After a decade playing hide-and-seek with fans, Damon Albarn will arrive in Hong Kong with his virtual band Gorillaz even though the pop icon swears the spotlight makes him feel like a “stupid pervert.”
In 1998, at the height of his success with Britpop giants Blur, Albarn cooked up the Gorillaz concept with his flatmate, illustrator Jamie Hewlett, as a way to take a step back from the fame game.
“We had this fantasy, I wouldn’t have to go on tour. At the beginning I wasn’t even going to sing,” he said in Paris, midway through a world tour that includes a show at AsiaWorld Expo on Friday.
For its first gigs, the band played behind a screen with images of the virtual members: Russel, Noodle, 2-D and Murdoch – the last two closely inspired by their creators.
Now that he is back in the limelight, Albarn feels he has come full circle.But they soon came to realize “people need the human aspect,” Albarn, 42, said. “In Japan, we played behind a screen and people asked for their money back because they hadn’t seen us. They only saw our silhouettes.”
“I thought I’d have made progress – but I’ve just come back to being this stupid pervert at the front of the stage,” he joked.
On stage the Gorillaz are a riotous, gargantuan affair. Some 20 artists rubbed shoulders in the Paris show, from a string ensemble to two drummers, a bass guitar, a keyboard, a wind section – even a church bell, belting out a fusion of pop, rap, electro and world music.
In the summer they became the first Western pop band to play in Damascus.
“I’m not trying to ignore the politics in Syria,” Albarn said. “But I was surprised at how free and open it was. We thought we’d get maybe 500 people, in the end there were 6,000. I saw young women with head scarves on the shoulders of their boyfriends.”
From China to Iraq, Albarn has spent much of recent years scouting the world for new musical forms and talents.
In parallel with Gorillaz, he has produced music in Mali, set up improvised jam concerts with Western and African musicians, and triumphed with a Chinese- themed opera, a sumptuous fusion of Asian folklore and music.
“I like my ideas, and my mind and my soul to be stimulated endlessly,” Albarn said. “I think a lot of people in pop music are very conservative, but I know a lot of musicians who have a similar mind-set to myself. I don’t feel exceptional.”