Gorillaz have always been much more than a mere band.
A pop-culture explosion, the multi-media, trans-format project leaps from the studio to the net, from live performance to animated spectacular.
So when Gorillaz returned with their eagerly-awaited new album ‘Humanz’, fans had a right to expect something a little special from the live shows.
And so it proved. Taking control of Margate’s charmingly antiquated Dreamland funfair for Demon Dayz, the project – helmed as ever by Damon Albarn and former flatmate Jamie Hewlett – invited along an all-star cast of guests.
De La Soul deliver a fun-filled set in the sunshine, with their Daisy Age hip-hop sound feeling as fresh as ever against the south coast summer. Little Simz is on impassioned form at the second stage, with Clash flitting between both arenas to catch Vince Staples – from London to Long Beach, two distinct rap voices operating in a suddenly similar universe.
Kano’s set is one of the days real surprises, with the London talent opening in a nu-metal sphere. Re-constructing some of his early cuts as riff-heavy monsters, it’s a somewhat audience-splitting affair – but ‘New Banger’ will always bang hard no matter the presentation.
When he drops back into ‘Made In The Manor’ territory the band truly come into their own, with Kano taking time to let the musicians shine. Clearly enjoying every moment, when the time comes the rapper is almost reluctant to let Gorillaz take the main stage.
In a far-flung corner of Dreamland a queue of black-clad monks make their way across the site, their long, laborious path soundtracked by the occasional ring of a church bell. It’s a sombre, haunting display, almost reminiscent of The KLF’s surrealist apocalypse.
Striding onstage, the robes are removed to reveal Albarn & Co., plunging straight into a Vince Staples-abetted ‘Ascension’.
The focus, appropriately, is on ‘Demon Dayz’, with the cartoon-collective’s return given a feral new sense of energy. ‘Last Living Souls’ offers a tender Albarn vocal, while Popcaan brings some dancehall thrills on ‘Saturns Barz’. Indeed, the guest cast never feel wasted – it’s a fun performance, but also one where everything has its own place.
The trilogy of ‘Submission’/’Sex Murder Party’/’She’s My Collar’ seems to epitomise the sheer ambition of the Gorillaz live show, utilising everyone from Danny Brown to Kali Uchis, Graham Coxon to Zebra Katz.
When Gorillaz do decide to drip into their back catalogue, it’s done with imposing style. ‘Kids With Guns’ feels more urgent, more relevant than ever, while that familiar refrain of “It’s coming up...” leads to a stellar guest spot from Shaun Ryder.
The set ends with ‘We Got The Power’, one of the highlights of their recent album and a suitably righteous, gospel-fuelled hymn to empowerment in this week of general elections and political chaos.
After a few quick spot checks Gorillaz return to commence the encore, opening with ‘Sleeping Powder’. De La Soul hit the stage, with Maseo’s instantly recognisable laugh plunging head-long into ‘Feel Good Inc’.
‘Clint Eastwood’ is re-tooled as a UK rap excursion, with Damon Albarn’s whimsical melodica acting as backdrop for guest spots from Kano and Little Simz.
Taking time to salute his collaborator Jamie Hewlett – directing the visuals from the sound booth – Damon Albarn then leads the group into ‘Demon Dayz’, before it’s time for the crowd to wind its way out into the setting sun, and train journey home.
A triumphant day-long set piece, Demon Dayz underlines the continued vitality of Gorillaz, matching their ability as a songwriting force to an uncanny knack for cultural curation. We could get used to this sort of monkey business.
Ascension - Vince Staples
Last Living Souls
Saturns Barz - Popcaan
Stylo - Peven Everett & Bootie Brown
Tomorrow Comes Today
Momentz - De La Soul (Pos)
Strobelite - Peven Everett
Submission – Danny Brown, Kelela & Graham Coxon
Sex Murder Party - Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz
She’s My Collar - Kali Uchis
Dirty Harry - Bootie Brown
Let Me Out
Busted And Blue - Kelela
Kids With Guns
Dare - Shaun Ryder & Roses Gabor
Out Of Body - Zebra Katz, Michelle, Kilo Kish
Garage Palace - Little Simz
We Got The Power - Jehnny Beth & Graham Coxon
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Feel Good - De La Soul (Pos, Dave, Maseo)
Clint Eastwood - Kano & Little Simz
Don't Get Lost In Heaven
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Demon Dayz was broadcast live on Red Bull TV.