Smoking beats and bubblin
magazine 1st September 1994)
The indescisive dubsters
Three years after the, brilliance of Blue Lines Massive Attack stroll into the arena with an excellent LP 'Protection' and the same lazy, indecisive, laid-back vibe. Andy Crysell engages the boys in conversation Justin de Deney,sees lens to lenses."
Hey, can we stop it there and start again?" asks Massive Attack's Daddy G. without much in the way of warning. 'To be honest, I've been talking shit so far. Let's move somewhere eIse."
bristol's foremost drum and basshead trio are in London or the day; and now we're moving somewhere else. We're walking round this insignificant looking park searching for a place to sit down. Not a difficult task, you'd have thought. Not normally, anyway...
Oh dear. Mushroom is carrying on about all the atrocious diseases we're bound to catch if we should happen to perch in dog shit. We keep our eyes peeled for poo as 3D persistently reminds us he's suffering from a hardcore hangover and definitely needs to sit in short grass and in just the right amount of shade. And Daddy G? He's setting the scene:
"We rather call this a conversation with Massive Attack, not an interview." he decides. "You see, what we say isn't always the gospel truth. By next week, we might have changed our stance completely." So be it then. A conversation with Massive Attack. A mad, rambling chat with the progressive sound-system that's been out of sight for three years and has now bounced back with 'Protection', a profoundly fine second album. Produced by Nellee Hooper of Soul II Soul and Bjork production fame, it's a masterful return: an immense mix of urban real and heady surreal, lined with an unexpected dose of analogue electronics and the kind of spacious sonic views that only Massive can manipulate. It's more laid-back than their 'Blue Lines' debut, but shows no signs of the much talked about 'difficult second album' syndrome.
"But in a way it was difficult," says 3D. "A lot of our original team was pulled apart - we split up with our manager (Cameron McVey) and our producer (Johnny Dollar) Shara (Nelson) was off doing her own thing and we had to rethink a lot of our ideas... People have been saying, 'ambient', 'soundtrack', that kind of stuff," he adds. "But I think you could mix up tracks off of 'Protection' and 'Blue Lines' and make 'em sit together just as well." What about Shara Nelson's solo work? Hasn't she merely been the next best thing while Massive were missing?
"Yeah. when we disappeared there was a void left for her to fill," agrees Mushroom after he's finished mumbling on for ages about the activities of a helicopter buzzing overhead. "But they've taken her voice into a different environment. She's dealing with big money and big pop producers, and I'm not sure it suits her."
Anyway, Shara's out and a new set of heaven-sent voices are in. Next to some super spacey rapping from 3D and Tricky, a taste of dancehall reggae crooning from old-timer Horace Young and a couple of dub-filmic instrumentals, there's ex-Shut Up And Dance collaborator Nicolette bringing her strange soul tones to 'Sly' and the perfection that is 'Three'. With similar ingenuity, Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl also works on a couple of tracks. "Nothing with us is done deliberately." says 3D. "We sent Tracey a few tracks so she could pick which ones to sing on. One of her choices was 'Better Things' - the last track we expected her to choose. It's so fucking raw, like a sound-system thing and a simple beat."
Against the odds. then. 'Better Things is one of the most magnificent moments on the LP. Back in 1991, there were two albums that mattered loads to loads of people; reflecting and magnifying the uniquely British hybrid of international cultures that exist in and around the clubscene. 'Blue Lines', of course, and Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica'. Fast forward to 1994 and so far there s only one album that matters in so much as it breaks rigid genre moulds. Primal Scream are off on a sad trip of their own and 'Protection' is out in front. crossing boundaries with ease. God, will we really have to wait three years again for a follow-up?
"Yeah, probably," smirks moody Mushroom, sending the rest of Massive into a state of sniggers.
"Can we move that to the end of the article?" asks 3D. "So we can finish saying, "Yeah, probably."
No, we can't. Massive have this disturbing habit of talking complete bollocks one minute and complete sense the next. Some questions they ignore entirely, others they answer precisely. "There's a lot of melancholy in there; feeling and emotion." starts up 3D, showing off the latter side of Massive's psyche when asked about their lyrics. "Most tracks are open to interpretation. Take 'Unfinished Sympathy', that's not all sad; there's hope and confidence in there as well. 'Protection has positive and negative sides to it - Yin and Yang. We've always been into the underside of things. Like, 'If we turn this upside down. what's it gonna reveal?' That's quite a pretentious thing to say.,isn't it?"
Mushroom says it is; Daddy G's not so sure.
Let's look at 'Karmacoma', another highlight on the album, featuring 3D and Tricky on the mike and great lines like: 'Walking through the suburbs, they're not exactly lovers.' And: 'Duplicate and you wait, for the next Kuwait.' What's it all about then?
"It's a piss-take between me and Tricky - about me having Italian blood and Tricky having West Indian blood," says 3D, before illustrating further the lyrical confusion that Massive revel in. "Er... It's not about anything in particular... Er, it's got a lot to do with apathy in relationships and general life. 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go', that sort of thing A bit of sex, quirky laziness: I dunno, try and explain your own raps and you end up using words you were trying to avoid in the first place."
Dial 0272 for beatific ganja and fantastic dub-funk-hip-hop, that's what we're told. And with a new wave of Bristol bands starting to emerge in Massiv' s and Smith & Mighty's slipstream, it seems as if this most stoned of cities is about to become the centre of attention again. Predictably, though, Massive think this subject is kind of boring. Daddy G struggles to find the common ground between these disparate forces.
"I dunno. I guess there's some connection," he shrugs. But mainly we reckon it s just a lazy media term. Some people believe the hype. but we've never bothered with it." Massive Attack took shape in the late-eighties, growing out of the legendary longstanding Wild Bunch posse -a motley crew starring 3D, Mushroom, G., Nellee Hooper and other assorted hip hop heads from the Bristol area.
"We saw hip hop arrive from across the Atlantic." recalls G. "It's a good feeling, knowing you've been in on a scene from the start. We were DJing, setting up sound-systems, chatting on the mic and learning as we went. What we do now is more elaborate, but our roots will never change."
So what was it like. hooking up with Nellee Hooper again? "We thought it might be awkward, seeing as we're all mates," explains 3D. "But it worked out fine. Left to our own devices, we're too disorganised; we're larking around all the time. We need someone who can motivate us without overpowering us. Nellee isn't a Teddy Riley type - he doesn't insist on having his personality stamped on every track. He's happy to sit back and only get involved when he s needed."
12-years ago. 3D was so desperate to join The
Wild Bunch that, to gain their respect, he went round spraying their insignia on every wall in
the area. Now, an acclaimed graffiti artist, he masterminds Massive Attack's visuals and sleeve designs. This year, various ventures into multi-media, CD-ROM and Virtual Reality(ish) zones look likely.
"We'd rather use brand logos to sell Massive Attack," he says, as Mushroom sets light to a pile of wrappers and twigs for some reason or another. "We could put our flame symbol on anything from an album to a film or book, and it'd be like a mark of quality. Sadly, though. I think people still prefer a face to a visual. And who am I to talk? I love football and I'll buy a football mag to stare at a picture of someone like Romario cos he's a hero of mine."
3D talks about creating a Massive Attack computer game, where sounds boom out you battle with stroppy aliens. For their forthcoming tour, he's planning a mobile art exhibition that'll follow them from town to town - showing 30 screen prints and seven models, including 'Eurochild', a figure named after a track on ,Protection' that considers Europe's uncertain, potentially traumatic ethnically-divided future.
"But he's a whimsical character," he smiles, "You can take him seriously or just look at him as a cartoon character."
Massive give the thumbs up to the Stereo MCs and MC Solaar: and blow big raspberries at PM Dawn and East 17 for stealing their "low-key. whispering" rap style while they were away. They don't seem too concerned how well 'Protection' and first single 'Sly' (featuring Underdog, Tim Simenon and Future Sound Of London mixes; plus no doubt, a video to match the stunners Baillie Walsh made for 'Daydreaming'. 'Safe From Harm' and Unfinished Sympathy') perform in the charts, though do admit to a few financial worries having been out of action for so long. Breaking through in America is a task that appears to be playing on their mind, but. overall it's slack, lethargic business as usual for these street wise eccentrics. "We're not cynical or clinical. We're not careerists. We're explorers." announces' 3D triumphantly, as Mushroom looks at him like he's some kind of fool. "God, am I sounding pretentious again?" Mushroom reckons so: Daddy G isn't so sure. Cool chaos and weird spirits stoned souls heading to place the bass has never been to before - probablythe most Massive Attack ofgenius that your head can handle.