In a new interview with Sky News, Gorillaz and Blur co-founder Damon Albarn spoke about a variety of topics including Elton John‘s feature on the band’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez album, Donald Trump, and most passionately about the U.K.’s disastrous pandemic response.
At the very beginning of the interview, Albarn immediately began talking about the elephant in the room, COVID-19.
“We are lucky we’ve always had our virtual world,” he told interviewer Amy Hitchcock. “A new kind of creativity is emerging out of all of this.”
Albarn, along with artist Jamie Hewlett, created the virtual quartet in the early ’90s, and together they have developed the lore, sound, and direction of the globally recognized band ever since. Their latest project, Song Machine, allowed them to create an album full of collaborations done both in-person and virtually throughout the pandemic. Track six, “The Pink Phantom”, contained one of the most anticipated collaborators on the entire album, Elton John.
“We had planned we’d fly to Atlanta and meet [Elton] there, and that became impossible, but somehow we still found that spirit via Zoom,” said Albarn.
He continued, “I’ve never worked like that, it’s always been an in-the-room process, but it didn’t seem to inhibit music in the end.”
At this point, Albarn made possibly his most controversial statements, calling for the end of live music prohibition.
“It’s a medical emergency but an existential one as well. You’ve got to allow music to continue… We are trying to preserve everyone’s health at the moment so passionately, we mustn’t ignore live music in that prescription.”
Album sales have become virtually irrelevant with regards to making enough money to survive as a musician. For many, live shows are the only way to keep the lights on and food on the table. Additionally, for fans, live music represents a place of happiness and escape, concepts much more important now than ever.
“If people are willing to perform, they should be allowed to, no one should be forced to do anything but if people are willing then somehow we can make it work so everyone can feel comfortable and participate.”
While it’s easy to clamor for the return of something that provides both entertainment and jobs for countless people, the notion is far easier said than done. In Albarn’s native U.K., the 2.500-capacity Virgin Money Unity Arena launched in August, marketed as the U.K.’s first specifically socially-distanced concert venue. While the venue team maintained that they had enforced all required protocols during the shows, the Virgin Money Unity Arena was closed down by mid-September following “Concerning rates of [COVID-19] infection” in the Newcastle region” where the venue was located.
Albarn gave little insight into how to actually safely conduct in-person concerts, though he did thrash the U.K.’s response to the pandemic and live music, more specifically.
Speaking about the government’s recent “Cyber First” campaign, which suggested musicians, dancers, and other forms of artists retrain for jobs in IT, Albarn didn’t hold back.
“I was so upset with it. It was such a bad signal to send out to people who were struggling to hold onto their dreams anyway, to literally explode them in their faces was bordering on callous I felt really.”
Though the government recently announced a £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund, the Blur frontman argues that it doesn’t go far enough, especially for a government that has historically rallied against the arts.
“It’s sadly something that has been in the DNA of all Conservative governments since [Margaret] Thatcher, the diminishing of the value of the arts, it’s very short sighted and really goes against something I feel extremely proud of. Our British identity is our creative industries and our creative history.”
Albarn didn’t stop at the U.K. government, either. Instead, he shifted to the U.S. and Donald Trump.
“As Billie Eilish said, we are waiting on the orange man to leave. It would be a very positive thing if he did. When I wrote ‘Parklife’ I was singing about Americanisation, it’s been with us since post the Second World War, and the Marshall Plan, we are very reliant on America and America casts a long shadow.”
Click here to read Sky News‘ entire interview with Damon Albarn.