April 20, 2017


Inside Spirit House, The Gorillaz Pop-Up That Brings the Band's World to Life


At noon on 4/20 by the water in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Fuse and a pair of journalists from a New York newspaper are the first to step into the world of Gorillaz. Through an entryway with brick walls, hanging light bulbs, three clementines in a nice wooden bowl on a nicer wooden table and a blow-up of the band's new headshot quadriptych, we step into the first of three rooms presented by Sonos and their new Playbase home theater sound system. From April 21-23, anyone can RSVP for a free 30-minute walkthrough, only seven people admitted per voyage.

Phase one is an open-plan kitchen/living room, dark and strewn with trinkets and touches that'll make superfans go apeshit and newbies feel like they're in the play-kitchen at a children's museum. We're encouraged to touch and prod. Songs from Humanz, the virtual band's first album in seven years, play in 5.1 surround sound. First it's the Pusha T/Mavis Staples–featuring "Let Me Out," which arrived as an "art track" alongside three others last month.

The kitchen is terribly hard to step away from, a soiled travesty marked most brightly by a dozen sad, open cereal boxes. It's the real-life version of the animated room we see our heroes explore in "Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)," which has a 360-degree virtual reality version. Where the entry had appealing clementines, this sink has curled rinds atop grimy dishes, beer cans, a creepy yellow happy face sponge. The details are at MOMA installation–level. Open the old-school fridge and find bodega staples—milk, Aunt Jemima, Heinz, Hellman's, Kikkoman—all half-emptied, plus three artichokes and a foot-tall cake, untouched. There's a half-opened pizza box with a full pie inside; there's a slice stuck to the wall, cheese side out, too.


Successfully divert yourself and you'll catch things like an old Gorillaz concert poster, a neon Kong Studios sign and a sculpture of the gargoyle-ish Pazuzu, a character made 3D for the first time after appearing in the "Rockit" video and on the D-Sides album cover.

We walk through an interstitial curtained hall playing the Humanz interlude tracks and arrive in a modern living room with untreated wood cubbies (jam-packed, yes) and the kind of couch too long for anyone but rich folks with barn-size spaces. One can imagine Damon Albarn's living room being like this, the artist brought to mind by the memoir sitting face up on a coffee table. The band also brought in magazines that feature their favorites Gorillaz articles, and Jamie Hewlett's 2008 graphic novel The Cream of Tank Girl.

"No one like the Gorillaz really brings together the audio and visual like they can and do," Jed Lewis, Sonos senior director of brand activations, tells us on this couch. "We've seen Gorillaz do a lot of amazing stuff in a virtual world, but this is the space where you can actually walk into a physical manifestation of that face, and fans can experience that for the first time."

The lights darken as the blank wall ahead of us comes to life via projector. We feel like monsters, wearing our shoes on this sublimely thick carpet. The angled walls on each side come to life now too, with their own projectors. It feels like we're watching a seven-minute music video–slash–short film inside a piece of origami, or the Cruel Summer pyramid that Kanye brought to Cannes in 2012 and didn't let anyone see afterward. Among the sounds this part is set to are "Saturnz Barz" featuring Popcaan and "Andromeda," with D.R.A.M. We see the Pixar-quality CGI scenes from the "Spirit House" video again. The Sonos Playbase beaming this all to us blinks magenta, a color that suffuses the whole presentation; this is one of the few things it won't do if you buy your own.


The last room is the ideal version of your cell phone provider's retail location, clean, neat, and set up to show off the Playbase's strengths via three of them sitting under three flat-screens. Get a couple and your house can bypass old-tech bluetooth-tomfoolery, beaming seamlessly across rooms, switching between your TV audio and personal DJ sessions, from phones, tablets and computers.

Gorillaz' Spirit House is open in Brooklyn from April 21-23; fans can RSVP for their intimate half-hour visits. The experience heads to Berlin from April 28-30 and Amsterdam on May 6. Humanz is out April 28; Sonos Playbase is available now.

Next, watch Damon Albarn hype up this new Gorillaz music in a Bonnaroo interview from way back in 2014: