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Jamie Hewlett is sitting at his desk in a basement studio in west London trying to define his job title. “Ummm … artist? Yeah. I’m an artist,” he says.

Hewlett is one half of Gorillaz, the virtual “zombie hip-hop” pop group he formed with Blur frontman Damon Albarn in 1999 and which has sold over six million records worldwide.

With Albarn writing the music, Hewlett created the band’s four cartoon characters: vacant frontman 2D; bandleader and bassist Murdoc Nicalls; African-American drummer Russel Hobbs and ten-year-old Japanese guitarist Noodle. He also oversees all the Gorillaz’s visuals, including promo videos and DVDs, merchandising, the high-tech “live” gigs and the gorillaz.com website.

Hewlett was a widely respected cartoon artist before Gorillaz, having created the seminal Tank Girl strip, which was turned into a Hollywood movie when he was just 23. But the success of Gorillaz has taken him to another, slightly surreal, level: he is part of a globally famous rock group, yet he shuns the limelight and is happiest scribbling painstakingly at his desk at Zombie Flesh Eaters, the Shepherds Bush studio he set up to handle the Gorillaz work. Read More

Damon Albarn ready for a big crowd bath

At the end of the cell waves, it is a Damon Albarn of excellent mood that we join, still impressed of the performance of his band, in Toronto, July 10: “it was epic, one of the best gigs I ever have given”.

This confirms his wish to put Gorillaz back on track after a seven-year hiatus. Disputes with Hewlett had led the two men to take a break. Then, finally, they came closer and decided to dive into Humanz, a festive album, but encamped in a dark epoch, politically. As is the case with each of the group’s albums, Albarn has shaped it with an impressive list of guests including Vince Staples, De La Soul, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Popcaan, Benjamin Clementine and Jean- Michel Jarre. A portion of the artists accompanies Albarn on tour, including in Quebec, but on this, Albarn himself has trouble knowing who will be with him, so many evenings follow each other and are not alike …

It surprises you how much Gorillaz, despite its experimental or daring side has joined and continues to reach so many people?

I am particularly pleased. It will be a very large audience in Quebec City and it will be a real test for me to see if I can communicate all this to such an imposing crowd. I played in front of big crowds before, but it will be the biggest for us to date. I hope we will be up to it. We have succeeded great musicians like the Who – it’s an honor because they inspired me greatly when I was a child – and Kendrick [Lamar], which is certainly the hottest thing on the planet. But we’ll be ready! Read More

Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn won’t sit still

In the 16 years since Gorillaz released its self-titled debut album, the virtual, alternative hip-hop band’s co-creators, Blur musician Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, have wrangled an impressive, wildly diverse roster of music’s biggest talents into their genre-defying orbit. A freewheeling spirit of experimentation colors the band’s work, and over a handful of boundary-pushing albums everyone from Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg, to Bobby Womack, MF Doom and members of the Clash have been charmed by its allure.

Now a few months removed from the release of “Humanz,” the band’s first new album since 2010 — a typically bold effort featuring intrepid contributions and unexpected artistic combos, most notably Mavis Staples and Pusha T on the moody “Let Me Out” and Carly Simon and Colombian-American indie-pop singer Kali Uchis on “Ticker Tape,” Albarn says he’s come to view the process of assembling a Gorillaz album as resembling a contemporary courtship process. Read More

A virtual band in a realised dark fantasy

Being a virtual band was always part of the sales pitch of Gorillaz, the pairing of the Blur musician Damon Albarn and the illustrator Jamie Hewlett, which has been releasing hip-hop-influenced concept albums since 2001.

Damon Albarn, the Blur frontman and mastermind behind the virtual band Gorillaz, whose new album “Humanz” is out soon, in London.

Being a virtual band was always part of the sales pitch of Gorillaz, the pairing of the Blur musician Damon Albarn and the illustrator Jamie Hewlett, which has been releasing hip-hop-influenced concept albums since 2001. Read More

‘We may be getting to old for Gorillaz’

Murdoc, 2-D and the rest of the cartoons are the virtual band’s official members.
But in reality Damon and Jamie Hewlett are the driving force behind the collaborative project.

Jamie, who designs the visuals, said: “We will be 50, we can’t continue doing this thing seriously for very long.

“Can you imagine the kids in 20 years when they discover that Gorillaz is hiding two senile old 70-year-olds?”

With a current roll call including Vince Staples and Danny Brown, Jamie can see a future of the band without himself or Damon as Gorillaz were always intended to be faceless.

Jamie added: “It is the essence of the rest of the Gorillaz story, even if it is not ours necessarily.” Read More

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The Humanz Condition

In 1998, Jamie Hewlett drew a virtual band that became world famous. Gorillaz consists of four cartoon members with four distinct personalities: 2-D, Noodle, Russel Hobbs and Murdoc Niccals, who are brought to life by Hewlett and an ever-evolving crew of musicians. They just made the freshest comeback of the year with a new album and tour, Humanz, visually powered by Hewlett’s live animation, 360 music videos, detailed backstories, covers, and virtually every single element of the band’s stage presence. His impact on our generation’s visual culture runs deep, and Gorillaz is just one of his many projects, from comics to opera.

In the age of artificial intelligence, a virtual band is appropriate, and Gorillaz have cultivated a soundtrack for a lifetime, with a 20 year history of showing up right when we need them most. They’ve helped an entire generation dance through the darkness, and in the words of Gorillaz guest star Vince Staples, “The sky’s falling, baby, drop that ass ’fore it crash.” Read More