A Gorillaz show in 2017 is everything Damon Albarn learned not to do from Glastonbury 2010

Demon Dayz: Gorillaz brought almost all the guests from ‘Humanz’ to their Margate party on Saturday

Watching Gorillaz perform in 2017 makes you wonder whether Glastonbury Festival 2010, almost seven years ago to the day, is still in the back of Damon Albarn’s mind. Back then, the cartoon group had joined up late in the day to replace U2 after Bono had injured his back. It was 12 months on from Blur’s emotional return to the Pyramid Stage and the memories of Damon down on his knees, wiping tears from his eyes were still fresh in the mind. By comparison, Gorillaz’s set was oddly lacklustre, despite the guest appearances of Bobby Womack, Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg. It was a show that Albarn would later concede was missing “human interaction”. Kind of ironic, given the world’s most successful virtual band had only recently stepped out from behind their screen.

Maybe that night was part of the reason why Albarn put the project into hibernation for half a decade; maybe it was the impetus for a new album explicitly titled ‘Humanz’. Regardless, it’s surely the reason that now, here, all these years later, a Gorillaz show is very different. Perhaps the most stinging criticism of that night on Worthy Farm was that it was boring. That’s not the case anymore.

Demon Dayz is their event – a summer party to celebrate the release of ‘Humanz’ back in April. The venue is Dreamland, a restored theme park on Margate beachfront full of kitsch amusements, where festival punters can ride the roller-coasters and helter-skelter or throw a ball at a pyramid of cans in an attempt to win a giant purple ape or oversized doughnut. There are main sets from Gorillaz’s collaborators throughout the day, too – the liveliest of which come from Vince Staples, Danny Brown and Kano.

Albarn’s determined to bring some theatre to the occasion. During the afternoon there’s the juxtaposed sight of ominous “demons” roaming the festival grounds, six-foot tall, dressed in black cloaks, ringing bells, carrying flags and handing out tarot cards by the ice cream vans with messages like “lose yourself” written on them. Ten minutes before stage time, 40 demons assemble at the back of the arena to slowly march through the crowd and onto the stage to form a wall. As they exit, the opening monologue of ‘Intro: I Switched My Robot Off’ begins to play and the band, with Vince Staples, reveal themselves and launch into ‘Ascension’. It’s an explosive start, and one that sets the tone for the next two hours. In fact, if there’s any overriding theme, it’s just how relentlessly upbeat the whole evening is. It helps that ‘Humanz’ compared to ‘Plastic Beach’ (tellingly, only two out of 27 tracks performed are from their 2010 album) is a much more pacy collection of songs.

Within the first few minutes, Albarn, wearing a black bomber jacket and a toothy grin, is down on the front barrier high-fiving the crowd and conducting the band. He’s also talkative: “What a beautiful day, what a beautiful place and beautiful people,” he roars, before introducing Popcaan for the ghostly strains of ‘Saturnz Barz’.

“This has been a weird week in his country, a real surprise then a bullshit outcome,” he says a couple of songs in. “This is only the beginning, some of you out there that weren’t able to vote, who next time will be able to vote – it’s going to grow.” There’s an enormous cheer from the youthful, sunburnt crowd.

There continues to be a forcefulness to the whole show. The entrance and exit of guests is brisk, and the momentum sustained. There’s Grahan Coxon (‘Submission’), Kelela (‘Submission’, ‘Busted And Blue’), Danny Brown (‘Submission’) Zebra Katz (‘Sex Murder Party’), Kali Uchis (‘She’s My Collar’), Liltle Simz (‘Garage Palace’) and Shaun Rider (‘Dare’). The main body of the performance, which races by, ends with Savages’ Jehnny Beth performing ‘We Got The Power’. Wearing a white trouser suit, she removes her stilettos and stands on the shoulders of the crowd before diving into their arms.

The encore is unarguable as well: the assistance of Kano and Little Simz’ on ‘Clint Eastwood’ and De La Soul for ‘Feel Good Inc.’ ensure the old stuff continues to sound vital.

By the end of it all, Damon leans back, hands aloft, hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. He thanks his “co-conspirator” Jamie Hewlett stood at the sound desk and departs with a peace-sign and a message: “I’ve got two words for you,” he says. “First, unity… and through unity, we find love.”

Photos: Festival/Mark Allan
Dreamland, Margate on 10 June 2017