Gorillaz: Welcome to our island

We’ve heard of cult bands before, but with their new album ‘Cracker Island’, Gorillaz are taking it to extremes.

We’ve heard of cult bands before, but with their new album ‘Cracker Island’, Gorillaz are taking it to extremes.

Words: Jessica Goodman.
Illustration: Jamie Hewlett.

Blinking into the daylight to be faced with a green-skinned, self-proclaimed supreme overlord shirtless and smirking in a hot tub sounds like something ripped out of a fever dream. In the context of spending time with Gorillaz, it’s actually a pretty standard day. 

Pampered and skin slightly pruned from his time spent lounging in the water, self-confessed mastermind Murdoc Niccals is in his element. With a bottle of communion wine in hand, he gestures towards the edge of the balcony we find him on and grins. “Welcome to the inner sanctum.”

Located somewhere in Silver Lake, Los Angeles (whether they’re keeping its exact location hidden to retain their privacy or for other, more ominous reasons remains unknown), the mansion Gorillaz have been living and working in for the past year is as rich in character as you’d expect from a group who’ve previously based themselves on the site of a disused cemetery and an island made entirely out of landfill. 

This balcony-abundant abode and its lavish garden has been home to the band – completed by Stuart ‘2-D’ Pot, Russel Hobbs, and Noodle – since early last year. Following a brief period of time spent travelling in Murdoc’s Winnebago, the group settled in LA after a demonic sinkhole opened up beneath their previous base of West London Kong Studios (an event Noodle describes as “a timely reminder that the earth wants to swallow you up, so don’t stay still too long in one place”). 

With Kong Studios still in the process of being restored by the London Sewage Department, the band left the big smoke behind for pastures new, settling in the golden state after finding their new home on a suspiciously cheap rental site. A little over twelve months on, with a new album about to be released, it seems like their time in Tinseltown has been treating them well. Waving a hand dismissively as he sips from the wine glass he just topped up, Murdoc readily affirms this. “Yeah, we’re all doing great, aren’t we, Gorillaz?”

His question is met by silence. 

From her sprawled-out position on a towel in the garden below, Noodle doesn’t even look up from the magazine she’s reading. Russel is similarly occupied, staring intently into the flickering static of a TV screen. Not much of 2-D can be seen beyond his head, immersed in digging a deep hole in the ground. Smacking his lips and raising his glass with a satisfied sigh, Murdoc remains unconcerned by his bandmates’ actions (or lack of). Surreal as it might seem, this looks like business as usual at Casa del Gorillaz – or as usual as it gets around here, at least.

This is where the band crafted ‘Cracker Island’, an album full of shimmering, star-studded, psych-tinged bangers that glitters with A-list cool in the effortless way that only a Gorillaz album can. Featuring the likes of Tame Impala, Stevie Nicks, and Bad Bunny, as well as return collaborations with Beck and Bootie Brown (who featured on ‘The Valley of the Pagans’ and ‘Dirty Harry’ respectively), Gorillaz’ eighth record is either “the sound of change” or the “soundtrack [to] our collective ascension into the new dimension,” depending on who you ask.

Not ones to do things by halves, when the band shared title-track and lead single ‘Cracker Island’ last summer, they weren’t just gearing up to release a new record. They were also kick-starting a brand new movement. Growing increasingly more interested in the occult, Murdoc opened his mind to divine prophecy and found a brand new purpose in life: he needed to become the leader of his own cult. 

The genesis of our movement goes way back, probably to the dawn of the universe

Murdoc Nicals

“The genesis of our movement goes way back, probably to the dawn of the universe and the Big Bang,” he details, a glint in his eye as he revels in preaching his doctrine. Gesturing to himself, he continues, “this form you see before you is merely the latest incarnation of The Last Cult’s eternal life-force.”

Launched on what he thinks was a Tuesday in January last year, The Last Cult might still be in its infancy as far as cults go, but it’s already gained a strong following online, rising in notoriety as Murdoc continues to beam his sermons straight into the spiritual inboxes of his zealous recruits. In order to reach this point, however, he first needed to convince his bandmates to step into the fold. 

If you ask him, it was easy, taking only the assurance that this would be a nice cult for nice people. For Noodle and Russel, they took it as an opportunity to make some positive change, building a collective, bringing people together, and making a better world. As for 2-D, he had his own experience with the divine when he saw Murdoc’s face burnt into his toast. “So we were like – Eu-bloody-reka!” Murdoc concludes. “Time to start a cult.” And the rest, as people often say, is history. 

Of her involvement with The Last Cult, Noodle explains: “I believe we can make a better world, but one person can’t do it alone. Except maybe Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Even she could do with some help, though.” It’s both a humble sentiment and an honest one. She might be the youngest in the band, but she’s easily the most grounded, with a sense of perspective that far outshines those around her.

To anyone who shares her aspirations (of making a better world, that is, not starting a cult. We do not advise starting a cult – Ed), her advice is characteristically concise: “Disorder the order. Or maybe just listen to 2-D, who says: ‘Come together, like a sandwich’.” This is what she hopes to achieve with The Last Cult, and her enthusiasm for making that positive change is refreshingly earnest. “There is much to fix.”

She’s not wrong.

It’s unclear whether Murdoc shares quite the same goals. Due to the lack of a sacred temple in which to set out their vision, he coaxed the band to a nearby diner to establish their new cult’s ground rules. “Ours is a divisional structure,” he explains. “Russel and Noodle manage their own cult departments. Russ is on prophecies, Noodle is in charge of our sacred beliefs. 2-D wasn’t qualified for an executive position, sadly.” Despite his words, he doesn’t look the least bit sad about how that turned out. 

“That’s why I made him The Chosen One,” he continues, “chosen to prove his worth through grinding labour, for example the hole he is digging as we speak.” Gesturing towards the garden – where the top of 2-D’s head is intermittently visible as mounds of earth rhythmically fly into the air – prompts him to change tack. “By the way, if you need him to fetch you some communion wine or an ashtray or whatever, just shout,” he motions, turning back to his own drink. 

Revered though the title might seem, for 2-D, the role of Chosen One has come with quite the to-do list, from digging holes, through shopping for toiletries, to painting a giant obelisk Murdoc bought from Etsy to display outside their HQ bright pink. Murdoc, meanwhile, is relishing in every moment he spends as Great Leader.

“Personally, I go by various titles,” he explains, ever-humbly, of his position in The Last Cult. “Anointed Beacon, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Gazed-Upon, etcetera, but if it helps, think of my role as a kind of celestial CEO. I’m Steve Jobs in a Pope-mobile. Even launched my own line of holy water,” he boasts, puffing out his chest and hiding a mutter of “safety certificate pending” behind a swig from his wine. “Chose the name ‘cos ours is the last cult the world will ever need, the cult to end all cults.”

If that all sounds a little bit competitive, that’s because there’s a high likelihood it might be. Turns out, LA is a hotspot for cult activity. There are seven in the band’s zip code alone. If the rumours are to be believed, The Last Cult was actually started as a way to impress the group’s neighbour. When he’s asked about this, Murdoc rolls his eyes and groans a few curses before dismissing, “we’ve got the same taste in garden ornaments, so what?”

Before we can respond, his criticisms start to gain steam. “The fact that my obelisk is – was, before it fell over,” he scoffs, gesturing towards where the stone column 2-D painted pink now lies on the ground, “at least a foot taller than hers is just a coincidence. Why would I need to impress someone who calls herself ‘Moon Flower’? Pity, more like. As for her so-called cult, more like a yoga retreat. Do they really need to all hug each other every five seconds? Nauseating.”

His bandmates don’t seem to share his hatred for their neighbours. 2-D, much to Murdoc’s disdain, has been spending more and more time with them. “They’re a pretty good cult I reckon,” he states. Taking a break from digging, he makes no effort to remove himself from the man-sized hole he’s in, simply wiping his brow and leaning on his shovel as he talks. “Moon Flower is a much nicer cult leader than Murdoc,” he describes, softly. “Smells better too, like sun tan lotion and mince pies.”

A high priestess of The Forever Cult, Moon Flower has developed quite the close relationship The Last Cult’s Chosen One, even sending him gifts. “She gave me a picture of a creepy eyeball with fire and blood coming out of it which I stuck up over my bed so it can watch me sleep,” 2-D beams. And they say romance is dead.

Offering a respite to the endless chores Murdoc assigns him, it’s no surprise to anyone (except maybe Murdoc) that he’s moving in with them. “When you join a cult your name gets rubbed out along with your memories when your brain gets washed,” he recalls of what the self-declared Great Leader said about labels when he named him The Chosen One. We try to tell him we don’t think that’s true, but he just shrugs and carries on digging. The sooner he finishes, the sooner he can head next door.  

The whole time we’ve been talking to his bandmates, Russel barely seems to have moved a muscle, still staring intently into the static on an old-fashioned television set powered by a long extension cable from the house. His role in The Last Cult is Seeker Of Truth, tasked with searching through the static for the keys to the promised land.

Asked what he’s found, there’s a moment of silence when he doesn’t appear to have heard before he starts to speak, unblinking gaze still pinned to the TV set at his side. “Found a trail that leads all the way to nowhere. Lost and found. And lost again. Clues are in the static. Trail of breadcrumbs that leads all the way to Cracker Island. Only a matter of time. What’s that? Oh, thought you said something. Lot of interference in the…”

An eerie moment of quiet follows his sentence trailing off. The only sounds that can be heard are the echo of 2-Ds shovel as he digs and the faint bubble of Murdoc’s hot tub on the balcony above. When nothing more seems forthcoming, we decide to try digging a little deeper. Russel’s words are a lot to take in, but they seem to refer to the events that took place in the band’s music video for ‘Cracker Island’.

The result of a complex time-loop anomaly, the video is a glimpse into the future. In it, we see 2-D and Noodle being questioned by the police, Russel in some kind of unshakable trance, and Murdoc in full Last Cult regalia getting amorous with a woman who ages before everyone’s eyes. All the while, a news broadcast playing in the background reports on a major incident under the Hollywood sign where police have intervened to stop an occult ceremony.

Asked for clarity (because, honestly, who knows what all of that adds up to?), Russel’s response is characteristically cryptic. “Who knows what we’re seeing?” he shrugs, gaze still pinned to his TV screen. “Time is a loop, not a line. Around and around, head eats itself. The future now will later be past. What gets old can be made new again. Like Cracker Island.”

As for how the time-loop anomaly happened in the first place, Russel says it’s “not in my power to speak to that.” Doesn’t seem like clarity is coming quite yet. That said, the insight he does offer is certainly intriguing. “What I can say is that something strange is going on in Silver Lake. Interference. Static in the air, on the airwaves. Comes and goes, like a voice in the wind. Some kind of prophecy, or warning, or wake up call. Don’t know which. Just got to keep watching.”

While we’ve no answers as to what happened (or will happen? Time loops are complicated – Ed) with the band on the night we see in the ‘Cracker Island’ video, whatever happens (or happened? Goddamnit – Ed) under the Hollywood sign seems tied to Russel’s own prophecy of a supernatural event he dubbed The Rupture believed to result in a gateway to the promised land. It was predicted to happen on New Year’s Eve, and while that didn’t turn out to be true, the sense that there’s something more yet to come still rings true. 

I believe we can make a better world, but one person can’t do it alone”


Despite its near-apocalyptic name, Russel insists The Rapture is nothing to be concerned about. “Don’t fear the Rupture, my friend,” he reassures. “It’s all good. Think of it as just a means of transition. From this place to the promised land. Cracker Island. All you gotta do is look to the sky. And maybe pack some supplies, too.” What does he recommend to have ready in the case of The Rupture? “Sleeping roll, duct tape, meds, food rations. Oh, and get some Cheezos. Flamin’ hot flavour. Time is nigh.”

With that, his focus is fully absorbed by the TV in front of him. It doesn’t exactly clear things up, but if what we’ve seen so far is any real indication, the answers will make themselves known soon enough. For now, the band are happy to live in the moment.

“If you look at what is next you lose focus on what is now,” Noodle contemplates of what might happen next. “But in time, I guess we will leave this town. Hopefully not in a high-speed chase, which unfortunately is usually how we leave places we’ve been in too long.” Doesn’t seem like a caveat she should have to make, but after they’ve been chased by zombie gorillas, attack helicopters, and the boogieman himself, honestly it’d be more surprising if there isn’t a chase involved in the band end of their time here. Having made her peace with what they’ve been through together, Noodle just shrugs. “Blame Murdoc.” 

The culprit in question is happy exactly where he is: sat in a hot tub, sipping communion wine, ready to ride the whirlwind of success that is his band’s new album. “Hope is for mortals, mate,” he scoffs of what’s to come following the release of ‘Cracker Island’. “I’ve consulted the charts and the astral bodies and I’m very satisfied with what this record is achieving in the future. Already working on my awards speeches. I have already massively over-achieved. Not much left, really. Immortality is in the bag.” ■

Taken from the March 2023 edition of Dork. Gorillaz’ album ‘Cracker Island’ is out 24th February.

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