A virtual band is one in which the band members are fictional, animated characters. As for Gorillaz, they are composed of lead vocalist 2D, guitarist Noodle, bassist Murdoc Niccals and drummer Russel Hobbs.
Gorillaz are far from the being the world's first virtual band. And even though the word "virtual" conjures up images of our current computer age, the first virtual band to hit it big was Alvin and the Chipmunks way back in 1959.
In the late 1960's, children and tweens rocked out to The Archies—a virtual band featuring the characters from the Archie comics—at the time they had their own animated TV series. The Archies are also a seminal band in the bubblegum pop genre. Their biggest hit was the super sweet, "Sugar, Sugar."
Other virtual bands include Nutty Squirrels, Jose and the Pussycats, Jem, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, and Dethklok from Adult Swim's Metalocalypse.
Gorillaz are the polar opposites of The Archies and Alvin and the Chipmunks. They are anything but sweet and definitely not kid friendly.
The idea for Gorillaz came about after their human creators, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, watched too much MTV and realized just how little substance the network really possessed (the same can be said for just about every cable network). That's why the ideas of desolation and despair are recurring themes throughout the Gorillaz's work.
Albarn is the driving force behind the band's music. He was the former front man of the British alternative rock outfit, Blur. Hewlett handles the images. Prior to his work on Gorillaz, Hewlett was best known for co-creating the comic book, Tank Girl.
Gorillaz's sound is a blend of alternative, hip hop, and electronic music. Albarn employs the help of other musicians, singers, and rappers in the recording studio and on stage. Some of the artists that have worked with Gorillaz include De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, Del the Funkee Hompsapien, Lou Reed, and Snoop Dogg.
Hewlett's images are dark, edgy, and urban. The characters are explored via the band's website, music videos, and DVDs.
Twice Albarn and Hewlett have tried to make a full-length feature film about Gorillaz and both times the projects were abandoned in the early stages. The first try the band ran up against the shortsightedness of the movie industry while the second attempt was thwarted by creative difficulties.
The band released its self-titled debut in 2001. As predicted, the album did quite well in the U.K. (peaking at number 3), but it also found an audience in America. It reached number 14 on the Billboard 200.
Their sophomore effort, Demon Days, dropped in 2005. It went straight to number one in the U.K. and debuted in the U.S. at number six.
The band's third album, Plastic Beach, came out in 2010. It debuted at number two on both the U.S. and U.K. album charts. In total, the band has sold more than 20 million albums.
As with any "virtual band" the question always arises how does the band perform live? What should one expect who has a ticket to see Gorillaz in concert?
Whether you're seeing Gorillaz perform live in Los Angeles or whether you're seeing Gorillaz take the stage in Boston, expect a multi-media experience, a stage full of musicians, and a large video screen featuring the exploits of the four virtual members.
In 2010, the band embarked on its first global trek, "Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour 2010." Gorillaz's touring band features Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash as well as a slew of other top-notch musicians.
Highlights of their North American itinerary include a Gorillaz show in New York, a Gorillaz show in Chicago, and a Gorillaz show in Houston.
Despite being "virtual," Gorillaz are known as an excellent live band. They've delighted Gorillaz fans in Dallas, Gorillaz fans in Phoenix, and Gorillaz fans all over the world.
The band played to 70,000 fans at the 2010 Coachella Music Festival—one of the largest crowds in the history of that event. They also filled in for U2 at the 2010 Glastonbury Festival. The appearance made Albarn the first artist to ever headline the festival two years in a row.
The Gorillaz had wanted to tour using 3-D holographic images but the technology was too expensive and too finicky. However, they did employ the technique at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards and the 2006 Grammy Awards in a performance that featured Madonna.
It's fairly obvious that Gorillaz have taken the virtual band to a whole new level. They've proved that virtual bands don't need to be attached to a Saturday morning cartoon to be successful. But they've also shown that the genre still has hurdles to overcome and milestones to achieve. Meaning, the future holds plenty of good things for Gorillaz.