The new music economy relies on cross-promotion and artists reaching out to different scenes. And the rise of streaming means everyone can hop between audiences with ease, hence those singles apparently by one person but with a cricket team’s worth of other names credited. As the Beach Boys once sang, ‘you need a mess of help to stand alone’.
Alongside the featured artist sausage factory there are musical patrons. Take Damon Albarn, who has spent much of the past 20 years elevating the work of other artists, using the strength of his own name — made, of course, as the frontman of Blur — to promote music that might otherwise slip past his core audience. There has been Africa Express, the ongoing series of collaborations between American and European artists and their counterparts from Africa and the Middle East. And there has been Gorillaz, the ‘cartoon band’ which initially began as a way for Albarn to make music outside the spotlight, but has slowly transformed into a grand, rolling revue, featuring a cast of dozens.
The two Gorillaz shows at the O2 Arena last week were the first full-scale arena shows in this country since before the pandemic — the first night for NHS workers, the second for the rest of us — and the atmosphere was febrile. The intro to every song was cheered whether or not it had any real tune, and the ones the audience actually liked provoked a moshpit that extended well back onto the arena floor. It felt both disconcerting and thrilling; I don’t think it was just shock at being in a huge crowd that made the audience response seem much louder than it was before March 2020.