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welcome to red lines est.1997


Official Massive Attack Forum

British Red Cross




zero d b

Small Attack

Cheer Up It's Christmas (Venue 11/12/98)

Each to his or her own, we say. Germany has decided (with good reason) that it makes the world's best cars. Italy has embraced its role as chef to the planet with, er, relish while Liverpool seems to have decided that it's a bespoke provider of comedy to the masses. But Bristol, on the other hand, has slouched onto the worldwide map of recognition for just one reason. It isn't our proud manufacturing heritage, gag prowess or culinary excellence, and it's certainly nothing to do with football. Mention Bristol in almost any comer of the English speaking world and the reply "Aah, Bristol. Massive Attack" will invariably come back. It's brand recognition of the highest order.
Massive Attack are indeed Massive. Their supposedly 'uncommercial' third album, 'Mezzanine', has shifted some 1.7 million units worldwide, launching the band into the rarefied stratosphere of arena-filling high-achievers. During a gruelling autumn they've sold out venues across America, Canada, South America, South Africa and Europe (see side panel for the full horrific schedule) while a ten date UK tour including shows at 14,000 capacity venues like Docklands Arena and NEC sold out with ease.
And yet it's sometimes hard to equate musical world conquerors Massive Attack with the band on their native turf. Robert cruising the retail outlets of Gloucester Road in search of sustenance and Italian sports newspapers, Grant playing occasional sets down the Thekia or propping up the Mud Dock bar and Mushroom bombing around in his lush red motor just doesn't seem to add up to the outside world's perception of Massive Attack: the genre-gelling, sound-collage creating, Fergie-baiting Sound of the '90s (TM) and all-round Coolest Band on the Planet.
But their studiously uncool real life personas are, of course, the reason why Massive maintain such a special place in Bristol's collective bosom. Bristol might occasionally suffocate them but it also keeps any signs of pop star egomania firmly in check. For their part, Massive Attack have built a studio here, employ Bristol-based technicians and musicians wherever they can and even started their own label to sign the best of the city's talent.
It's been a busy old year for Massive's Robert del Naja. Since his last encounter with Venue in March, he's been to the World Cup final, was asked to appear on a 'South Bank Show' special on Massive Attack (he declined), was quoted as saying the band had split, caused a rumpus-ette with his comments (exclusively revealed on these pages, natch) on why the Colston Hall should be renamed, and created a full-scale rumpus with his right royal dissing ofFergie at the MTV awards.
And in just the last few months, Massive have played with Kraftwerk in South America (the elusive Tectonics even partied with them at Dusseldorf later in the year), lost a drummer in South America and picked up the kind of rave notices which make you think the press would only label them uncool if they did a season of panto in Milton Keynes. Some year. As we speak, Robert's on the set of ]ools Holland's 'Later' show, the fourth time the band have appeared. So is it seven times as scary playing to 14,000 people as it is to 2,000?
"No, it doesn't get more scary when there's more people. In fact, we're already terrified of doing the Anson Rooms," he chuckles. "All those people will be right in our faces; it'll be a right hecklefest, 1 can tell you. People shouting 'Ere, I went to school with you. Oo do you think you are?' Seriously, we're confident we can do a really good show and make it real and honest. It'll be good to see our mates and to finish the year in Bristol, almost too perfect. But it'll be scary and difficult for all those reasons.
"It's strange, doing arenas now. It means you meet less people than when you're doing small places. It
doesn't make you feel like a star or special. You actually feel more like the clown who takes his make-up off in the trailer afterwards. You come off stage, sit down and have a ]D and coke, get in the bus and drive off. There's been a couple of parties so far but nothing excessive."
Massive's March interview in Venue showed the band at their bleakest, not on speaking terms at any level and unsure how the year would unfold. A recent 'Q' feature detailing the making of 'Mezzanine' exposed the agonies the band went through at that time still further, laying the rifts bare in graphic detail. Put simply, 'Mezzanine"s gnarly, guitar-addled darkness is the joint brainchild of Robert and band guitarist Angelo Bruschini. Mushroom, on the other hand, wanted the album to stay closer to the band's soul and hip hop roots, and Grant mediated between the two fiery factions. Things are alleged to have reached such a state of meltdown inside their Christchurch studio that Mushroom at one point exploded: "Are we a fucking punk band now?"
"It'll be good to see our mates and to finish the year in Bristol. It seems
almost too perfect."
With such a daunting tour schedule pencilled in to promote 'Mezzanine', it seemed difficult to imagine how a creative unit under such internal strain could possibly survive. But, explains Robert, the reverse happened. "The tours are a great distraction," he says. "It's momentum and experience. But, of course, we've put a lot of shit aside to get on with the year which will have to be dealt with. So even though it's been a good year and not as painful as we thought it might be, there's still quite a few difficulties we've got to go through. When we get into new year, we're gonna have to dig a few skeletons out of the closet."
So might 1999 be a year of more diverse recording methods for Massive Attack? "It might be. 1 had a really good time doing the Manics mix and the Thorn Yorke track. It was just me and Neil (Davidge), Johnny (Dollar) and Angelo (Bruschini). There were no debates, it was refreshing and quick. 1 think the recording might go more like people going their own way and bringing things back in. You can probably do a lot more in separate places and bring it back in later."
But, of course, Massive Attack's increasingly 'White Album'-esque recording methods are hardly the reason the band have been at the forefront of the public mind over the last month or so. It was their very public dissing of Fergie at the MTV Awards which provoked the acres of tabloid backlash. Not to mention a public tongue-lashing from Robert's mum, who wondered what had happened to the nice, polite boy she had raised. So, Massive Attack: fervent republicans using their position to make a statement on the essential redundancy of the English monarchy or three piss-heads having a giggle? What'll it be? Seems like a bit of both.
"My grievance is that awards ceremonies are completely bizarre events anyway and they teeter on the edge of being completely pointless," says Robert. "You go there for a laugh and you just feel a bit stupid. We were told it would be Ronaldo or Damon Albam or someone like that; someone in the music business or the film business. And we only found out by accident just before we went up. 1 just made up my mind to do what I did because I
felt we'd had the piss royally taken out of us. I just
felt so angry and that was my response. She's a ridiculous character, a ridiculous person and I've got no personal respect for her and the way she just seeks publicity at the expense of others. What the fuck has Fergie got to do with us; Nothing. What" the fuck have we got to do with her; Nothing."
There was a genuine sense of surprise about the impact the incident had back home and equally genuine relief that they could escape back into touring mode. "1 went to the party afterwards and got completely trashed and then ended up in France the next day doing a gig. Then suddenly all these articles came in from all over the place, the tabloids and the broadsheets, and it was just ridiculous."
But today's scoop is tomorrow's chip paper and Fergie is now firmly history. Robert's back on speaking terms with his mum and there's more important things to think about, like making sure these Anson Rooms shows are the best Massive Attack have ever played and ensuring these three eminently likeable souls don't end up as just another bunch of pop star victims. "We're never going to turn ourselves into celebs," Robert asserts. "We're quite happy to have that freedom to remain semi-anonymous and just get on with our lives. Otherwise it all just gets out of control. There's so many people in bands we've met where they've got more famous and then just lost the plot. Eventually they've come back down to earth and realised they don't
need to be that way.'