The Making of Sonos & Gorillaz’ Spirit Houses
A regular position adopted by music fans who are disillusioned with the status quo is to look at the first listen experience. In a climate of streaming, loosies and laptop speakers the immersive first encounter with new music could be seen as a dwindling phenomenon.
Gorillaz have taken over the world in the cross-platform rollout for their fifth studio album, Humanz. One of the more ambitious projects carried out came in the form of a collaboration with Sonos, the global music brand transforming the experience of listening out loud in the home. Across three cities – New York, Berlin and Amsterdam – they take over entire spaces to bring the album to life and play new tracks wirelessly through the optimum home sound system.
Since the end of the 1990s, Gorillaz have been celebrated for creating entire worlds for fans to explore. With this project, that exploration becomes literal with rich audiovisual detail and a razor-sharp capture of Gorillaz’ timelessly down-and-out character.
“Our mission at Sonos is to fill homes with music and Gorillaz new album Humanz focuses on the band’s virtual home,” says Jed Lewis, Senior Director of Global Brand Activation at Sonos. “When we found out it was dropping around the same time as Playbase, our new home cinema speaker, it was a natural collaboration that felt right for both of us.” With a shared goal of bringing top-quality entertainment to a domestic setting, the project got underway.
Groups of fans responded to the news of the free pop-ups instantly, with lengthy waiting lists building up as the instillations landed in different cities. “The best way to enjoy a first listen of a new album is out loud.” says Lewis, reflecting on the objectives behind the project, “It’s even better when you’re with a group of friends, relishing in that moment together. The Spirit House takes that idea to an extreme by having your first listen in a completely immersive Gorillaz space with your friends.”
Tom Panton, from Sonos’ Artist Relations team added, “Album listenings have been around for ages but still have the power to be magical events – there’s only one chance to hear an album for the first time. In our era of bite-sized playlists, sitting down to listen out loud to a body of work requires some emotional investment, but gives you a much deeper connection with a record as a result, even more so in the company of others.”
Lewis briefly broke down the production methods of the project. “To make the Spirit House come to life, we had to build a home inside of an existing space, so we looked for places that could accommodate that concept.” Varying in size and dimension, the Spirit Houses have been assessed both sonically and physically. Gorillaz mixed the tracks in 5.1 surround sound, Sonos then implemented Playbase, a thin, powerful speaker that is radically simple, along with a handful of other speakers around the rooms to enhance the audio experience. As with all of Gorillaz’ output, the visuals were as important as the sound. “The projection mapping experience transports fans into Gorillaz’ virtual world through a custom animation featuring Saturnz Barz and Andromeda that combines 180 degree visuals with Sonos’ home sound surround system.”
“For the visuals, which are based off the new album and other aspects of the band’s career, we partnered with the company that brings all Gorillaz’ live show experiences to life – Block9.” Collaborating with the iconic East London set design studio was a natural fit. Having worked on environments as wide-ranging as Glastonbury, London’s Roundhouse and the London Underground, their team were perfectly placed to transform the ambitious creative vision into a physical reality – creating an immersive environment that complimented the narrative thread of the album and the band.
Piles of washing up lingered by the sink, the fridge is branded ‘DARE’ in a SMEG-esque typeface – a nod to one of the band’s biggest runaway hits, vinyl records lean on shelving and magazines featuring the band throughout their history and littered across coffee tables. “We’re big fans of Gorillaz and the amazing work they’re doing in the virtual world around Humanz.” Lewis tells us via email, following the unveiling of the Berlin House, “The Spirit House gives fans an opportunity to physically enter that world.”
In typical Gorillaz fashion, the devil is in the detail. Crack’s Berlin reviewer spotted a samurai sword on a magnetic knife rack and found an oversized cream cake in the refrigerator. Cartoonish adornments of a humdrum existence, creating an all-encompassing cinematic experience.
Despite visual nods to the band’s previous aesthetic coordinates, the Spirit Houses firmly centre on the universe of Humanz, presenting a hyperreal image on the wretchedness of the now which Murdoc discusses in our current cover story. “In a few generations, humans will probably have been completely mugged off by silicone-based AIs” he told us. While drummer Russel warned, “Sitting on your ass twiddling your digits is exactly what the robots want. Get us all idle and fat and lazy, so when the war starts they can smoosh us like bugs.”
It’s this close dichotomy of obsolescence and resistance which Gorillaz dissect on Humanz. The Spirit Houses, where leftover pizza slices hang by state-of-the-art visual displays and the best in home listening facilities, accentuate that storyline. As a fan first and foremost, Lewis is keen to celebrate the finer details of the production. “I’m excited about fans having an opportunity to walk into Gorillaz’ world for the first time. The room is littered with details and Easter eggs for fans to find. Open the fridge at your own risk!”
For the rest of our Gorillaz coverage, visit Gorillaz: Come Inside.