Demon Dayz Festival review – Gorillaz and guests share an unforgettable carnival of synths, spectacle and unity

Dream­land Amuse­ment Park, Margate

There are few fan bases as diverse and plain ded­i­cat­ed to their band as Goril­laz’ fans. Young and old, dark skinned and light skinned, speak­ing Eng­lish, French, Japan­ese, and more. From Edin­burgh, Sur­rey, Bel­gium, and beyond, they came to be part of the band’s first one-day fes­ti­val, Demon Dayz.

They come from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and har­bour a love for dif­fer­ent music. But what unites them all is their urgent and undy­ing thirst for this mad­cap idea cre­at­ed by mas­ter­minds Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. After all, why else would they make the pil­grim­age, lords knows how many miles, all the way to the sea­side town of Mar­gate – a once a famed British hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, whose amuse­ment park, Dream­land, has now been repaired and revi­talised – to see the group, and their col­lab­o­ra­tors, in the flesh?

They promised a “car­ni­val for the end of time”. And what they gave the 15,000 peo­ple lucky enough to attend this sold-out fes­ti­val on June 10 was a series of raw per­for­mances by their col­lab­o­ra­tors – includ­ing Lit­tle Simz, Kano and Kali Uchis – and plen­ty of fan-pleas­ing fun.


Goril­laz two-hour head­line per­for­mance was the biggest high­light that swel­ter­ing Saturday.

The group’s first prop­er album in sev­en years, Humanz, didn’t leave us with the same sense of all-out won­der­ment that their pre­vi­ous albums have. So, nat­u­ral­ly, we were curi­ous to see what the live envi­ron­ment, and an audi­ence of devo­tees, would do for the band and its songs.

They start­ed the­atri­cal­ly before they’d even tak­en the stage. Band leader Damon Albarn and the rest of Goril­laz’ live band emerged, dressed in all black, with face masks and point­ed hoods, on the far right-hand side of the crowd. In uni­son, they thrust their arms into the sky, ring­ing a bell they each car­ried, and steadi­ly snaked their way through the part­ing crowd to the main stage.

This was an inter­na­tion­al com­ing home par­ty for Goril­laz. When Albarn final­ly unmasked him­self and wel­comed the crowd, he was greet­ed was joy­ous ado­ra­tion. Sur­round­ed by the very peo­ple who love their songs most, the music took on a far greater pow­er than it would have at a larg­er fes­ti­val, such as Glas­ton­bury or Latitude.

Hits such as ‘DARE’, ‘Feel Good Inc’, ‘Dirty Har­ry’ and ‘Sty­lo’ (trib­ute to Bob­by Wom­ack) were played with gus­to from the band, as the audi­ence – many of whom were see­ing Goril­laz for the first time – sang along loud­ly. Hon­est­ly, hav­ing seen Goril­laz our­selves in 2010, we weren’t sure if the ener­gy would com­pare. Join­ing fans keen­ly cho­rus­ing the words to ‘El Man­aña’ and ‘Kids with Guns’, well… we got chills.

Songs from Humanz com­mand­ed much of the two-hour set, and guests includ­ing Vince Sta­ples, De La Soul, Dan­ny Brown, Pusha T, Kelela, and more, all stepped in to play their part. Ear­ly favourites, ‘Sat­urnz Barz’, with Pop­caan, and ‘She’s My Col­lar’, with Kali Uchis in a sparkling green cat suit, were a joy. Mean­while, dance songs ‘Charg­er’, which fea­tures the voice of Grace Jones, and ‘Stro­belite’, with Peven Everett, unleashed the care­free raver lifestyle that many of us wish we could live week in, week out.

Oth­ers songs, such as ‘Sex Mur­der Par­ty’ and ‘We Got the Pow­er’, took on a whole new life. On the for­mer, aid­ed by Albarn’s fren­zied key­board jabs, guest vocal­ists Jamie Prin­ci­ple and Zebra Katz scream the song’s epony­mous hook with wild plea­sure. While on the lat­ter, the band was joined by Blur’s Gra­ham Cox­on on gui­tar and The Sav­ages’ Jehn­ny Beth on vocals, who was held aloft by the crowd like a sav­iour, as the 21st cen­tu­ry speed­way music rock­et­ed to its crescendo.

By far the biggest sur­prise was the back-to-back per­for­mance of ‘Out of Body’, with singer Kilo Kish, and as-yet-unre­leased Goril­laz song, ‘Garage Palace’, with rap­per Lit­tle Simz. Hear­ing and see­ing Kilo Kish per­form vocal cart­wheels with her cher­ry-fresh voice, over a space-age dance loop, was incred­i­ble – topped off by one of Goril­laz’ back­ing singer’s fill­ing in for Imani Von­sha with a humon­gous cry of gospel pas­sion dur­ing its out­ro. Next, was ‘Garage Palace’, and in the words of The Phar­cyde: “Oh, sh*t!”. We’d seen Lit­tle Simz ear­li­er in the day (see below), and rap­pers twice her age would hes­i­tate when faced with the irreg­u­lar, run­away beat of ‘Garage Palace’. Not Simz. The instant the syn­thet­ic key tones began, she was off, flaw­less­ly weav­ing her words over and under the beat like an Olympian through an obsta­cle course. “Can it be that this is our time?” Simz raps dur­ing the song. This was her time and it was undoubt­ed­ly a moment that will long be remem­bered by those who wit­nessed it.

Goril­laz is a mas­sive pro­duc­tion, and noth­ing puts that into focus like their colos­sal live per­for­mances. Com­bin­ing urgent-sound­ing dance music and all-out pop, melan­cholic blues and fran­tic hip hop, Goril­laz are band that defies cat­e­gori­sa­tion. They’re per­for­mance, and the fes­ti­val in gen­er­al, was a roar­ing success.

“Two words for you,” said Albarn dur­ing the band’s final song, ‘Demon Days’. “The first is uni­ty. And through uni­ty we find love.” The band gave its pletho­ra of mul­ti­cul­tur­al sup­port­ers both that evening. In these times of stark divi­sion that counts a whole lot.


Before Goril­laz, there was lots more going on that Saturday.

The typ­i­cal­ly dull British weath­er that teas­es the country’s sum­mer fes­ti­vals had made way for a per­fect summer’s day. No clouds, just fes­ti­vals goers – in bands t‑shirts, from Hen­drix to MF Doom; flo­ral-pat­terned shirts; skirts and short-shorts; and fans in Goril­laz cos­play – get­ting high off of the vibe at this musi­cal extravaganza.

Join­ing Goril­laz’ fes­ti­val line-up were long-time col­lab­o­ra­tors De La Soul and Kano, as well as sev­er­al of the band’s lat­est cohorts – fea­tured most recent­ly on their new album, Humanz – includ­ing Dan­ny Brown, Vince Sta­ples, Kali Uchis, and reg­gae artist Popcaan.

Here’s a round-up of the best things we wit­nessed at Demon Dayz, besides the headliners.


New York’s Kilo Kish opened the show at the sup­port­ing stage (known as the Hall by the Sea), with a part motion­less, part mani­ac per­for­mance of songs from her 2016 debut, Reflec­tions in Real Time, which saw her writhing about the stage, and smash­ing a suit­case on the stage floor until its con­tents were scat­tered every­where. The nuances of her elec­tron­ic R&B are admit­ted a tough sell for some, but her smooth tim­bre and out­ra­geous phys­i­cal­i­ty more than made up for that.


They’ve been in the game for some 25 years now, but the hip hop god­fa­thers that go by the name De La Soul still know how to get a crowd going. Tak­ing the main stage in mid-after­noon, Pos, Dave and Maseo loos­ened things up with their dis­tinct audi­ence engage­ment. Their brief set was all about the audi­ence, as they got peo­ple bust­ing moves to ‘Oooh’, ‘A Roller Skat­ing Jam Named “Sat­ur­days”’ and ‘Stakes is High’, and split the crowd in half to see which side was more hyperactive.


When we returned to the indoor sup­port­ing stage, Colom­bian songstress Kali Uchis had brought car­ni­val sea­son ear­ly. Dressed in a biki­ni and thigh-high slit dress, both cov­ered in hun­dreds of sequins which sparkled bril­liant­ly under the lights, she was in her ele­ment as she, and her enthu­si­as­tic band, flood­ed the ware­house venue with viva­cious Latin rhythms from her EP, Por Vida. Her recent­ly released sin­gle, ‘Tyrant’, also proved to be just as mor­eish live as is it on record.


If you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see Lit­tle Simz live, take it. Don’t think, just go. It’d had been a while since we’d joined in an audi­ence that is com­plete­ly los­ing its col­lec­tive sh*t. Let’s be absolute­ly clear: to see Lit­tle Simz live is to expe­ri­ence an unstop­pable force of nature.

Lit­tle Simz spits more words per minute than a crew of sports com­men­ta­tors – on record and in per­son. Dash­ing onto the stage, she spared not one ounce of ener­gy in con­nect­ing with the Demon Dayz audi­ence. We raised our hands to the sky and fol­lowed Simz’ chants of “Many, many, many men”. She was in her ele­ment as she body popped to the tree­house trap of ‘Trust Issues’. We waved from side to side over the bit­ter­sweet ‘God Bless Mary’ – a trib­ute to Simz’ neigh­bour for putting up with her dis­rup­tive musi­cal obses­sion. She took up her “G‑tar” for a lacon­ic rap about a break-up (‘Inter­lude (from Age 101: Drop X)’). And she spat pure fire on favourites ‘Dead Body’ and the Alice in Won­der­land-tinged ‘Pic­ture Perfect’.

“I just got back from Chi­na, so my heads all over the gaff,” she told the audi­ence before drop­ping her final song, ‘Bars Simz­son’. “But I’m still gonna give you 110 per cent. You got­ta give me that, too!” And with that gun fin­gers were raised, water was dashed and Simz live bars had every­one leap­ing about with enough force to sink a sail­boat. With the excep­tion of Goril­laz, her set was tru­ly the most excit­ing thing we wit­nessed all day.

For more fes­ti­val and live music cov­er­age click here.

Images: Jamie Hewlett (main image); Aaron Lee (live photos)