Festival Frequency is a monthly look at music festival-related topics that step beyond the shadow of the Ferris wheel, discussing everything from the performances to the inner workings that make this a global phenomenon.
Damon Albarn is about to buy a ventriloquist doll. That’s the last thing he mentions as he gets off the phone, that the next time he’s heard from, he might be communicating via the puppet he’s about to buy. He lets out a little laugh when he reveals this, an inflection that communicates a moment of pure joy, perhaps amused at himself just for idea, or perhaps just pleased that these are the activities he embarks on purely for amusement’s sake.
Albarn is one of the most prolific and restless artists in the music world, so the idea that he lives to keep himself entertained and engaged falls in line with how he presents himself professionally. It started with Blur forming in the late-’80s and becoming massive in his homeland of the United Kingdom, earning a place in his countryman’s hearts as the bastion of Britpop. Despite his status as virtual royalty in England, the band’s American popularity was a bit more tapered, limited to a few minor hits, one major one (the ubiquitous “Song 2”), and reunion tour that found the band headlining the likes of Coachella and the Hollywood Bowl.
In the US, he’s much better known for his animated musical group, Gorillaz. Over the past 20 years, the project has managed numerous radio successes and become a music festival staple, an honor that culminates next month with the American debut of the Gorillaz music festival, Demon Dayz, in Los Angeles. Set to take place on October 20 at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena And Grounds, the fest boasts a headlining set from Gorillaz, supported by performances from Erykah Badu, The Internet, DRAM, and Kilo Kish. For someone like Albarn who is constantly pushing himself to uncharted water, the music festival makes perfect sense, taking the imaginary world of a cartoon band and turning into a real-world experience.
Albarn is one of many in a line of musical creators that are taking the step as music festival curators, a group that includes Dave Grohl, Justin Vernon, The National, Tyler, The Creator, and Paramore. It’s enough that for someone of Albarn’s status, it almost feels like having your own festival is something you’re supposed to do. “It’s something you do now, isn’t it?” he says with the reflection of a music industry lifer, as someone who’s seen trends come and go, and is happy to embrace the times as they change.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Albarn spoke about how music festivals (and his experiences at them) have changed over time, refuted a recent NME story that had him taking shots at the relationship between Paul McCartney and Kanye West, and teased some of his upcoming projects. As for how the ventriloquist doll fits into any of it, we’ll just have to wait and see.