“You’re in good company: Madonna told me she had sex to the tones of ‘Blue Lines.’ But man, it sickens me when I read another review stating ‘the dark sounds of Massive Attack’: I hate that word, ‘dark’. As if we’re Satanists. OK fine, we’ve made a couple of tense, mysterious and melancholic songs, but that’s where it ends. We’re positive people. Whenever I hear our music on the telly, it’s always as background music to the news, documentaries on rape, serial killers or incest. And on reality shows or docudrama’s set in hospitals – if I ever see one like that again, I’ll throw my beer at the screen. We often get messages on our website, from people that listen to ‘Massive Attack’, from countries like Zambia or Senegal, or Guatemala. That’s more appealing to me. A friend told me that he saw a little boy in Pakistan last year, playing a cassette with a couple of our songs on his worn down cassette player, over and over again. And I spoke to a paratrooper, who had served in the gulf war. He played our ‘Safe From Harm’ on repeat in his tank for weeks on end. And various movie directors have told me they played ‘Massive Attack’ on the set, to prepare their actors for a tense scene. I find that amazing.”—Robert Del Naja, on people labeling Massive Attack’s music as “dark” (2003)
The pioneering force behind the rise of trip-hop, Massive Attack were among the most innovative and influential groups of their generation; their hypnotic sound — a darkly sensual and cinematic fusion of hip-hop rhythms, soulful melodies, dub grooves, and choice samples — set the pace for much of the dance music to emerge throughout the 1990s, paving the way for such acclaimed artists as Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba, UNKLE and Tricky, himself a Massive Attack alumnus. Their history dates back to 1983 and the formation of the Wild Bunch, one of the earliest and most successful sound-system/DJ collectives to arrive on the UK music scene; renowned for their seamless integration of a wide range of musical styles, from punk to reggae to R&B, the group’s parties quickly became can’t-miss events for the Bristol club crowd, and at the peak of their popularity they drew crowds so enormous that the local live music scene essentially ground to a halt.
Robert Del Naja:
Do you know what makes recording a song partly difficult? Most of the time you start off on just a melody. Not having actual text yet, you just go like 'lalala' until you get the melody right. And when you have the lyrics, then you have to sing them to the melody, until they feel right, that’s really tough.
Damon (Albarn) is a crack at that. He just sings some baby talk, starts writing the lyrics, back in the recording room two hours later and bingo !
For many fans, Massive Attack have acted as the soundtrack to their entire lives. In 2009, the band deservedly picked up the Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Not that they’re keen to make a big deal of it, mind.
‘It’s quite embarrassing, all that stuff,’ says the likeable, extremely down-to-earth Del Naja, as he nestles in an armchair in a private suite. ‘‘I said to Damon [Albarn] who was presenting, ‘What do I wear?’ He said: “Wear a fucking suit. This is serious.”
‘And [it was important] to remember onstage all the people who contributed. We’re only as strong as our contributors.’
I've been following Mick since a while. I didn't even know about The Clash when I was growing up. I found out through Big Audio Dynamite.
I love that. Big Audio Dynamite. That's kind of one of the blueprints for Gorillaz, really. That and Massive Attack. Just those bands that just weren't the kind of standard band, you know, and I've always just kind of been drawn to them, and I've always just found their music kind of fascinating.
How about Paradise Circus and the video for that? This is perhaps the controversial (of all the videos they commissioned for Heligoland). A lot of people on your website, in the forum there, have been talking about this because there is some pornographic imagery. Set this video up.
(laughs) I think you've set it up nicely.
You've done a great job there. We're in an industry -an entertainment industry- which is basically surrounded by sex. Sex is a major part of the entertainment industry and the media in general. It sells everything we buy, effectively. It's sort of difficult. But then it's sort of a difficult subject. You're allowed to have porn on the hotel channel, but then no one wants to see you've paid for it. It's this ridiculous scenario, where it's very British: You can have it but let's not talk about it. I think in this case it was discussing it in a much more frank and adult manner. Talking to someone that was in the industry and made an almost mainstream porno film in the '70s, which crossed over, talking about her experiences, positive and negative, but nonetheless talking about them in a much more honest way than you ever get in a discussion now.
The fact that it was this older woman, first of all, she's not supposed to be talking about sex 'cause she's older anyway. She's totally talking about it, owning it - any kind of discomfort she had with it she's resolved, or whatever, it seemed, innit? I thought it was great.
(under Martina) Yeah, most definitely.
Also, she was saying that her real fascination was with the camera.
That's honest. A lot of people have that and she can say it. It's her point of view, her point of view's valid -
It's very much about now isn't it?
It's so much, like, everyone want a piece of face time, y'know?