From Gorillaz to The Last Shadow Puppets: the 10 best side projects in indie

Rock history is full of artists unable to sit still and stop channelling their energy into countless other acts

You might think being in one band would be enough to keep you occupied and, probably, exhausted. Looking at the resumés of some of indie’s biggest names, it seems the stars would disagree with you.

Some, like The Vaccines‘ Justin Young, who’s just released an album with his The Halloweens project, and Interpol‘s Paul Banks – who’s also got yet another new band – are out there collecting new groups like Pokémon.

Here are 10 of the best side projects we’ve been rewarded with by these workaholics over the years.

Gorillaz

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Featuring: Blur leader and Mr Renaissance Man himself, Damon Albarn.

What happened:
Created as a commentary on the vapid state of MTV, Gorillaz began life as a virtual band with cartoon members 2-D, Murdoc, Russel, and Noodle, who entered the non-virtual realm at shows. Over the years, everyone from Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Shaun Ryder, Lil Simz, Savages’ Jehnny Beth and Mavis Staples have collaborated with them, while their songs have offered analysis on landfills, politics and their own mythology.

Best song:
‘Feel Good Inc’

The Voidz

Featuring: The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas on the hunt for all things weird.

What happened: After putting out a slick solo album in ‘Phrazes For The Young’, The Strokes frontman decided to take his next side project down a much weirder path. Teaming up with musicians who’d backed him on his solo tour, Casablancas went in the complete opposite direction most of his fans would have expected and gave them a debut album in ‘Tyranny’ that was discordant, difficult, but oddly rewarding once you sat down and gave it time. Second album ‘Virtue’ was a little easier on the ears but no less inventive.

Best song: ‘Human Sadness’

The Last Shadow Puppets

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Featuring: Indie’s biggest bromance, aka Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and former Rascals frontman-turned-solo-star Miles Kane.

What happened: After becoming pals when Kane’s first band The Little Flames supported Arctic Monkeys on tour, the pair’s friendship soon blossomed into this noteworthy collaboration. It all began innocently enough – with 2008’s ‘The Age Of The Understatement’, a collection of Bond theme-worthy, noirish 1960s pop beauties. By the time 2016’s ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ rolled around, Kane and Turner were indie’s greatest friends, spotted fanning out at Strokes gigs together and egging on each other’s rock star personas at their own shows. Currently, all is quiet on the TLSP front but it seems very unlikely the duo won’t work together again.

Best song: ‘Sweet Dreams, TN’

Babyshambles

Featuring: The always chaotic Libertines singer and guitarist Pete Doherty.

What happened: Babyshambles’ path was never smooth – what could you expect of a band formed after Doherty was banned from The Libertines over his penchant for hard drugs? But despite the bedlam Doherty was often surrounded by during the 2000s, he also released some of his best ever songs with Babyshambles (the less said about that Kate Moss collab the better, though). The band released three albums together but have been inactive since 2014, with Doherty focusing on new Libertines music and his other solo endeavours.

Best song: ‘Fuck Forever’

Discovery

Featuring: Then-Vampire Weekend member and now in-demand producer Rostam Batmanglij.

What happened: Alongside Ra Ra Riot’s Wesley Miles, Batmanglij quietly put out his own synth-pop album under the moniker Discovery in 2009, after ‘A-Punk’ “Eh! Eh! Eh!-ed” its way across the globe. Batmanglij’s VW bandmate Ezra Koenig made an appearance on the record’s best track, ‘Osaka Loop Line’, while a bonus track reimagined The Jackson Five’s ‘I Want You Back’ into gorgeous, AutoTuned synth futurism. At present, ‘LP’ sadly remains Discovery’s only release.

Best song: ‘Osaka Loop Line’

The Breeders

Featuring: Two 1990s’ icons – Pixies’ bassist Kim Deal and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donnelly.

What happened: Created as an outlet to run parallel to Pixies and Throwing Muses, it took The Breeders some years to find acclaim from the wider world, although Kurt Cobain called their debut album ‘Pod’ one of his favourites. After Donnelly left and Pixies broke up, Deal focused on the band with her sister Kelley, scoring big with 1993’s ‘Last Splash’. But the good times were shortlived – the band went on a break in 1994 to deal with drug and alcohol issues, eventually finding their way back (with some new members) at the end of the decade. In 2013, the classic line-up reunited to mark ‘Last Splash’’s 20th anniversary, sparking the creation of a brand new album – 2018’s ‘All Nerve’.

Best song: ‘Cannonball’

The Dead Weather

Featuring: A who’s who of US rock – The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, The White StripesJack White, QOTSA’s Dean Fertita, and The Greenhornes’ Jack Lawrence.

What happened: Not content with fronting both The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, Jack White formed The Dead Weather in 2009. The Kills’ Alison Mosshart was a founding part of the new group after filling in on vocals for White on tour with The Raconteurs a year earlier. Lawrence and Fertita rounded out White’s latest blues-rock gang and the four-piece have released three albums together so far, their latest arriving in the shape of 2015’s acclaimed ‘Dodge And Burn’.

Best song: ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’

Desert Sessions

Featuring: QOTSA’s Josh Homme and a rotating cast of famous mates.

What happened: Way back in 1997, Josh Homme gathered a bunch of friends at an old ranch in Joshua Tree and set about crafting spontaneous, “on the spot” gems. Since then, 12 volumes of the Desert Sessions have been released, featuring the likes of Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, and Nick Olivieri, while the series has become an acclaimed part of Homme’s musical legacy.

Best song: ‘Crawl Home’ (featuring PJ Harvey)

Boygenius

Featuring: A triumvirate of modern indie’s finest voices – Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker.

What happened: Coming together off the back of booking a tour together, backstage hangouts at festivals, and a general sense that they were all kindred spirits, these three ladies decided to take the next step in any music-based friendship group – collaborate on a record. So far, they’ve only released one EP as Boygenius, but it was beautiful, affecting, and hopefully just a tiny taste of more greatness to come when they next converge.

Best song: ‘Ketchum, ID’

Ex Hex

Featuring: Indie-rock guitar god and Helium frontwoman Mary Timony.

What happened: A cult figure in indie rock, Timony is renowned by those in the know as a true guitar hero. After playing in Helium, Autoclave, and the supergroup Wild Flag (featuring Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and The Minders’ Rebecca Cole), the DC-based musician formed Ex Hex with Betsy Wright and Laura Harris. Their 2014 debut ‘Rips’ was an almost perfect missive of euphoric punk riffs and pop hooks that refused to leave your head, while 2019 follow-up ‘It’s Real’ pushed even further forward into intergalactic glam-rock.

Best song: ‘How You Got That Girl’

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