Musician Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett met in 1990 when guitarist Graham Coxon, a fan of Hewlett's work, asked him to interview Blur, a band Albarn and Coxon had recently formed. The interview was published in Deadline magazine, home of Hewlett's comic strip, Tank Girl. Hewlett initially thought Albarn was "arsey, a wanker"; despite becoming acquaintances with the band, they often did not get on, especially after Hewlett began seeing Coxon's ex-girlfriend Jane Olliver. Despite this, Albarn and Hewlett started sharing a flat on Westbourne Grove in London in 1997. Hewlett had recently broken up with Olliver and Albarn was at the end of his highly publicised relationship with Justine Frischmann of Elastica.
The idea to create Gorillaz came about when Albarn and Hewlett were watching MTV. Hewlett said, "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." The band originally identified themselves as "Gorilla" and the first song they recorded was "Ghost Train" which was later released as a B-side on their single "Rock the House" and the B-side compilation G Sides. The musicians behind Gorillaz' first incarnation included Albarn, Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala, who had previously worked together on the track "Time Keeps on Slipping" for Deltron 3030's eponymous debut album.
Although not released under the Gorillaz name, Albarn has said that 'one of the first ever Gorillaz tunes' was Blur's 1997 single "On Your Own", which was released for their self-titled studio album Blur.
The band's first release was the EP Tomorrow Comes Today, released in 2000. The band's first single was "Clint Eastwood" and was released on 5 March 2001, reaching No. 4 in the UK. It was produced by hip hop producer Dan the Automator and originally featured UK rap group Phi Life Cypher, but the version that appears on the album features American rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, known on the album as Del tha' Ghost Rapper, a spirit in the band's drummer Russel Hobbs. The Phi Life Cypher version of "Clint Eastwood" appears on the B-side album G Sides. 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". In June 2001, "19–2000" charted at No. 6 in the UK, and the song was used as the title theme for EA Sports FIFA video game FIFA Football 2002.
The end of the year brought the song "911", a collaboration between Gorillaz and hip hop group 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. Gorillaz performed at the 2002 Brit Awards in London on 22 February, appearing in 3D animation on four large screens along with rap accompaniment by Phi Life Cypher. The band was nominated for four Brit Awards, including Best British Group, Best British Album and Best British Newcomer, but did not win any awards.
In November 2002, a DVD titled Phase One: Celebrity Take Down was released, giving the phase its name. The DVD contains the four Phase One promos, the abandoned video for "5/4", the Charts of Darkness documentary, the five Gorilla Bitez (comedic shorts starring the band characters), 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.
Rumours were circulating at this time that the Gorillaz team were busy preparing a film, but Hewlett said that the film project had been 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."
On 8 December 2004, the band's website reopened with a video entitled "Rock It". 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 No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart.
The third single was "Dirty Harry", which had 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 No. 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 No. 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. At the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards in Miami on 28 August, Gorillaz won two awards for "Feel Good Inc.", including the award for Breakthrough Video.
Gorillaz performed "Dirty Harry" at the 2006 Brit Awards in London, and the band was nominated for Best British Group, and Best British Album (Demon Days). Plans were unveiled for Gorillaz to go on a "holographic" world tour in 2007 and 2008. The cartoon members would be shown as virtual characters on stage using Musion Eyeliner technology, giving them a lifelike appearance on stage. The virtual characters 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."
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 which was limited to 60,000 was released on 16 October 2006, and on 2 November 2006 the two-tone set limited to 1,000 and the white edition which was limited to 4,000 were released.
The Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades DVD was released on 30 October in the UK, and 31 October in the US. The Gorillaz illustrated autobiography, titled Rise of the Ogre, was released on 31 October 2006 in the UK, and 2 November in the US. 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. Film producer and the Weinstein Company co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, was said to be collaborating with Albarn and Hewlett. In a September 2006 interview with Uncut magazine, Albarn was said that the band "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."
On 24 October 2007, the official Gorillaz fansite announced that a documentary film about 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.
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.
Albarn said "I'm making this the biggest and 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 features 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 Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.
On 18 January 2010, it was announced that Gorillaz would be headlining the final night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on 18 April 2010. The first single from the album, "Stylo", featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def was made available for download 26 January 2010.
In October 2010, Damon Albarn announced to the media that he would not let the cast of Glee cover the band's songs, claiming that the music on the Fox network's TV show is a "very poor substitute for the real thing". This statement led most people to believe that Gorillaz had been asked by Glee producers to lend their music to the show, which they had not. Albarn responded to the confusion with a laugh and said "and now they definitely won't."
On 5 October 2010, Gorillaz announced their new single "Doncamatic" featuring Daley. On 8 December 2010, Albarn confirmed that a Gorillaz album recorded on the American leg of the Escape to Plastic Beach tour would be released to download for free exclusively to paying fan club members from the Gorillaz website on Christmas Day, 25 December 2010. The video for "Phoner to Arizona" was released on Gorillaz' website for free on 24 December, and a day later, their new album was released, entitled The Fall.
On 18 April 2011, Gorillaz announced the release of their own version of the iPad app iElectribe, by Korg – which features loops and samples taken from The Fall as well as other samples. The new version features a Gorillaz designed and styled interface, and is customized to generate Gorillaz samples from their album The Fall and includes 128 new sounds created by the band and 64 ready-to-use pre-programmed patterns from Gorillaz, Stephen Sedgwick (Gorillaz' engineer) and Korg. The app was based on Korg's Electribe: R device app. On 5 October 2011, Gorillaz released their first "greatest hits" compilation, The Singles Collection 2001–2011.
On 9 February 2012, Gorillaz announced "DoYaThing", a single to promote the Gorillaz-branded Converse shoes that were soon to be released. The song would be part of Converse's "Three Artists, One Song" projects, with the two collaborators being James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and André 3000 of Outkast. An explicit, 13 minute-long version of the song became available for listening shortly after on Gorillaz.com. Hewlett returned to direct the single's music video, featuring animated versions of the two collaborators on the track.
In April 2012, Albarn told The Guardian that he and Hewlett had fallen out and that future Gorillaz projects were "unlikely". Tension between the two had been building during phase 3. On 25 April 2012, in an interview with Metro, Albarn said he had worked out his differences with Hewlett, that he was confident that they would make another record. On 24 June 2013, Hewlett stated that he and Albarn plan to someday record a follow-up to their 2010 album Plastic Beach.
In April 2014, Albarn told The National Post that he "wouldn't mind having another stab at a Gorillaz record." Two months later he reported that he had "been writing quite a lot of songs on the road for Gorillaz". On 19 October 2014, Albarn told The Sydney Morning Herald that he was planning to release new Gorillaz material in 2016.
Albarn has described the music that he's written for the next Gorillaz album as being very upbeat, humourous, and positive, stating that he plans on giving the tracks "a benchmark of 125 bpm and nothing underneath that", while also suggesting that it once again may have many collaborations.
On 16 July 2015, Albarn stated during an interview for ABC's 7.30 in Australia that he would begin work on the next Gorillaz album: "I'm starting recording in September for a new Gorillaz record, I've just been really, really busy so I haven't had a chance. I'd love to just get back in to that routine of being at home and coming to the studio five days a week."
Speaking about his relationship with Hewlett, Albarn said that the pair's well publicised fall-out has helped their relationship in the long term: "There are points in every relationship where they fall out with people that they're close to and then they reconcile, hopefully, and actually, you know the relationship's probably in a healthier place as a result of that," he said.
In October 2015, Albarn revealed to Rolling Stone that both he and Hewlett are working on a new Gorillaz album. Albarn said: "I'm in the very early days on a new Gorillaz record. So far, it's really fast, and it's got quite a lot of energy. I've been stuck on piano, somewhere off Broadway, for years now. I want to go somewhere completely opposite of that."
In April 2016, Hewlett uploaded two video clips onto his Instagram showing the continued work on the album. The first clip featured Liam Bailey and rumoured executive producer on the album The Twilite Tone. The second clip was a time-lapse video featuring Albarn, Bailey, Twilite Tone and Jean Michel Jarre. Bailey had also implied in an Instagram post (which has since been deleted) that Massive Attack had been in the studio with the band as well. On 17 May 2016, it was revealed through Remi Kabaka's Instagram that Gorillaz were in the studio with Chicago-based hip hop artist Vic Mensa. On 11 June 2016, Hewlett revealed that the new Gorillaz album had been delayed and the release year was pushed to 2017.
On 20 September 2016, the Gorillaz website received a redesign and Gorillaz updated their social media profiles with a new profile picture and began adding an abridged retrospective timeline of the history of Gorillaz releases since 2000. On 3 October 2016, Gorillaz began posting a series of interactive multimedia stories revolving around the fictional lives of each Gorillaz character since their hiatus to their social media profiles, beginning with 'The Book of Noodle' (she ended up in Japan and tracked down a demon crime boss), The Book Of Russel had him still a giant from the storyline of Plastic Beach, where he washed up on the shores of North Korea and starved so much he shrunk back to normal size, The Book Of Murdoc showed that he was captured by the band's record label EMI at sea and told to make another album, and finishing with 'The Book of 2D' where he was swallowed by a whale named Massive Dick on Plastic Beach, and washed up on the shores of Mexico, where to survive he had to eat the whale's blubber, but it turned out he was just at an empty part of Cabo San Lucas.
On 8 October 2016, Noodle was given her own Instagram page and was announced to be the Global Ambassador of Jaguar Racing. On 19 January 2017, a new song from the band entitled "Hallelujah Money" featuring Benjamin Clementine was released. On 6 March, Gorillaz announced the launch of their own festival, called 'Demon Dayz Festival', which would begin on 10 June 2017 at Dreamland Margate in Margate, Kent, England. The band will be headlining the festival themselves.
In March 2001, Gorillaz played their first show at the Scala in London before embarking on a UK tour later that summer, with one date in Paris and two in Japan. During this tour the live band played behind a giant projector screen which covered the whole stage, on which was projected various visuals and images created by Hewlett. After taking a short break over the holidays, the tour resumed with a North American leg in February 2002.
From 1–5 November 2005, Gorillaz played a five night residency at the Manchester Opera House in Manchester, England. The event was filmed by an EMI film crew for a DVD release, Demon Days Live, in late March 2006. It was later announced that an American version of the event would take place from 2 to 6 April 2006 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Within an hour of release tickets were sold out. The 6 April show was filmed for a live webcast at MSN Video. Palladia (then known as MHD) also broadcast an Apollo Theater show in HDTV on 31 December 2006.
In March 2010, Gorillaz began a short six date tour as "rehearsal" shows for their headlining slot at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The shows were open exclusively to Gorillaz Sub Division fan club members and featured no visuals whatsoever. These performances were the band's first public performances in four years. Gorillaz headlined the final night of the Coachella Festival on 18 April 2010 as their first proper, full show of Phase 3. On 27 April they were the main guests on Later... with Jools Holland on the BBC. In addition, Gorillaz played a two-night residency at London's Camden Roundhouse (29 and 30 April 2010). Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash performed guitar and bass respectively with the band and more than once in the evening chords from The Clash song "Guns of Brixton" were heard as a subtle reference to their presence.
Gorillaz kicked off their first ever world tour in October 2010, with some preceding festival dates in the Summer, such as at the Byblos Festival in Lebanon, the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the Glastonbury Festival in England and one show at the Citadel of Damascus in Syria. The Escape to Plastic Beach Tour took them across North America in October, Europe in November, and finally through Australia, New Zealand, and with one date in Hong Kong in December. During the final show of the tour at the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand on 21 December 2010, Albarn announced that it would be their final show with the Plastic Beach line up.
The band performed "Clint Eastwood" live for the first time with both Damon Albarn and Del the Funky Homosapien at Fader Fort in March, 2014, and again shortly after at Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, US.
Demon Days (2005)
Plastic Beach (2010)
The Fall (2011)
Phase One Tour (2001–02)
Demon Days Live (2005–06)
Escape to Plastic Beach Tour (2010)
Demon Dayz Festival (2017)