving call up to the long-deceased Kong Studios. This was used as a genuine sound studio over the course of the night, powered exclusively by solar storage energy. Environmentally friendly and fully designed inside and out to be the ultimatum in Gorillaz memorabilia.
- Free access to every ride and attraction at Dreamland Margate – including the world famous Scenic Railway.
It’s worth noting that nearly 15,000 people were attending Demon Dayz. That meant a lot of queues, and it meant that once you chose a stage, if you wanted a good spot, you had to stick with it. Call us horrendous die-hards if you like, but we chose the main one – and we didn’t regret it.
Starting with Fufanu – an Icelandic group wrestling between the crossroads of post-punk, hard rock and electronica, the tone was set with their slightly post-apocalyptic of bleak, symphonic soundscapes. The sun glared down impressively as they went through their set in what seemed like seconds; I can’t honestly say I remembered a single track title, but I certainly remembered their sound and vibe.
They were genuinely impressive – an eccentric, charismatic little group. It’s worth noting that while they were only the first group on the bill, they didn’t seem like it. They seemed like they were ruling a show all of their own; I’m sure most in the festival’s audience had no clue who they were. But to Fufanu, that was irrelevant – they had their own strata for this line up, and they knew it. There was no mistaking it; against a hip-hop leading line up and Gorillaz, they stuck out on this stage like a sore thumb, and it was entirely to their benefit.
An unexpected – but superb -addition to the festival. And excellent flag bearers for what was to come…
De La Soul
Long Island, NY, USA
De La Soul are legendary to music in general, let alone their genre. They may have been somewhat left behind since their inception in 1987, but their music has only gotten smarter and more eclectic as radio has gotten more and more simplified. Now, they sit in a comfortable, experimental and ultimately very cool rut that sees every album they produce go into a new, slightly stranger but very affectionate and welcoming territory. The group don’t work on the idea of being intimidating bad boys with guns, they’re more like the sort of guys you’d love to go for a drink with.
On stage, the same is true – they’re a hell of a lot of fun, great musicians and work with a wonderful informality. They try to get security in on the gag, make a few self depreciating jokes – they basically become your best mates for the full 45 minutes. They’re one of the only artists I know who brings back what I love in hip hop: that smooth, easy listening stuff that draws from everything in music.
The highlight of the festival had to be the group battling for the ultimatum in audience enthusiasm and making some fucking noise. Obviously, our side won, because I say so. The runner up has to be apologising for swearing to a youngster in the audience, then taking it back when hearing he was eleven. “Aw man, you already know that shit, fuck it!”
De La Soul can sell hip hop and rap as a genre to anybody; their own flavour of it is so unique and innovative that it becomes almost impossible not to enjoy. However, excessive hand bouncing can get rather exhausting.
Long Beach, CA, USA
Next came an absolutely exhausted, sun-stroked looking Vince Staples. Who obviously expected a seaside breeze at least, having attended in a jumper. I felt sorry for him, truly I did – but damned if it was going to affect his performance. Vince is a bit of a young upstart in his field, and tends to take advantage of it. He’ll often veer into irrelevance or go off of the beaten track into an extra machine-gun verse before taking a break to do it again. He’s a passionate performer, a lout from Long Beach who’s obsessed with making sure that people who don’t understand him walk away ‘getting it’.
The result is what feels exceptionally personal; Staples treats the audience with his brash, overstepped personality throughout, but he never feels like he’s trying to be a character, or a two dimensional personality. He roams the stage, hoping his brow with his jumper, looking for dead spots in the audience. Then, he quickly realises he can’t find any, and, steadily, warms to the audience and drops it down a notch or two when he’s content. It’s the trait of a practised man, and it’s very clear that he knows exactly how to work any group of people in front of him – provided they give him a decent enough level of enthusiasm in return. By the time we got a tight rendition of Blue Suede, he looked a touch ready to pass out.
Excellent; sheer professionalism, tight raps and an impressive capability to survive conditions he blatantly wasn’t prepared for!
Our penultimate warmup was with Kano, a man who elected a few heady criticisms from people travelling to the fest – for reasons I personally don’t understand. Not being a regular member of the hip hop community, I can’t claim to get it. I rather enjoyed his set; Kano isn’t the most memorable rapper but he is an excellent and infectiously happy showman. Throughout his performance he wore the grin of a man who would have otherwise been in the audience, running his words at a machine-gun pace – with the occasional accompaniment of a very impressive brass section.
Bringing something like brass instruments into any live show is bound to go down well, and Kano used this additional measure in his set to his advantage – bringing them out several times over the course of his time on stage and each time using them to the peak of their abilities, grins on faces and sun beating from the polished metal throughout.
Honestly, despite how poorly Kano seemed to have been received as the hitherto unannounced ‘special guest’, I found him a great performer – his stage presence is overwhelmingly happy, and as a forefather of the grime movement, his talents are pretty difficult to ignore. He may (apparently!) not have been on the pedestal of many, but I found him a great lead-in to the main attraction.
Wait, hang on – who are these lads in black, hooded robes?
Throughout the day, strange clocked figures with bells and flags were seen roaming Dreamland’s hallowed grounds – silent, unflinching. Sinister. We briefly considered the idea – with humour – that it could be the band wandering about for a laugh.
The signs were there. They’re mischievous enough, and with Gorillaz’ constant attempts to prevent the ego of artists taking centre stage, it perhaps wasn’t entirely impossible. After all, they never even spoke, laughed or addressed people.
While I expect it was a different group to the one that was suddenly climbing onto the Dreamland stage. Forty of them. A long queue of black, hooded men and women in capes, with flags and bells. Anonymity itself. However, by the time they started stepping on stage, to the sound of the yet-released Phoenix On The Hill, there was no doubts about who this lot were when we started spying trainers, cuban heels, jeans… and the one with a suspiciously similar footwear taste to Jeff Wootton picked up a guitar…
What an entrance! I never thought for a minute Damon and his – suspiciously live action – cronies would take to the stage with such a fantastic theatricality, but there they were. Obviously an idea from Jamie Hewlett, the Kool Klown Klan were there in the flesh, and their true identities had finally been revealed. What’s their purpose? I believe they are the Gorillaz kultists – preachers for that voice of the end of the world. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful idea that muddies the line between fiction and reality flawlessly.
Not that we had long to think about it; almost immediately the first lines of Ascension kicked in and an only slightly recovered Vince Staples flew back onto the stage to regale us with his protest rap. The crowd goes wild, Damon nods away with the excitement of a child at Christmas, and, all of a sudden, the stage is plummeted into the most coordinated, shrewd and well performed …well, utter madness I’ve ever seen.
The songs rattled off in what seemed like seconds, Damon swaggering around the stage with his keytar (we don’t see enough keytars in music, do we?), while Seye Adelekan and Jeff pumped out ferocious guitar after ferocious guitar. Everything that made Gorillaz great is there; an enormous screen with music videos, visuals and more, a genre-bending array of tracks from 2001 to the present day, and a grand, globalised philosophy of freedom with no creative borders.
you’ve got the guitar and drum work of a rock or metal show; the synths and keys of electronica’s golden age – the choirs that sound like the tones of the pearly gates themselves. Choruses from the finest in pop. I could go on, and on, and on – this was a premium, inimitable product on stage, a polished production from all angles that you simply can’t imitate. Considering this is the Gorillaz band after only three prior warmup shows, Christ knows how good a band can get by the end of the year.
By the time they’ve rattled their way through a substantial part of Humanz, a rousing tribute to Bobby Womack with Peven Everett on soul duties in Stylo, an incredible rendition of Dirty Harry and a simply mesmerising romp through El Manana…
Strobelite finally gets checked off – after an ill Peven had to sit it out briefly – and is performed as flawlessly as anybody could expect. “He’s a trooper!” chortles Albarn, his arm around his utterly appalling looking friend. For all of his illness, it seems even a touch of undercooked food and blazing sun is unable to slow Mr. Everett’s incredible voice. I don’t think he even produced a bum note!
The party simply doesn’t seem like it can get any better. Then it happens…
You better believe that stout Mancunian fellow in shades is Shaun Ryder, whom reprised his role as heartily entertaining shouter for DARE. The first CD I ever purchased – and a surprisingly emotional moment to have laid out in front of me. It’s a serious problem when Shaun Ryder’s show is closer to tear-inducing than Busted and Blue, but there it was, in front of me for the first time – and I dare say I snapped back to reality there and then, realising I was actually at a Gorillaz show. My first Gorillaz show. The Gorillaz show.
“Thank you! Cheers! God Bless! Can I fuck off now? Cheers Damon!” and off he goes, to uproarious applause – and the show just keeps on going.
After Little Simz performances the brand new – near cataclysmically paced – Garage Palace, and Jehnny Beth of the savages roams out onto the sea of audience during an incredibly spirited rendition of We Got The Power – stepping along the audience’s hands barefoot – it’s all about over. Everyone’s knackered, Jehnny falls and is helped back up onto the stage, and over 15,000 people are screaming in delight. Damon, with a cheeky grin, waves goodbye and wanders off. The stage empties.
A stunned silence rules briefly.
Frankly, I don’t know how audiences still fall for the fake-out, but it’s a good lark to join in, and after a few minutes of ‘one more song, one more song, one more song’, Damon sauntered back out, his gold tooth catching the lights briefly thanks to his rather toothy grin.
“Alright then. Now this next song… still pretty new. Wrote it last week. Did the video… 2D, you said he wasn’t enough on the record, so he’s done this for you. Hope you like it.”
Sleeping Powder is probably one of the most endearing tracks when it comes to a live performance: In all his (slightly janky) CGI glory, 2D takes to the enormous screen, dancing away and splitting the track in half with Damon. This glorious duet between cartoon and reality formed a truly, bizarrely beautiful little definition for what Gorillaz are best at. With Damon mirroring 2D’s own moves almost flawlessly, the happy, bouncy little track that is Sleeping Powder was met with a happy, bouncy …um, enormous performance.
Next come the default performances of Feel Good Inc, followed by Clint Eastwood (rapped by Kano and Little Simz, proving once again this track will never be stale.), and I’m once again reminded how bloody long I’ve known this band and those characters on the screen for. Nostalgia washes over, a huge grin on my face like no other. It doesn’t last long, but for a while, I feel a little bit like that kid at a Virgin Megastore again.
Cue the two fitting (but very surprising) finales – Don’t Get Lost in Heaven and Demon Days, and an impassioned speech from a soaked, slighty out of breath – but triumphant – Damon Albarn, referring to the insane, preceding weeks of politics – the general election having only just taken place.
These two just made us laugh. Guilty as charged for wasting my last bits of phone battery on this instead of Clint Eastwood…
“It’s been a pretty crazy week. Two words being thrown around… strong, and stable…”
“I’ve got two words for you all. Love. And Unity.”
The crowd roars.
“I’d like to thank Jamie Hewlett, who’s over there at the mixing table. He’ll draw all of your portraits later…”
More roaring. It’s only a shame Jamie couldn’t have taken to the stage himself.
“Thank you. Goodnight!”
The lights go down, and the floods go on as 15,000 exhausted people leave at once. My group is left standing there momentarily, awestruck, before we go on our way.
Dreamland’s rides stand around us, silent but illuminated, as we have one last walk around the park before we go home, my eyes, ears, and head all trying to make sense of it all.
Gorillaz are spectacular. Or, at least, their live band is. And while the technology isn’t yet there to make a permanent fixture of the characters themselves on stage, their presence rules over, and it’s all too obvious that Murdoc, 2D, Noodle and Russel are the reason all of this is happening.
Gorillaz are an experimental, multimedia, world-beating project that’s constantly evolving, and as the technology grows, one can only presume their virtual element will too – but for now, I don’t think I’ve ever been so comfortable that Damon Albarn is the custodian they need on stage. His passion, his lust for live shows, and his sheer enjoyment is unbelievable, much the same with his incredible band members, and the result was an utterly spellbinding – even by their usually acclaimed standard – show that, by all accounts, has put them firmly back on the map. With Damon, Seye and Jeff’s immensely charismatic selves taking the charge(r), Gorillaz are quite literally at the forefront of what live music can do. Combined with a superb cast of incredible performers, dwarfed by that simply enormous screen with cartoon laden visuals, you simply won’t find anything like it elsewhere.
You, too, will believe a gorilla can fly.
This was no ordinary show. This was their show. This was the christening for their grand plans – and, as Jamie Hewlett himself as put it: All year. All Gorillaz.
And, speaking as a life-long fan who really ought to be old enough to be past it… I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited.
A superb experience; perhaps an untoppable experience. More of that, please!
THE CAT ON THE WALL GORILLAZ FEED 2017