Damon Albarn's Musical Odyssey — From Blur to Gorillaz and Everything in Between
Damon Albarn has been celebrated as one of the UK’s most talented and progressive, all-around musical geniuses. The frontman of Blur (an indie rock band formed in the 90s) played a crucial role in popularizing Britpop - a sound that distinguished and redefined British rock bands from American rock at that time.
He released an album every year since Blur’s first album and has more than 25 albums under his belt. However, only two of them have been ascribed entirely to him.
This is because Damon is a genius collaborator who believed in exploring music from different cultures and bringing those foreign sounds to the west. He is known to have a knack for harmonizing a wide array of sounds into relatable pop music that was ruling the era at that time.
However, not all of Albarn’s projects have succeeded. Nevertheless, he is a visionary whose contributions should put him in league with legendary UK artists like David Bowie and The Beatles.
A Peek into Daman Albarn’s Life
Born in Leytonstone on March 23, 1968, Damon Albarn was raised as the eldest child in a free-spirited household. His parents were involved in London’s art and theatre counterculture, which left a big impression on him.
His father, Keith, was a manager of a jazz-rock group, Soft Machine. He was also the head of Colchester art school in the 1970s and 1980s while his mother, Hazel, worked as a stage designer at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London.
In 1971, Damon’s sister, Jessica Albarn, was born. She is an artist known for her beautiful fine line drawings that feature insects and geometrical shapes on surfaces like paper, glass, and wax. She says she draws inspiration from nature and wants to preserve the ecosystem.
When Damon was 10 years old, his family moved to Colchester due to his father's teaching job. He attended Stanway Comprehensive School, where he met future Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and found that they had similar music tastes.
After finishing secondary school, Albarn attended the East 15 Acting School, where he studied drama. However, after a year, he realized he was a terrible actor and decided to pursue music.
Damon started playing the guitar, piano, and violin from a very young age and was already composing instead of practicing.
So it did not come off as a surprise when one of his compositions won the regional heat in the Young Composer of the Year competition at the age of 15.
Albarn's Vast Musical Career
In 1988, Albarn enrolled at a part-time music course at Goldsmiths College, which he claims he did just to get access to the "student union and hang out with everyone." He met up with Coxon once again and formed a group named 'Circus,' who introduced Alex James and Dave Rowntree and began playing as 'Seymour.' The band later signed to Food Records and changed their name to Blur.
In 1991, Blur's debuted with their first album, 'Leisure.' The group's first single, 'She's So High,' cracked the UK Top 50 while the follow-up, 'There's No Other Way' went to the Top 10. Although these songs were well received, their album was criticized for its dying Manchester pop beats.
For the next two years, Blur struggled to find a distinct sound. They released 'Pop Scene,' which was a commercial failure as it did not fit into the British pop scene. Following the failure, the group released another album, 'Modern Life is Rubbish,' which appeared both in Britain and the US. Although it was well-received in Britain, it failed to make an impression in the US.
In 1994, Blur finally released a breakthrough album, 'Parklife,' which launched the band to superstardom. The hit single 'Girls and Boys' entered the charts at number one in the UK while in the US it was at number 5. Parklife went triple platinum and garnered Blur four Brit Awards, including Best Band and Best Album.
By 1996, after another unsuccessful attempt at breaking into the US market with the 'Great Escape' album, Albarn wanted to focus on American indie rock. Guitarist Coxon, still interested in British music and after a dispute, departed and embarked on a solo career.
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were ready to step into a new genre, a crossover of alternative rock and hip hop with a virtual zombie hip hop group Gorillaz that featured four two-dimensional animated cartoons. The band characters were created by Hewlett, who was responsible for the stunning visuals.
In a conversation with Neil Gaiman from Wired, the founders of Gorillaz say that they came up with the idea of a cartoon band while watching MTV.
One day, we were home watching MTV with our eyes just kind of glazed. Because if you watch MTV for too long, it's a bit like hell - there's nothing of substance there. So we got this idea for a cartoon band, something that would be a comment on that.
We're the generation whose stars come from Pop Idol and celebrity-wrestling shows. And it's all a bit like a cartoon, really."
In 2001, the band released its debut eponymous album, which sold over seven million copies, earning them an entry in the Guinness World Book of Records for the most successful virtual band. By 2011, the group had released four more albums, all of which sold millions of copies worldwide. This proved that Albarn's newer group had become the more prominent act.
Besides being in successful bands, Albarn also had a prosperous solo career where we worked on many notable projects. One worth mentioning is the release of Mali music album, where he collaborated with local musicians Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabaté for a unique music project to support Oxfam.
However, Damon's proper solo album only happened with 'Everyday Robots,' which, as the name suggests, is about how the advancement of technology has altered the way humans genuinely connect. The singer also mentions his life experiences, particularly about his drug use, which is in some of the lyrics of his songs.
Albarn Doesn't Believe In Marriages Neither Does His Girlfriend
When it comes to his personal life, Albarn is pretty private. However, we know that he has been with his long-time partner, who is often mistaken as the wife, Suzi Winstanley. The couple started dating in 1998, which means they have been together for more than 20 years.
According to Albarn, while working on the first Gorillaz album, they used to host parties, and one person who showed up frequently was Winstanley, whom he met when they were both guests on Libby Purvis's Radio 4 chat show eventually started dating.
When Suzi is not busy attending parties or being a girlfriend to Albarn, she goes on adventurous art expeditions across the world with collaborative partner Olly, who are popularly known as Olly and Suzi in the art world to document, paint and photograph endangered animals. Much of their work can be seen on their official Instagram page.
He says that both of them do not believe in marriage because of how it has been ruined by people who are divorced. In an interview with Hot Press, the singer states that he called Suzi his girlfriend as it sounds fresh and informal and also because they have not been married.
After dating for a year, Albarn and Winstanley welcomed their only child, Missy Violet Aga Albarn, into the world. In an interview with Guardian, Albarn got candid about his daughter.
She’s really interested in politics and film. One of the most heartwarming things for me is, occasionally, when it’s not trap music booming out from her room, I hear Radio 4. And I think: "Ah, you are my child!”
Damon's Net worth.
As a frontman of Blur who had significant success with Blur and side project Gorillaz and critically acclaimed solo projects on film soundtracks and operas, Albarn managed to rake in a sizable net worth in more than 20 years of his career. The musical mastermind is reported to be worth $40 million.
Gorillaz Delivers a Powerful Coronona PSA
Last year, in 2020, when the corona pandemic hit, Albarn or rather Gorillaz released yet another ambitious 17 songs series labeled as 'Song Machine, Season 1: Strange Timez.' When the video for the track 'Aries' ends, the leader of the group, 2-D, emerges with a bandana covering his face to remind listeners to take proper health precautions and protective measures against the coronavirus.
Damon’s achievements are legions, but above all, his ability to create a myriad of music and to mesmerize and capture the hearts of fans and musicians alike for more than five decades is something truly extraordinary, which distinguishes him as a musical phenomenon.