On paper and video, Gorillaz are still Jamie Hewlett’s cartoon band, doggedly following the traditional route from zombie graveyard to plastic island to shady dabbling with Mexican cartels. Live, however, they’re an entirely different Kong of a thing – kind of a cross between Lollapalooza and Cloverfield. Like a one-band travelling festival, they arrive at Open’er 2018 and drop their attendant minions from their underfur to scamper off and populate.
Throughout the early evening, Gorillaz collaborators dominate the bill. Kali Uchis opens the main stage, Little Simz wows the Alter Stage with her febrile rap and Vince Staples draws a monster crowd to the Tent, there to tell us, atop bubble-bath bass and gently tickling beats, to ‘Get The Fuck Off My Dick’. Well no, Vince, we quite like it on your dick actually, and we swivel there for the duration, as the pace quickens and his lustrous ambient rap grows horror flick sound effects and gospel choirs from The Upside Down.
Following a somewhat phoned-in, panic attack trap set from Young Thug back on the main stage, the mothership descends. Arriving to the Pink Floyd-aping cries of “hello! Is there anyone there?”, Damon Albarn dives into the broiling grindcore punk thrash of the debut album’s ‘M1 A1’. Lined up beside the spanking new ‘Tranz’, with its superb synth gospel hooks characteristic of the renewed melodic wallop of recent sixth album ‘The Now Now’, it only goes to show the vast, all-encompassing territory Gorillaz have conquered in the past twenty years. What at first seemed a novelty hobby project has become his primary vehicle of pioneering exploration, an ‘anonymous’ musical ark carrying all manner of styles and artists – be they innovative or endangered – off into some ultra-unified musical future. They’re Jacob Rees-Mogg’s worst nightmare, basically.
Aware of criticism that he’s allowed his guests to swamp Gorillaz of late, Damon carries the first third of the set, diving out to the barrier to hug his people and fronting the billowing chamber dub of ‘Last Living Souls’, the sewer disco of ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ and the meaty riff rock of ‘Every Planet We Reach Is Dead’. An adorable ‘On Melancholy Hill’ is his mid-set au revoir: for the funksome central section he becomes more of a back seat driver, beaming from behind keyboards as Peven Everett ramps up the James Brown revue vibes on ‘Strobelite’ and Little Simz and Jamie Principle showcase recent highlights – classic rap track ‘Hollywood’ and the electro Rio carnival that is ‘Garage Palace’.
He can’t help but take on one of ‘The Now Now’’s finest tracks himself – the gorgeous psych pop swirl ‘Magic City’, one of those Gorillaz songs that you wish had formed the backbone of a new Blur record – but Damon’s delight in being the fulcrum around which all this eclectic chaos revolves is evident. There’s a prankster’s pleasure in the way he sneaks hints of Mediterranean cha-cha-cha into new song ‘Souk Eye’, or nods to Jean Michele Jarre into the New Romantic pop of ‘Lake Zurich’. Anything goes in Gorillaz, he’s reminding us, and it will.
De La Soul emerge for the Outkast indie of ‘Feel Good Inc.’, Del The Funky Homosapien takes to the rap bouncy castle of ‘Clint Eastwood’ once more and off Gorillaz go, gathering up their ever-extending simian family and stomping away to own the next festival down the line. Call off the gunships, this beast is unstoppable.