Dada, Cyberpunk, video overload. It's a mighty long way down rock’n’roll to arrive at U2’s Zooropa show. Alastair Mabbott channel hops over to Marseille for a sneak preview.

he day U2’s epic Zooropa tour hits Marseille is Bastille Day. and fireworks crackle in the sky or are nonchalantly lobbed at cars outside the Velodrome by bored U2 fans from time to time. ‘That’ll be for my birthday.’ comments Maurice Linnane. 31 today and Zooropa’s artistic director. as another fusillade explodes. ‘They’ve given the country the day off to celebrate.’

Linnane and his partner Ned O’Hanlon run a Dublin video production company called Dreamchaser. For this phase of U2’s existence. they are essential cogs. suggesting ideas and collecting and editing footage stored on twelve laser—disc machines beneath the stage and then accessed via computer terminal and mixed live by director of visuals Monica Caston. who intercuts it with live shots from cameras on stage. Every night. they’re doing the equivalent of a live TV broadcast. and. according to O’Hanlon. a team of editors is working around the clock both in Dublin and on-site to help this ‘collaborative and organic beast’ mutate as it traverses the continent.

‘At the moment. we’re encouraging them to change it a lot.’ O’Hanlon says. ‘We have been constantly changing all the stuff that goes into the show, and to our mind it doesn’t change enough. But it is very much a collaboration between the band and all the various players on the tour. We do have regular think tanks in spare moments to discuss the inclusion of new material. which goes along with the inclusion of new songs. changing the set and updating the existing footage.‘

The philosophy is put in a nutshell by Linnane: ‘lt’s a good idea till it’s not a good idea. Try anything once.’

Zooropa is one hell of a production; bigger in every way than its indoor predecessor Zoo TV. which came to Glasgow last year and crossed the United States in the run-up to the American election. Zoo TV showed the rebirth of U2. their formerly minimal live shows transformed into cornucopias of sound and vision. U2 had acquired a taste for taking the piss out of themselves, the media and rock ’n’ roll itself. indulging their new-found fondness for throwaway tack with state-of-the-art technology. Bono. in his new character The Fly. resplendent in black leather and wraparound shades. flicked through satellite channels and made phone calls from the stage every night usually to the White House.

All are agreed that the US tour was much lighter in tone than this one. The new United Europe is a concept U2 can only look on with derision in light of the resurgence of neo- Nazism in Europe and the devastation in the former Yugoslavia. Their videowalls are loaded with non-PC terms of abuse. images from Nazi propaganda films and. most controversially of all, flaming swastikas.

‘That was something we thought long and hard about.’

‘The burning swastikas was one of the first ideas we came up with

and it was one of the first ideas that was rejected by everyone.’

says Linnane. ‘There’s a terrible danger of being seen to slam messages home. but there was a lot going on that we couldn’t avoid. The burning swastikas was one of the first ideas we came up with and it was one of the first ideas that was rejected by everyone. But we went ahead and did it anyway. Based on the fact that we’d toured America. including Birmingham. Alabama. with burning crosses and hadn’t considered taking it off. we thought. why not go ahead and try it‘?’

‘lt was an anxious time waiting for the response to the first shows. particularly in Germany.’ O’Hanlon admits. ‘And the point we were making was clearly understood. There was no confusion about whether we were actually promoting Neo-Nazism or commenting on the rise of Neo- Nazism. It’s a very thin line. that question of balance. as to how far you can push that without getting back into the preachiness the band were so well known for in the past.’

That’s something that Peter ‘Willie’ Williams knows all about. A loquacious. moustachioed Australian. he’s been their lighting designer for ten years and was involved from the start in the brainstorming process that led to Zoo TV. ‘Really. they’d got to the point where they realised they’d been the biggest band of the 80s. and because we’d turned the comer of the decade and all this sort of thing. were

about to disappear in a big way. Basically. they were sick of

being U2 . . .’

Everyone I speak to backstage enjoys being a part of

Zooropa. but Williams most of all seems to relish the ‘glorious abandon’ of it. the fact that. rather than getting boring. Zooropa is constantly taking on new life.

‘To begin with. this was coming from so far out of left field because people had an image ofwhat U2 was. The phrase that we used was “Everything You Know Is Wrong”. But now we’re in the second year of it. I don't think there’s any need to emphasise that things have changed. Certainly. when the home video cassette came out. there was an effort made to Zoo it up whereas.‘ he laughs. ‘now we’re so naturally Zoo that we don’t have to try any more!’

Considering the size and complexity of this travelling circus production manager Jake Kennedy tells me that the core crew is 192 people with anything up to 200 helpers taken on in each town (600 if it’s somewhere like Celtic Park) the mood in the backstage encampment is surprisingly relaxed. lt’s mealtime. Linnane and Williams play trumps on patio furniture outside a Portakabin. shaded by a canopy. People drift in and out of a canteen which. despite being improvised from a space below the concrete terracing. has somehow been imbued with a cosmopolitan trendiness that would be the making of a new eaterie in Britain.

An unassuming white hire-van pulls up alongside.

The List 30 July -l2 August 1993 7