When Gorillaz announced that their major live return would take place at Margate’s Dreamland theme park, at a festival of their own design no less, the music world lost its shit. After seven years away Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and their animated troupe had come back in the most ‘Gorillaz’ way possible, picking an out of the way location and enlisting a host of their collaborators for a dystopian-themed party by the sea.
Things got off to a shaky start when the security at Dreamland’s entrance made me throw away a banana I’d brought with me, very un-Gorillaz, but were immediately redeemed by the arrival of De La Soul on stage. Posdenuos, Maseo and Dave have been whipping up crowds for nigh on thirty years now and are all the stronger for it. Hitting the crowd with classics like ‘Oodles of Os’, ‘Ooh’ and ‘Me, Myself & I’ the trio were on top form, even enticing those watching from nearby flats to join in with their hype-inducing tactics. A quick dash over to the Red Bull Hall by the Sea provided time enough for the second half of Kali Uchis’ set, the Colombian singer shimmering on stage as she performed.
Despite the excitement that built throughout the day, the vibe at Demon Dayz was still very much Gorillaz-focused. Hooded and masked ‘Demonz’ wondered around Dreamland in packs, ringing bells and occasionally stopping in the middle of a crowd to shudder at, and generally creep out, those around them, their presence a reminder of who was running the day’s show. For all the fun of the group’s expanded universe leaking into the real world it was hard not to feel the shadow it cast over some of the other acts on the bill. An otherwise riot-worthy set by Vince Staples was met with a somewhat muted audience, either too hot or too focused on Gorillaz to muster the effort asked of them by the Long Beach MC.
The UK contingent in the form of Little Simz and special guest Kano fared better, the latter bringing a full band with him to perform the bulk of his most recent album Made In The Manor alongside classics like ‘Ps & Qs’ and ‘Boys Love Girls’. ‘This Is England’ and ‘Three Wheel Ups’ put the brass section to full use, however watching two trombones, a sousaphone and a trumpet rewind ‘My Sound’ and then perform a live version of grime’s seminal ‘Ghetto Kyote’ instrumental has got to have been the highlight of his set.
As the sun began to dip above the crowd the Demonz reappeared on mass. No longer gathered in groups of just four or five, there must have been at least twenty of the hooded figure snaking their way toward the stage, blue flags raised and bells waving as they heralded the headliners’ arrival. However, as it turns out, they were the headliners.
The procession of Demonz made their way on stage, shielding the band’s arrival as they gathered under a descending digital eye/sun. Slowly they disappeared into the wings until just one was left, a fist raised in the middle of the stage. Under the robe, of course, was Damon Albarn.
Over the course of two hours Gorillaz bought an innumerable amount of guests on stage for tracks old and new. Popcaan kicked things off with ‘Saturn Barz’ before Vince Staples made his return to the stage for ‘Ascension’, to a much more excited crowd this time. Kelela, Zebra Katz, Danny Brown, Kilo Kish and Bootie Brown all showed up, the older material outshining Humanz’ tracklist for the most part. However at least one of Gorillaz’ new songs was improved by a live outing, the on the nose ‘We Got The Power’ may have lacked Noel Gallagher but Jehnny Beth’s crowd-walking antics and natural stage presence gave the single some extra oomph.
The most surprising appearance of the night wasn’t Albarn’s former Blur bandmate Graham Coxon, nor was it Peven Everett and Jamie Principle standing in for the late Bobby Womack, but the Happy Monday’s legendary frontman Shaun Ryder who joined the full cohort for ‘DARE.’ The recent election made an appearance too with a brief rendition of the now ubiquitous ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ chant as Damon addressed the result. Encore time and Maseo wanders on cool as you like before belly laughing into the start of ‘Feel Good Inc.’ followed by Kano and Little Simz bounding on stage for ‘Clint Eastwood’. A triumphant ending, all rounded off by the truly spirit-lifting Demon Days closer ‘Don’t Get Lost in Heaven.’
Featured image Mark Allen, all other photos Steve Stills
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