MASSIVE ATTACK FEATURE
artists and creators who spent much of the 80s as a sound system. hustling. hanging loose. breaking into warehouses. throwing parties. ‘lt was kind of a gang vibe,’ reﬂects G.
3-D butts in: ‘They actually used to be called the Wild Bunch Posse, and then I came in to do grafﬁti with them. and said. “Look, you can’t be called that. It’s like saying the Wild Posse Posse. or the Wild Bunch Bunch.” ’
When one of the founders. Nellec Hooper. left in the late 80s to work with another emerging sound collective, Soul ll Soul. they thought. yeh. maybe making a record wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Might as well give it a try. It’s this stoned laissez-fairc that fuels their creative process. Mushroom explains: ‘You need someone to start each track off. to take an individual thought, lyric or beat or idea. And then you bring it into the group, and everyone adapts it. and joins in and takes it apart at random. Sometimes it works. sometimes it means having a big argument.’
Free of constricting ambition. from such serendipity were Blue Lines and three Top 40 singles born.
The years that followed were, however. fallow ones. Their singer, Shara Nelson. left to go solo. They split with their manager, Cameron McVey. (Neneh Cherry’s husband. who’d originally cajoled the sleepy bunch into the studio for Blue Lines), and producer Johnny Dollar. Then came a disappointingly lacklustre tour of America. where their unique sound ironically consigned them to radio purgatory in a land where strict categorisation is the law. ‘There was some black press that were interested, but they were saying they couldn’t do anything unless 3—D (the only white member) got left out of all the promotion.‘ pipes up Mushroom, before disappearing off on a tangent about bakeries and Alfred Hitchcock commercials. There were even rumours that Virgin had dropped them.
We should never have doubted. This autumn, Massive Attack finally got round to the small matter of their second album, Protection. While it was clearly never going to have quite the impact of its predecessor, Protection is nevertheless still a marvel. rolling through the shadows of the night- time on narcoleptic hip hop beats. soundtracking urban realities in orchestrated cinemascope and brooding Chiaroscuro tones. Like the band themselves, these were 'songs that refused to take the spotlight. instead inviting the listener to search them out and gradually succumb.
‘I think Protection is quite an achievement really,’ responds 3-D, ‘considering how Massive Attack had disintegrated, and how small it became, from being like The Wild Bunch and this big gang and then getting this small again. And considering all the things that have worked against us and put stress on us. I’m really proud of the fact that we came up with an album that sits
next to Blue Lines quite comfortably.’
Nevertheless, Protection is different. For starters, Shara’s
haunted vocals have been replaced
by two very unlikely artistes: Everything But The Girl’s Tracy Thorn. and the striking Billie- Holliday-on-helitmi sound of teenage chanteuse Nicolette (as heard on recent single. ‘Sly’). Each has two tracks. and Thorn has rarely achieved such sombre intensity. So how did they come to work with them‘.’
‘We never wanted to be in a fast consumer turnover band, where you try and put out a record every year. We’d rather take stock of what we’re doing and keep it going on a more thoughtful level for us.’
‘Well. it was sort of a process of elimination.’ G offers. ‘We didn’t want to replace Shara with another soul diva type of singer. So we went through some of the singers we‘d grown up with. that we respected.’ Rumour has it they originally lined up Siouxsie Sioux and Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser. ‘The reason we wanted Tracy to work with us wasn’tjust because of her voice. but also her songwriting. which is very personal. We were kind of aware of Nicolette through our Dl’ing times. ’cos her stuff with Shut Up and Dance was one of the few things that stood out during the rave times. And Nicolette writes things which are quite bizarre as well. Those elements definitely come through on the tracks.’
There’s more. At times. Blue Lines appeared
to be more a splendidly random collection of
snapshots from the emotional darkside. Protection. on the other hand. sees Massive venture some of their own themes and obsessions: there’s the inexplicably recurring
Eurochild: 'tackler than Jeff Koons’
cutlery in the album’s artwork, as well as the pivotal figure of Eurochild (with his own track on the album), wherein reside all Massive’s fears of an integrated Europe.
3-D: ‘Originally it was an image I gave to this magazine for their anti-fascist issue. It had a swastika on it, being consumed. like a child’s toy being consumed. with the European stars as a halo. Sol took the swastika out of it. and we’ve turned it into a sculpture and icon and model, a bit like the flame. But it’s about the music as well. ’cos we never wanted to be in a fast consumer turnover band, where you try and put out a record every year. We’d rather take stock of what we’re doing and keep it going on a more thoughtful level for us. The fact is that when you watch MTV and Euro Top Ten. it’s all pretty anonymous stuff. and I think Eurochild is a symbol of how we keep the flavour of our music: we’d rather be Bristolian than another fucking anonymous European group.’
An enormous sculpture of Eurochild (‘tackier than Jeff Koons’, laughs 3-D) will take centre stage when Massive Attack take their much vaunted live show on the road this month. It’s their first ever venture into the area of live performance, partly through apathy. but mostly because they had no idea how to effectively translate that Massive effect into the live arena. The result will be an evening of spontaneous performance, each venue transformed with a selection of paintings, screen prints, aerosonics. animation and sculptures. Each venue has been hand-picked to come as close as possible to the warehouse break-in days of 805 Bristol.
‘There’s always been that marriage for us since the days of the Wild Bunch of music and visuals. So now that we’ve got a bit of money behind us, we can do it again,’ C says.
In the Massive tradition, naturally, nothing will be scheduled. Instead, working from a ﬂoating roster of artists, including vocalists Tricky, Horace Andy and Nicolette, the evening’s performance will evolve through its own momentum. No agenda, no spurious ‘concepts’. Just that intuitive Massive ramshackle technique they’ve always trusted in. Surely the problem with this type of event, though, is that the audience ends up misconstruing your intentions and longing for a straight- up heads-down gig? G is not bothered. ‘Well, that’s their problem really, ’cos at the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is not re- create a live show with a band and blah, blah, blah . . . We’re trying to do something that represents us as people rather than as a band really.’
I want to push them further, but by now, it’s too late. G’s attention has drifted to afternoon shopping, while 3-D and Mushroom are impersonating Terminator robots with jam tart foils like devilish children entrusted to a soft auntie. Wilful obstruction? Maybe they don’t even know themselves? Or maybe it’sjust Massive Attack doing what they do best: trusting in destiny, strolling through life, as Louis Armstrong might have put it, with all the time in the world. [3 Massive Attack play The Arches, Glasgow on Thursday 8 Dec.
The List 2—15 December 1994 9