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What do the Gorillaz really look like?

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Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn, the true Gorillaz

Like many 90s kids (do I even count? Ah, sure, 1997 counts), I grew up with Gorillaz on a loop, constantly. Songs like “Feel Good Inc.,” “Clint Eastwood,” and “19-2000” were iconic pieces of music that defined the current state of music at the time. You couldn’t walk into a single Zumiez without hearing Gorillaz—and yes, wow, what a sentence.

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But what if I told you that Gorillaz was really just made up of two guys? Two normal-looking white guys with kids and houses, instead of the hollow-eyed, green-skinned dudes we’ve come to know and love?

Take a look at the image above. On the left, you have Jamie Hewitt, the artist behind the cartoons. On the right, you have Damon Albarn, the musician behind the tunes. They’re the founders of Gorillaz, as a project that was meant to signal a departure from Albarn’s other musical endeavor, Blur.

I used to be a HUGE groupie for Britpop so I’m gonna take a second to geek out on ya. Maybe, if you’re a Gorillaz fan, this’ll turn you onto new music.

Blur was one of the major contenders in the Britpop era of the 90s, a time in music where alternative rock was becoming a bit more “mainstream” via band feuds, poppier/more-ballady sounds, and, of course, pretty boys. It remains somewhat controversial amongst dieheard fans of music for how it made British alternative rock, at the time, more linear, but what can I say, when I was 16, I thought Damon was cute.

If you’re truly of an older generation of reader, then you might remember the Blur vs. Oasis feud that seemingly went on forever. I still have no idea whether the feuding was genuine or just a publicity stunt, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, you can really hear the musical origins of Gorillaz through Blur, mostly thanks to Damon, but also in huge part to his consistent musical partner, Graham Coxon. Coxon also departed from the band for a while, and the sound is markedly different during that time period:

Now’s where we start to hear more of Damon. Less funky guitar-stuff (Graham’s specialty), and more experimental mixing (Damon’s). The two met in school when they were very young, and it seems like it’s always been that Graham was into guitars, while Damon was into being as artistically out there as possible.

That ended up working in his favor towards the creation of Gorillaz. Graham introduced Damon and Hewlitt back when Blur was first starting, and when Hewlett was working on his cult-favorite comic series, Tank Girl. You’ve probably heard of Tank Girl, I’m still woefully unfamiliar with it, but I recognize it as an iconic tour de force in the comics world.

(Ankama)

Ahh, yeah. It’s all comin’ together. Look at that art: it’s pure Hewlett, pure Gorillaz.

Ironically, Hewlett thought what many people thought of younger Damon: that he was kind of an overly-energetic and pretentious SOB. But a string of messy breakups and hookups somehow tied them together, and after finding that they were both disillusioned with the current MTV era of music, they decided they ought to shake things up a bit.

Thus, Gorillaz was born.

Of course, others have been involved on this project on and off. For instance, Remi Kabaka Jr., the voice of Russel, is now a music producer for the band as well as a voice actor. And during the production of the first album, Damon invited the help of Dan “the Automator” Nakamura, a hip-hop producer. And of course, pretty much all the rap beats were provided by Del the Funky Homosapien.

Therefore, the real Gorillaz is an amalgamation of all kinds of talented artists and musicians. But at its core, it’s just Jamie and Damon: two guys from the UK with prolific artistic backgrounds, but that you might not even recognize while walking down the street. In a way, that’s perfect, right?

(Featured Image: DIY Mag)

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Author

Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).

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