by Kaleb Eisele
Gorillaz founders Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett formed one of the strangest bands in music back in 1998 by creating a virtual group of musicians— cartoons and holograms that dominated their shows in place of Albarn and Hewlett themselves. Still around today, the part-fiction/part-real group consists of four animated members: bass/guitarist Murdoc Niccals, keyboardist/vocalist 2D, percussionist Russel Hobbs, and Japanese guitarist, Noodle. Bizarrely enough, live shows mean that animated performers are projected onto enormous screens, while Albarn and Hewlett occasionally appear for portions of songs.
Such a formula — animated art paired with a mixture of surrealist hip-hop, funk, and electronica — made the Gorillaz a huge success, beginning with 2000's debut EP Tomorrow Comes Today. And while Albarn and Hewlett released a continuous string of music videos and short films that tied the band's other-worldly experiences into one narrative, two young fans watched Gorillaz' fantastic descent into madness. Nearly 16 years later, those two fans — John and Kevin Shields — have grown up to create their own similar brand of funky electro hip-hop with Little Stranger. The local duo recently released a full-length record, Buddha the Beast, and now they're busily preparing for Kids with Guns: A Tribute to Gorillaz.
Little Stranger's introduction to the virtual English band dates back to childhood. "I went to the Philly X Games in '99 or 2000, right when they were coming out and they had all these crazy posters everywhere for the Gorillaz," says Kevin."They were giving out the single, 'Clint Eastwood.' I think I was 10 or 11 at the time." Meanwhile, John discovered Gorillaz after Demon Days was released in 2005. "I still remember the night I sat in my room and stumbled upon Gorillaz," he says. "I just remember thinking, 'Oh my God.'"
Now, Little Stranger will pay tribute by providing the full Gorillaz experience, both visually and audibly. The duo plans to project animations on both screens on the Pour House stage, while also implementing the same voice-distortion effects the Gorillaz are well-known for. Little Stranger has also enlisted a local group of collaborators for the tribute, including keyboardist, vocalist-rapper Alan Fame, a.k.a. Manny Houston, and MC Sheed Staggs. And though the band will cover the three biggest Gorillaz albums — Plastic Beach, Demon Days, and Gorillaz — there are still some surprises in store. "We're not touching The Fall, G-Sides, or B-sides," Kevin says. "We came close, though. We're not just going for the bangers, which is going to be the exciting part. We've got some of the weirder, more classic Gorillaz-style stuff."
Ultimately, Little Stranger hopes to befittingly bring to life the strange vision Gorillaz introduced years ago. That vision cannot be better explained than in the words of Noodle from the band's autobiography, Gorillaz: Rise of the Ogre: "We live in a shockingly beautiful world. We are walking through the living kingdom of heaven every day; the colours, the sound, the love of others, the potential to create, the plants, wildlife, nature, music, all sensations and life ... but if we refuse to see colour and beauty we may as well be in Hell. Maybe an animated band was the best way of announcing this."