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ColumnsDecember 29, 2014

Cool Cartoons #2: The Cartoon Band Conundrum


In the second instalment of our animation-centric column Cool Cartoons, Mark Martin looks at the key cartoon bands of recent times and introduces his own, The Emilys.

Cartoon bands seem to be a love/hate thing. Some love their theatrical leanings, off beat humor and chameleon-like ability to switch between musical genres. Other people reckon it’s all a hollow gimmick,  a bit twee, a lame excuse to push bad music.

It’s okay if you don’t like them. Maybe you’re more of a waxed moustache Fleet Foxes kinda chap. Maybe you’re more into OK Computer-in-your-headphones while you cry yourself to sleep.

But me, I love cartoon bands. I love the bright colours, the weird characters, the sugary music. It’s like musical theatre had sex with modern pop and Walt Disney. A three-way I can really get behind. I love cartoon bands so much I’ve started my own group called The Emilys. I’m really, really into cartoon bands.

In fact, I think there should be more cartoon bands. It’s a really interesting format that hasn’t be fully explored. Now you can make pro sounding music and pro looking animation in your bedroom for cheap. Now you can collaborate with musicians and artists really easily over the net. So there’s nothing stopping you.

With that in mind, let me run you through a few of my favourite cartoon bands.

The Archies

These guys get a quick mention because they’re the first to really popularise the cartoon band thing back in 1968. Inspired by The Beatles cartoon, The Archies lived inside The Archies Show and played a song in each episode. They also had a few big hits, the main one being ‘Sugar, Sugar’. They set the tone for cartoon bands to come with their bright colours and bubblegum pop. The Archies spawned a whole bunch of imitators throughout the ‘70s including The Groovie Goolies, The Banana Splits, the Cattanooga Cats, the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, and Jabberjaw.



Dethklok are a cartoon metal band, started in 2006. They live inside the adult swim cartoon Metalocalypse where they’re the most popular and successful band of all time. The show is super violent and crass as it satirises the overall mentality of metal music. Think Spinal Tap mixed with Grand Theft Auto and The Simpsons. It’s a pretty funny show. The music that Dethklok plays isn’t comedic though. It’s serious, brutal metal.

They also tour as a live band, and have played with cool guy metal bands like Mastadon and Converge. But they look like this so it’s probably a bit lame:,_Atlanta,_GA,_on_8_December_2012.jpg

Crazy Frog

The fact that this project was originally called ‘The Annoying Thing’ says it all. Crazy Frog was that weird grey computer animated creature with a little animated penis. His songs were marketed as ringtones and the musical style is electronic dance with the repetitive singing of nonsensical lyrics. Full on novelty music. Really catchy, and really annoying. Not entirely different to songs like ‘A Milli’ by Lil Wayne or ‘Versace’ by Migos, but about ten times more irritating. Crazy Frog didn’t have a tv show, instead he lived in ads for the ringtone company Jamba. Here’s that song where he says ‘Ding Ding’ over the Beverly Hills Cop theme song.


These guys are the biggest selling cartoon band of all time, so they’re probably the first thing you think of when you think ‘cartoon band’. They’re a stand alone act with no TV show to live inside, and they have plenty of hit songs. The music is done by that guy from Blur, Damon Albarn, and the animation is done by that guy who did Tank Girl, Jamie Hewlett. It’s an unusual musical project in that it’s Albarn’s thirties and forties band, and it’s huge.

How many songwriters front a cool band like Blur who are massive and influential, and then go on to do something even more successful? In a different genre? With critical acclaim?

It’s totally unheard of. Gorillaz are great because they really show how collaborative a cartoon band project is.

They’ll have a hip hop song with De La Soul rapping next to a rock song with the guy from the The Clash on guitar, next to pop song with Haruka Kuroda on lead vocals. Eclectic, catchy, and one of the most unique mainstream pop acts of the last decade. Gorillaz push the cartoon band format out of the novelty zone and into the real-cool-shit zone.


Now that I’ve introduced you to a bunch of cartoon bands, here’s my one. We’re called the Emilys. I do all the music at home in my bedroom, while brother/sister team Ian and Rebecca Hart animate and illustrate at their home studio in the Waikato.

As far as I’m aware, we’re the only cartoon band to come out of New Zealand. In fact, when I have a google around I can’t find many modern cartoon bands at all, and certainly none done independently from home.

This is probably because making a cartoon band is expensive and time consuming. More specifically, animation is expensive and incredibly time consuming. The only way we’re able to do it is because the New Zealand government gives money to independent music projects like this. And because we do it at home with a DIY aesthetic.

Here are our first two songs, we’ll have a whole EP of videos out early next year. 

I also have a couple of DVDs to give away. We’ve got Adventure Time Season 5 and the first season of Rick and Morty. These are some of the best cartoons being made at the moment. To win, tell me about your favourite cartoon band in the comments.

Maybe I didn’t cover it? Maybe you love one of the ones I talked about? Link me a video in the comments section below, and let me know a little about the band. The DVDs will go out to the best commenters.

Keep going!