Trip it up and start again
Tricky is suffering a spot of Pre-Millennium Tension - and he wants the world to know about it. Holly Coles ducks as the king of trip hop roars into action.
ricky is playing a show in a club in the hipster SoMa of San Francisco. The club, with a capacity of no more than 500, is chocka. We can’t get in. We
his blunted beats ripple out, their impact as heavy as the thick wall of heat bulging through the Open door.
It’s a California September and it’s balmy; it’s a Tricky show and it’s barmy. Tricky and band are playing some new stuff, darker yet than the shadowy brilliance of his debut album. Maxinquaye. Time after time Tricky halts the band — his band — in mid-ﬂow. ‘Stop stop stop stop stop,’ he growls.
He had done this the previous month too. at a show at London’s Shepherd Bush Empire. taking the momentum out of the show and taking the gloss off Terry Hall’s appearance on stage as his partner-in-rhyme. But now, in San Francisco. the persistent faults that only Tricky can hear wind him up and fire him up. By the set’s end Tricky is blistering and bruising. dredging up the deepest thoughts behind the finest moments on Maxinquaye, turning hip hop into hip metal. Tricky and Martina are charging. chanting ‘you’re going home in a fucking ambulance’ over and over. This is truly black magic. And we can’t even see it.
A year on Tricky plays his first gig of the new season at Chelmsford’s V96 festival. There are no stage lights. Only one strobe that bursts into life only occasionally. Blacker magic. Still can’t see it.
Tricky is talking about Pie-Millennium Tension. it’s a deliberate fuck-off, he says. to those who would pigeonhole him.
‘Touring opens your eyes. I got to America, I went to Australia, and I seen all these “lords of this" and “lords of that”. They were calling me Lord of the Slow Beats.’
‘And I was thinking. well. looks like they’re only giving me one thing I can do. It’s like entrapment. really. They’re just trapping me.’
And so Tricky pushes onwards and outwards. And downwards.
For those who thought he could get none- more-black than the fractured beats and pieces of his nearly god project: wake up and smell the tar-coloured coffee. Pre-Millennium Tension is Tricky digging ever deeper. trawling through the people and places. fuckers and faces, that he has had to contend with in his sudden emergence as the most striking musical force in Britain. Possibly in the world. It is a distillation of a year spent staring down the barrel of a gun. A year when Tricky has been féted by everyone from Bowie to Bush to Bjork, Elvis Costello to the New York hip hop underground, from every indie-chancer that jumped on the (cough) trip hop band wagon to . . . everyone else.
stand outside. The twisted rhythms of
It is. no lie. fantastic. Lighter on the elliptical tunes and heavier on the creepy atmospherics than both its predecessors, Pre-Millennimn Tension ranges from the seething paranoia and sexual claustrophobia of the single ‘Christiansands’. to the full-blooded, navel- centric. anti-fame diatribe of ‘Tricky Kid’ (Tricky croaking lines about ‘coke in your nose’ and ‘everybody wants to be like me, everybody wants a record deal. everybody wants to be naked and famous’) to the walking. stalking nightmare that is ‘Bad Dreams’ to . . . other songs that are even scarier. Tricky still smokes spliff. you know.
It is also his third album in little over eighteen months, and the one that he recorded in Jamaica last Christmas after some serious world touring, before heading to Australia to play a series of
‘I’m not out shagging women, I’m not out drinking, I’m in the studio. Give me some space, this is what I do.’
dates with. among others. The Prodigy and Porno For Pyros. Then there are the remixes (Yoko Ono, Elvis Costello. um, lntastella) and hook-ups (Gravediggaz. Grace Jones. er, Whale). Then the other LP he recently finished in New York. under the nom (1e guerre Drunkenstein. What’s that all about?
‘I got this vibe in my head at the moment. I wanna join forces with English and American hip hop,’ he enthuses. ‘I got this dream now where. fuck it. English hip hop don’t sell. I’m gonna make it sell. And I’m gonna make alternative hip hop sell. And it’s just a dream. But unless you gotta dream — and your dreams
might sound huge — it ain’t worth doing it.’
Tricky never stops creating not believing. Is he a workaholic?
‘Yeah. Totally. totally. Yeah. Totally. totally. Yeah, I am.’
‘And my work comes before people. And I get accused of being heartless and hard but it’s only because I love my music and lyrics. And I use that as an excuse a lot of the time. Well I’m not out shagging women, I’m not out drinking, I’m in the studio. Give me some space, this is what I do.’
That’s hard for someone like Martina who’s in your music and in your personal life as well (she and Tricky have a child together, but are no longer together as a ‘couple’. Or maybe they are. This. like many things around Tricky. is never clear).
‘I think it’s hard for anyone who’s around me. I make up all these plans and all these dreams and I want ’em straight away. I ain’t waiting for nobody. Yeah. I think it’s generally hard being round me. I like to control things around me. Like my music. There’s no way you’re gonna do an album with me and control it, that’s not gonna happen. Same with the band. when I’m on tour, they’re gonna do it exactly how I tell them to do it. They’re taught that. It’s probably hard for the record company dealing with me . . .’
On Pre-Millennium Tension things don’t get much more intimate that the song ‘Vent’. In it Tricky and Martina alternate lines about relationships and dependency and the things lovers do to each other. In it Tricky and Martina use the metaphor of a Ventolin inhaler, the asthma sufferer’s ever-ready lifebelt, while in the background the sonic fuzz gets ever murkier.
It was inspired by a ‘real-life’ incident where Tricky had a serious asthma attack at Martina’s mum’s house in the Somerset countryside. It took the ambulance twenty minutes to get to them. By the time it arrived Tricky had collapsed on the ﬂoor. ‘lt’s quite funny looking back.’ says Tricky cheerfully, "cos the doctor was frightened to death! Must have been terrible for him ’cos the fact was I was fucking . . . fucked. And I was saying, “look, you gotta do something, I’m fucking dying.” And he was helpless. Then I collapsed. fainted, and next thing I knew I was being put into an ambulance. That was about two years ago.
‘So I don’t fuck with it now.’
Shouldn’t smoke so much spliff then, should you?
‘Mmm,’ Tricky says through a mouthful of smoke, ‘I shouldn’t do a lot of things. But, fuck that, I can’t be bothered with that!’
Tricky is at the Garage, Glasgow on 22 Nov.
Pre-Millennium Tension is released on Island on Mon 4 Nov.
The List l-l4 Nov 199613