Written by: Conor Fuller
After a triumphant return to the stage last summer with a sell-out show at London's O2 Arena and a free concert for NHS workers, virtual band Gorillaz are back and bigger than ever.
Stepping out from behind their avatars, the Damon Albarn-conceived band were joined by guests such as Robert Smith, De La Soul, Little Simz, and Shaun Ryder.
With a slew of major festival headline appearances across Europe and beyond in 2022, it's time to get the bingo cards out and hazard guesses as to which stars will join them on tour in the flesh.
So, as more and more artists join the Gorillaz family, we look back at our favourite collaborations with the group over the years, as we look forward to stepping back into their world this summer.
10. Popcaan on 'Saturnz Barz'
There’s something addictive about Popcaan’s auto-tuned hook. The song marked Gorillaz’ comeback after five years without releasing music, but the collaboration nearly didn’t come together after a fruitless late night studio session. Luckily, Popcaan returned to the studio the following day and 'Saturnz Barz' was born, a track unlike anything he’d featured on or released before and a new direction for Britain’s favourite virtual band, also.
9. Robert Smith on 'Strange Timez'
It’s no wonder there’s an eerie atmosphere to this track, given it was recorded during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Who better to feature on this than The Cure’s Robert Smith? Smith brings an air of uncertainty with his unmistakable voice and his heavy makeup, also instantly recognisable, emerges on the face of the moon in the extra-terrestrial music video.
8. Peven Everett on 'Strobelite'
*Looks up ‘funky’ in the Thesaurus* It’s hard to avoid using that word with this one. The undeniable beat is the perfect background to the Chicago singer’s iconic soulful vocals. A retro synth stab solo provides respite, before the infectious chorus comes back in.
7. Fatoumata Diawara on 'Desole'
The Ivory Coast singer’s feature on this track has to be one of our favourites. Fatoumata Diawara brings something completely different to Gorillaz, as they fuse their production with Diawara’s Wassoulou and African blues. The result is a joyful track that will have you spinning the person next to you round and round.
6. Mos Def & Bobby Womack on 'Stylo'
Big guests for a big beat. Mos Def’s megaphone-filtered rap adds swing to the electro beat, while Bobby Womack’s huge soulful verse soars. The star-studded track has a fittingly cinematic video, complete with Bruce Willis cameo. Incredible scenes.
5. Snoop Dogg on 'Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach'
An underrated tune, in our opinion. Snoop Dogg takes to this track and the weird world of Gorillaz with great enthusiasm. As the brass section builds, Snoop announces himself with typical, effortless drawl. In the video, we’re treated to 30 seconds of him vibing, dressed as an admiral complete with telescope, to the infectious hi-hats.
4. Bootie Brown (The Pharcyde) on 'Dirty Harry'
Our first selection, so far, off their magnum opus Demon Days. From children’s choruses to electro pop and disconcerting strings, the track takes a wild turn when The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown slides in with a breathless verse. The strain in their voice is contagious, you can’t help but rap and gesture along before that funky beat comes back.
3. MF DOOM on 'November Has Come'
A deeper cut off Demon Days, but a very special one. Co-written and featuring none other than the late, great, and enigmatic MF DOOM, this track lollops along with an almost aqueous before a typical Albarn hook. It’s the rap which takes centre stage though, as MF DOOM delivers a masterclass, piling multi-syllabic rhymes until his breath runs out.
2. Little Dragon on 'Empire Ants'
Our highlight of 2010’s Plastic Beach, this sumptuous synth-fest is taken to another level by Little Dragon’s dreamy vocals. After two minutes of hazy, blissful scene-setting by Damon Albarn, a chugging synthesiser sweeps up off our feet and into the clouds.
1. Shaun Ryder on 'DARE'
Ryder’s dulcet Mancunian voice has got to be the most iconic feature of Gorillaz’ discography. Everybody knows his part, plugged into our subconscious like Shaun Ryder's mechanical, disembodied head in the music video.
Several rumours surround this track’s inception, but the Happy Mondays man recently told his version on Radio X in 2017: “There were no lyrics”, he claimed, going on to claim he was merely trying to get the volume right in his headphones in the vocal booth in the studio. Effortless and incredible.
Click here to see all of Gorillaz' upcoming festival performances.