If you’re a more casual Gorillaz fan, you might not realize that there’s an entire extensive narrative surrounding the backstory of these cartoons. The musical output of this band stands up so much that even avid fans may not bother to investigate the convoluted creative cumulation of tales that make up the fictional Gorillaz story arch.
Due to an incredible amount of visual output, statements and interviews from the creators and an extremely devoted fandom, the narrative of these these animated musicians has accounted for anything you’d ever want to know and more. Curious about 2-D’s real name? It’s Stuart Pot. Where was Noodle born, you ask? Osaka, Japan. Wondering where Murdoc gets his style inspiration? Ozzy Osbourne. But what about Russell's astrological sign? He’s a gemini. Actually, all of the Gorillaz are geminis except for Noodle—she’s a scorpio. Thanks to the the beauty of the internet, the entire convoluted storyworld is available at your fingertips.
From pages upon pages of fan wikis to their episode of MTV Cribs, you could spend hours on end delving into the story of the Gorillaz, and after a few hours of doing so, I think I have a better understanding of the actual “story” of Gorillaz. But how did Gorillaz begin in the first place? Surely, this group of animated misfits didn’t meet in their semesters of jamming in the quad at Oberlin or as angsty teens messing around with bass drums in their parent’s basements. Nope, the story of the dawn of the Gorillaz is as perfectly unique and strange as the Gorillaz themselves.
It all began on August 15, 1997 when Murdoc Niccals, the Satanist hoodlum that would soon become the Gorillaz bass player, attempted to ram-raid the Organ Emporium at which 2-D (the future lead singer and keyboardist) worked at in order to get the synth equipment to create a successful musical group. Essentially, Murdoc set out to be a superstar.
Instead of sliding away with all the instrument bounty the emporium could offer, he drove the burglary car straight into 2-D’s noggin. Naturally, this left him in a catatonic state with a permanent dent in his head. Later on, Murdoc drove a car into the other side of his head (trying to impress a woman, naturally) which is how 2-D got his nickname, he’s got 2 dents.
The following year, Murdoc inherited the haunted Kong Studios, which sit atop of a janky cemetery and landfill in Districtshire, Essex. With two members and now a studio, Murdoc continued on his journey to become a chart-topping band and met the drummer Russel Hobbs in a Soho record store. Russel’s past is complicated, to say the least.
Growing up in New York, his demonic posession got him expelled from a fancy private school and eventually put him into a four-year-long coma. When he was finally brought out of the coma by an intricate exorcism, he enrolled Brooklyn High School where he befriended and found his niche amongst a group of hip-hop artists at the school. Hip hop provided him respite from his strained and demonic past until his new friends were killed in a drive-by shooting. Their souls inhabited Russel’s body, giving him glowing white eyes and insane musical powers. His family thought it best to escape from his troubles in England, far away from his haunted past, but he fell right into the Murdoc’s band and subsequent lifestyle.
The band was just missing one key element to become the monumental group they’re know as today: a guitarist. And, like the rest of their formation, the journey to find Noodle was tumultuous. Conveniently enough, 2-D’s girlfriend Paula Cracker knew her way around a fretboard, but Murdoc had to go and hook up with Paula. Russel caught them in the act in the studio bathrooms so he broke Murdoc’s conniving nose five times and kicked Paula out of the band. Still determined to make it big, they placed an ad in NME and a freight container was FedExed to their house the very same day. The vessel contained a small girl, only eight years old, with amnesia and a Les Paul. She spoke to them for the first time in japanese they didn’t understand followed by “the riff to end all riffs.” She then uttered one single word: “Noodle.” She became Noodle, the band got their guitar play, and the Gorillaz were formed.
The years ahead of them were was weird and rocky as the foundation upon which they were built; Murdoc’s wild shenanigans, Noodle’s strange mystery, Russel’s haunting talent, and 2D’s calm passion mixed with a fabricated world. Their odd, complex, often goofy story is a commonly underlooked part of their artistry as a whole. The Gorillaz may be fictional but, thanks to the thought put into them by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlettt and a pack dedicated fans, their storyworld and feels as real as anything and is definitely worth diving into while you enjoy Demon Days.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.