Massive Attack

Massive Attack
Massive Attack

3D and Daddy G at Eurockéennes, 2008
Background information
Origin Bristol, United Kingdom
Genres Trip hop
Experimental rock
Years active 1988–present
Labels Virgin / EMI
Associated acts The Wild Bunch
Neneh Cherry
Damon Albarn
Robert "3D" Del Naja ("D")
Grant "Daddy G" Marshall ("G")
Past members
Andy "Mushroom" Vowles ("Mush")

Massive Attack are an English DJ and trip hop duo from Bristol, England consisting of Robert "3D" Del Naja and Grant "Daddy G" Marshall. Working with co-producers, as well as various session musicians and guest vocalists, they make records and tour live. The duo are considered to be progenitors of the trip hop genre. Their debut album, Blue Lines was released in 1991, with the single "Unfinished Sympathy" reaching the charts and later being voted the 10th greatest song of all time in a poll by The Guardian.

Massive Attack started as a spin-off production trio in 1988, with the independently-released song, "Any Love", sung by falsetto-voiced singer-songwriter Carlton McCarthy,[1] and then, with considerable backing from Neneh Cherry, they signed to Circa Records[2] in 1990 – committing to deliver six studio albums and a "best of" compilation.[3] Circa became a subsidiary of, and was later subsumed into, Virgin Records, which in turn was acquired by EMI.[4][5] Blue Lines (1991), was co-produced by Jonny Dollar and Cameron McVey, who also became their first manager.[6] Geoff Barrow, who went on to form Portishead, was an intern and trainee tape operator at Bristol's Coach House studio when the album was recorded.[7] McVey (credited at the time as 'Booga Bear') and his wife, Neneh Cherry provided crucial financial support and in-kind assistance to the early careers of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky during this period, even paying regular wages to them through their Cherry Bear Organisation.[8] Massive Attack went on to critical acclaim for their ever-changing line-up of distinctive, often 'ethereal' or whispery guest vocalists, interspersed with Del Naja and Marshall's (initially Tricky's) own, similarly hushed, sprechgesang stylings, on top of what became regarded as an essentially British creative sampling production; a trademark sound that fused down-tempo hip hop, soul, reggae and other eclectic references, musical and lyrical.[4] With Protection in 1994, Mezzanine in 1998, and then Robert Del Naja's essentially solo 100th Window in 2003, Massive's overall sound grew persistently more experimental and melancholic, having a greater degree of gothic post-punk texture and moodily cinematic electronica integrated into it.[citation needed]

In the nineties, the trio became known for often not being able to easily get along with one another and working increasingly separately. Andy Vowles (Mushroom), who had once thought of himself as the trio's musical director, reluctantly and acrimoniously left Massive Attack permanently in late 1999, after an ultimatum from the other two members to end the group immediately if he did not. Despite having taken Del Naja's side in the effective firing of Mushroom and then participating in a show-of-unity webcast as a duo the following year, Grant Marshall (G) had also effectively left by 2001 in that he abandoned the studio altogether. Marshall's departure was often ostensibly portrayed as merely a fatherhood sabbatical, perhaps to play down tensions. G returned to a studio role with greater commitment in 2005, having joined the touring line-up of 2003/4.[9] The two would later work jointly once again during the 2008 Damon Albarn sessions for the fifth proper studio album. The other impetus being the then availability and willingness of Martina Topley-Bird to finally be involved in 2009.

A record label, Melankolic, was started in 1995 as an imprint of Virgin [EMI], but had become defunct by 2003, primarily because the newly appointed Virgin executives at that time stopped further funding due to the label's seemingly unmanageable overspending, or rather that of its bands. Over the decades, the group have collaborated with Neneh Cherry, Madonna, David Bowie, Mos Def, Elizabeth Fraser and Sinéad O'Connor amongst many others. Despite the group's many associations with Bristol, Carlton McCarthy, their first ever featured artist, is the only Bristolian-born and raised guest singer that they have ever featured on a record to date. Roots reggae veteran Horace Andy has featured on all of their regular studio albums, each one being slower to emerge than the last; notoriously taking an increasingly long number of years to be concertedly started and finished. The most recent studio album is entitled Heligoland.



DJs Daddy G and Andrew Vowles and graffiti artist-turned-rapper Robert Del Naja met as members of partying collective The Wild Bunch. One of the first homegrown soundsystems in the UK, The Wild Bunch became dominant on the Bristol club scene in the mid-1980s.[4]

1988-1989: Any Love beginnings

Unsigned, Mushroom (Andy Vowles), Daddy G (Grant Marshall) and 3D (Robert Del Naja) put out "Any Love" as a single,[10] co-produced by Bristolian double-act Smith & Mighty. Through The Wild Bunch they met Cameron McVey and Neneh Cherry.

1990-1992: Blue Lines and Unfinished Sympathy's impact

Daddy G of Massive Attack at the Eurockéennes Festival 2008

3D co-wrote Neneh Cherry's "Manchild",[11] which peaked at number 5 in the UK single chart.[12] Cameron McVey and Neneh Cherry helped them to record their first LP Blue Lines, partly in their house, and the album was released in 1991 on Virgin Records.[13]

The album encompassed a range of different vocalists, including Horace Andy as well as Shara Nelson, a former Wild Bunch cohort. MC's Tricky and Willie Wee, also once part of The Wild Bunch, featured, as well as Daddy G's voice on "Five Man Army". Neneh Cherry sang backing vocals on environmentalist anthem, "Hymn of the Big Wheel".[13]

That year they released "Unfinished Sympathy" as a single, a grandiosely string-arranged track at Abbey Road studio, scored by Will Malone,[14] that would go on to be voted the 10th greatest song of all time in a poll by The Guardian,[15] with a one-take video that also became much-imitated.

The group temporarily shortened their name to "Massive" on the advice of McVey to avoid controversy relating to the Gulf War.[16] They went back to being "Massive Attack" for their next single, "Safe from Harm".

They undertook a relatively brief tour, including the United States, as a DJs and MCs, hip hop-type setup, with only turntables and microphones. The tour was not particularly well-received, spurring the decision to make Massive Attack into a more traditional live entity for the following tour.[17]

1993-1996: Protection and their music label imprint, Melankolic

After Shara Nelson left, the band brought in Everything but the Girl's Tracey Thorn as a new vocalist.[4] Cameron McVey abandoned his role as Massive Attack's manager and Daddy G asked Marc Picken and Noah Vittor to represent the band.[18] Picken found Nicolette to be the other female vocalist on the album that would become their second studio release, Protection.

With McVey out of the picture, Massive, returning to their roots in some respects, enlisted the production talents of Wild Bunch alumnus, Nellee Hooper to co-produce the record, or rather co-produce some songs on it, with Mushroom. Other tracks were co-produced by The Insects and 3D. A dub version, No Protection, was released the following year by Mad Professor. Protection won a Brit award for Best Dance Act[19] and 3D joked, on receiving it, that none of them could dance. The other collaborators on Protection were Marius de Vries, Craig Armstrong,[9] a virtuoso Scottish classical pianist and Tricky. Tricky's solo career was taking off at this time and he decided not to collaborate with Massive Attack after this.[4]

1994-5 was also the period of Portishead's Dummy and Tricky's Maxinquaye albums and the term "trip hop" was coined.[20] Massive Attack bitterly opposed its use, not wanting to be pigeonholed. The media started to refer to the "Bristol scene",[21] although this would be spurious to some extent as Tricky based himself in London (and later in the United States) and there was not a great deal of camaraderie between the three entities (although they could be related in that the protagonists were all connected to Blue Lines studio sessions and their wages being initially paid by Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey's "Cherry Bear Organisation").

In 1995, Massive Attack started a label under EMI, Melankolic, a reference to their interest in elegiac music, and signed Craig Armstrong, as well as a number of other artists: Horace Andy, Alpha, Sunna and Day One. The trio espoused a non-interference philosophy that allowed the artists to make their albums in the way they wanted.[22]

The same year The Insects became unavailable for co-production and having parted ways with Nellee Hooper, the band were introduced to Neil Davidge,[23] a relatively unknown producer whose main claim to fame thus far had been an association with anonymous dance-pop outfit DNA. The first track they worked on was "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game", a cover version sung by Tracey Thorn for the Batman Forever soundtrack. Initially, Davidge was brought in as engineer, but soon became de facto producer.

The trio increasingly fractured in the lead up to the third album, Davidge having to co-produce the three producers' ideas separately. Mushroom was reported to be unhappy with the degree of the post-punk direction in which Del Naja, increasingly filling the production vacuum, was taking the band.[23]

In 1997, the group contributed to the film soundtrack of The Jackal, recording "Superpredators (Metal Postcard)", a number containing a sample of Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Mittageisen"[24] and "Dissolved Girl", a new song with vocals by Sarah Jay (which would later be remixed in a longer, darker form for the next album).

Later that year they released a single, "Risingson", from what would be their third album, Mezzanine.[25]

1997-2001: Mezzanine, Teardrop, the Vowles split and Marshall's absence

3D at Barcelona 2007

Mezzanine came out initially to rather mixed reviews and a perception that it was not a commercial record, although it went on to be their most commercially successful. The record marked Massive Attack becoming a live band and incorporated more fresh, recorded live music as well as samples. Angelo Bruschini became their permanent lead guitarist both in recording and live.[25]

The lead single, after "Risingson" was "Teardrop", perhaps the most accessible track on the album, sung by Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser. The song was accompanied by a video directed by Walter Stern, of an animatronic singing fetus. An instrumental version of "Teardrop" is also the theme song for the hit TV show House M.D., making the track recognizable the world over. Mushroom and Del Naja met Fraser in Safeway. Her collaboration on three songs came about as the relationship with Tracey Thorn fell by the wayside. Horace Andy was invited back to sing on three songs, including "Angel" and a track the band made for the film The Jackal, "Dissolved Girl", sung by Sara Jay, was remixed for inclusion on the record.

Mezzanine went on to win a Q Award for Best Album[26] as well as being nominated for a Mercury Award. The record eschewed hip hop to some extent in favour of more experimental, gothic and post-punk-like music, resulting from Del Naja's influence. Most of the songs were started and co-written by Neil Davidge, but Davidge did not receive any writing credit on the record, stating in an interview with Australian magazine Audio Technology that the band already had to pay too much for the use of samples on the record to be able to afford to give him credit as well. The artwork for the album is a beetle.

Touring extensively, friction between Mushroom and the others came to a head. Mushroom was unhappy with the direction of the group, Del Naja's dominating role and having to appear on tour.[27]

In 2000, Del Naja and Daddy G released a webcast on the state of the band and future plans.

Around this time, Del Naja, with Davidge decanted into Ridge Farm studio with friends and band members of Lupine Howl (itself made up of sacked members of the band Spiritualized, including Damon Reece who would go on to be Massive Attack's permanent drummer and one of two live drummers) towards a fourth Massive Attack LP, taking things even further into an experimental, psychedelic rock direction.[6]

Daddy G became increasingly disillusioned with this approach, despite having supported the direction up until the point of Mezzanine, and stayed away from the studio from around 2001, effectively leaving Massive Attack as a producer.

It was around this point that their label, Melankolic started to decline. There were no releases from after 2002 and the company dissolved in 2003. Del Naja later suggested in interviews that it was in part due to the artists "taking the piss" in spending too much money and Daddy G cited Virgin Records' lack of infrastructural support as a reason for the downfall.

2001 also saw the release of Eleven Promos, a DVD of all Massive Attack's 11 music videos thus far, including "Angel", a £100,000+ promo that they initially withdrew from fear of inflaming unhelpful speculation about the relationships in the band at the time, even though it was Daddy G, and not Mushroom who is depicted running away.[28]

2002-2006: Del Naja's 100th Window, Marshall's return and Collected

With Daddy G temporarily no longer involved in the studio, Davidge and Del Naja steered "LP4" on their own. Enlisting the vocals of a flu-ridden Sinéad O'Connor and perennial favourite Horace Andy, 100th Window was mastered in August 2002 and released in February 2003.[29]

Featuring no samples of other artists or cover versions, 100th Window is the darkest Massive Attack record and also the furthest sonically from their Sound System roots. The title is often incorrectly quoted as being taken from a book on internet security, which Del Naja denies, saying "What I actually felt about '100th Window' when I saw it written down was that it’s a more spiritual place. The third eye, the window to the soul, the whole idea of the place where you can communicate without thinking, examining the world without your personality being in the way."[30] 100th Window was not as critically well received in Britain as the other records, although the album received a warmer reception internationally; scoring a 75 out of 100 on review aggregation site Metacritic.[31] The group also collaborated with Mos Def on the track "I Against I", which appeared on the "Special Cases" single and the soundtrack for Blade II. "I Against I" is also notable as the only track from the 100th Window sessions that features a writing credit from Daddy G.

Also in 2003, Del Naja was arrested on child porn allegations, which were reported widely in the media.[32] Del Naja was soon eliminated as a suspect[33] (although he was charged with ecstasy possession and unable to get a U.S. visa for a while) with Daddy G and fans proffering their support. The arrest affected the beginning of the 100th Window tour schedule.

Despite the difficulties of 2003, 100th Window sold over a million copies and was toured extensively (including Queen Square, Bristol - a one-off concert set up in the city centre park, which was seen as a homecoming).[34]

Afterwards, Del Naja and Davidge agreed to an offer from director Louis Leterrier, to score the entire soundtrack for Danny The Dog, starring Jet Li. It was off the back of this lucrative job that they would have the funding to buy their own '100 Suns' studio. Dot Allison, who had sung with the band on the 100th Window tour, sang the end titles track, "Aftersun". Davidge also scored the soundtrack for the more critically well-received Bullet Boy film, with Del Naja on the end titles.

In 2005, Daddy G started coming into the studio, although little came of the material. He decided to instead work with a production duo, Robot Club, in another studio, feeling that he would be more free to develop tracks in the way he wanted. Meanwhile, Del Naja and Davidge recorded with a number of different singers as well as creating a track named "Twilight", for UNKLE's War Stories album. Later that year, Massive Attack decided to release their contractually-obliged compilation album Collected in 2006. They released it with a second disc, made up of previously released non-album songs and unreleased sketches.[29]

Massive Attack toured their greatest hits record, including North America for the first time in nearly eight years. The artwork is an echo of the concept of Mezzanine, depicting four wreath-like flowers made out of weapons.

2007-2010: "Weather Underground" / Heligoland era

In 2007, Del Naja and Davidge scored three soundtracks, In Prison My Whole Life (which featured a track called "Calling Mumia" with vocals by American rapper Snoop Dogg), Battle In Seattle and Trouble the Water. All of this soundtrack work was either credited as Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja or under the guise of 100 Suns, in an effort to differentiate the soundtrack/film scoring work from the brand name of Massive Attack.

It became apparent in 2007, through the band's MySpace page, that they were working with Stephanie Dosen and she later became part of the touring line-up, Elizabeth Fraser having returned to the live repertoire initially.

In February 2007, Massive Attack hosted a charity benefit for the Hoping Foundation, a charity for Palestinian children, cementing their reputation as one of Britain's politically engaged bands. A year afterwards, in 2008, it was announced that Massive Attack were to curate the UK's Southbank Meltdown, a week-long event encompassing numerous bands Massive Attack like and relate to. It was suggested in interviews that this event would inspire Massive Attack back into action, having spent several years drifting towards the completion of their fifth studio album.[35] Later on the same year, the band picked up a Q award for Innovation.

Later that year, Del Naja and Daddy G headed to Damon Albarn's studios for some writing and jamming. Around this time, Davidge scored the soundtrack for a Paul McGuigan film, Push and in December, Del Naja completed the score for 44 Inch Chest with The Insects and Angelo Badalamenti.

Davidge and Del Naja then got back together in 2009 with Daddy G to concertedly finish the fifth album, incorporating bits of the Albarn material. It had been widely suggested that "LP5" (formerly known as Weather Underground) would be released in September 2009 (even as specifically as 22 September 2009 on the official forum). Massive Attack have claimed the album will be released in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 and now 2009. It was eventually confirmed that the album would be released on 8 February 2010, after producer Neil Davidge declared the record finished on 12 November 2009. Later it was announced that the band were to headline the 2009 Bestival festival and soon after that they were to tour the UK[36] and Europe,[37] which has led to speculation that "LP5" is imminent, along with two strange and typically caps-locked blog entries by 3D on the official site, one being entitled "Summer of Submission".[38] In May, Robert Del Naja's instrumental "Herculaneum", featured in the film Gomorra, won an Italian award for Best Song. Later that month, Del Naja and Marshall picked up a special Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.[39]

In June 2009, it was announced that, on 29 May Jonny Dollar, died of cancer aged 45, survived by his wife and 4 children. Dollar was the programmer and hands-on producer behind Blue Lines, writing the melody that was the basis for "Unfinished Sympathy".[40]

On 25 August their new EP, Splitting the Atom, was announced. The other new tracks on the EP were revealed to be Tunde Adebimpe's "Pray For Rain", Martina Topley-Bird's "Psyche" and Guy Garvey's "Bulletproof Love". The latter two tracks appear as remixes of the intended album versions and none of "LP5"'s tracks are expected to resemble the versions that were played on the previous tour, with some songs, such as "Dobro", dropped altogether.

"LP5" was finished on 12 November 2009, according to producer, Neil Davidge. A number of articles fueled rumours that Del Naja would call the album Hell Ego Land.[41] It was in fact called Heligoland, after the German archipelago of Heligoland.

"I think it's got definitely a more organic feel,"[42] says Del Naja of Heligoland. "100th Window was very much about this amalgamation of everything joining, and eventually the process was so extreme that you couldn't tell if there was a string part if it was electronic or natural. [There were] lots of organic parts that ended up sounding very electronic. It became a whole world of different processes, and we wanted to do something a bit different because we've had that experience so we wanted to do something else."

2010-present: A future of EPs

Robert Del Naja told the New Statesman of his decision to not have Massive Attack tour in Israel, due to the continuing Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.[43]

An Atlas Air EP was announced for 1 November as a vinyl/digital only release in aid of Warchild, also featuring the Heligoland leftover track, RedLight, plus a remix by Warp artist, Clark.[44]

This release details then appeared to have changed, in that media were now reporting a 22 November release date, with an original finished version of "RedLight" apparently withdrawn from the originally-mooted tracklisting, meaning the EP is to be a series of remixes done by others (plus a shorter version of the title track).

Del Naja said in October, to the Spinner website, that his plans were now for "unorthodox" release of several EPs in 2011, rather than an album.[45]

On October 10th, 2011, a limited vinyl was announced, called "Four Walls / Paradise Circus". The vinyl contains a long awaited collaboration with dubstep pioneer Burial, as well as his remix of "Paradise Circus". The vinyl is limited to 1000 copies. [46]

Music style

Some of their most noted songs have been without choruses and have featured dramatically atmospheric dynamics, conveyed through either epic distorted guitar crescendos, lavish orchestral arrangements (such as swelling, sustained strings or flourishes of grand piano) or prominent, looped/shifting basslines, underpinned by high and exacting production values, involving sometimes copious digital editing and mixing.[5] The pace of their music has often been slower than prevalent British dance music at the time. These and other psychedelic, soundtrack-like and DJist sonic techniques, formed a much-emulated style journalists began to dub "trip hop" from the mid-nineties onwards,[47] though in an interview in 2006, G said, "'We used to hate that terminology [trip-hop] so bad,' laughs. 'You know, as far we were concerned, Massive Attack music was unique, so to put it in a box was to pigeonhole it and to say, "Right, we know where you guys are coming from."'"[48]



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