You’ve been instrumental
in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s “Stop The War” initiative,
aimed at preventing war in Iraq. Obviously that’s an issue you feel strongly
Yes, particularly as we spent a lot of time and energy voting a Labour government into power a few years ago. The last thing we expected was the government we actually have now, the way it’s representing us globally and in out own country.
I was speaking with Mani
from Primal Scream – who, as you know, have also been very critical of
US foreign policy – last year, and asked him whether the reaction to the
band in the States had changed post-S11. He was of the opinion that the band’s
fans knew exactly where they were coming from, perhaps even agreed with their
I’d like to believe that, but… For the “Stop The War” campaign, we [3D and co-campaigner Damon Albarn] put double-page adverts in the NME, which had an effect, CND reckoned, of directing at least 20,000 people to their petitions, and to participate in their marches, which is positive. We got Tony Benn – a staunch peace campaigner, and a veteran of peace and socialist politics – to comment. And we got Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney-General who’s been a pro-Iraqi campaigner in terms of trying to halt sanctions and fight the idea of war, so we had a trans-Atlantic view on it. We tried to present a balanced view and not bring out egos into it, just raise the question of what is happening. Point people in the direction of information, informative sites and places.
But the response on our message board was quite frightening. A lot of Americans were totally slating me, saying that was the last time they were gonna buy one of our records, asking why we hate Americans? Some of it was so strange, they were going as far as to say, “We bailed you out in the Second World War and we’re gonna have to defend the world again, if it wasn’t for America, the world would be blah blah blah.” I just thought, “Christ, these people are into the music we’ve been making, and we’ve got nothing in common whatsoever when it comes down to the real world.” It’s quite terrifying that they took it that way, and the way they felt about the band was completely out of context with the way the music’s made. It makes you wonder – are you really communicating, are you really getting through to anyone in the first place?
I found it quite telling
that the local reaction to the Bali bombing – which killed as many Australians,
proportionately, as the World Trade Centre attack did Americans – was
relatively temperate. There wasn’t anything like that lust for immediate
and decisive vengeance we saw in the US following S11.
That’s unfortunately the American way, isn’t it? It always has been. America is probably the most extreme country on the planet, a magnifying glass for the rest of the world in a sense, with all its negatives and positives. And it’s a shame to see it reacting in such an extreme way, every time, without really questioning its position in the rest of the world. America will seek revenge first and ask questions later. It’s unfortunately very typical.
Massive Attack albums always
seem to arrive in times of extreme turmoil. I’ve got the pressing of Blue
Lines where the band name is listed as simply Massive – a result of the
self-imposed ban on non-PC group names and song titles that was going on at
radio in ’91 because of the Gulf War.
I even thought of dropping the “Attack” recently as an anti-war statement, but I think that kind of encourages the stupidity and hysteria in the media. It only encourages them to focus on the wrong things. They deem things to be offensive – songs, movies, words, phrases – when what’s really offensive is bombs and bullets.
100th Window is quite a
dark album – a result of the dark global environment that spawned and
inspired the record?
I dunno, it’s weird. People often associate us with dark. I think when people hear our music they go “dark” straight away. The first three tracks on the album are much lighter than anything on Mezzanine, much more optimistic, musically much brighter, with more warmth. I don’t see the album as being that dark. It has its dark edges, but it has a greater warmth than anything we’ve done before. It’s more complex – it’s got a lot of depth, a lot of levels. And that’s definitely affected by what’s been happening around us. Ineveitably.
I’d go so far as to
sat that Massive Attack’s music has – starting with Mezzanine, and
continuing through 100th Window – begun to take on a slightly gothic edge,
something that made the inclusion of “I Against I” on the Blade
2 soundtrack all the more appropriate. Strange, considering that I can’t
imagine you being terribly involved in the gothic scene!
I’m not big on scenes, and I don’t really come from any particular scene. I’ve come through a lot of different influences, and the two biggest were punk and hip-hop. I was doing a Japanese interview yesterday and the girl felt, as they have a couple of times in Japanese interviews I’ve done, that there was a religious quality to the album. Not just spiritual, but a connection with the idea of God or what God might be. So maybe the gothic thing’s coming through in that sense, because the gothic thing is ultimately about religion and the idea of life and death, humanity, mortality.
The thing with this record is that there’s a lot more soul-searching on it, whereas Mezzanine was quite cold in that we didn’t wanna discuss things too deeply because we were pretty uncomfortable with each other at the time. Obviously Mushroom left the band, Gee was having a child, and Neil and I were quite isolated at points while making the record. When it came down to the mood and the lyrics for 100th Window, it was a search, trying to find peace, trying to find some answers to what’s happening out there, looking for trust and contact. In a way, looking for love as well. I think that comes through. Whereas with Mezzanine, everything was about paranoia and reflecting that coldness as opposed to looking through it.
It’s interesting to
hear you say you don’t go for scenes. Something I’ve always found
fascinating is that “Unfinished Sympathy” will inevitably top the
list of Best Dance Tracks Ever when it’s not exactly a “dance”
track, and I wouldn’t necessarily consider Massive Attack a “dance”
Yes, we always struggled against that situation. It’s because we come from a sound system, and it’s a DJ-based thing – our whole history was putting on parties. We came out of that world so people assumed that was where we were heading. Of course, a lot of things we threw onto Blue Lines did come from the soul, hip-hop, reggae thing, which again is dance-based culture and rhythms. So even though we were trying to make a record more to listen to, a more cerebral record, it kind of – if slightly uncomfortably – sat between the two spaces. At the time Blue Lines came out, everyone was into bangin’ techno and it was a completely different world. When Mezzanine came out it was all drum’n’bass, so we’ve always done something completely different to the rest of the scene and we never really felt associated with dance culture. But it’s a tag that’s stuck, even now. If I look on the internet under “electronica”, which became a new sort of category that you could file yourself under rather than dance or soul, there we are.
is such a tricky term though. Virtually everyone, from rock to folk to pop,
has begun integrating electronic instrumentation or production methods, so it’s
a bit all-inclusive.
I find bands that aren’t interested in exploring the world of electronic music quite strange. You have so much creative freedom in that space. For us it’s different because rather than being strictly electronic, as in drum machines and keyboards, even analogue synths and organs, we’ve used more instruments that we’ve ever used before, and I think that’s because now, out Pro-Tools set-up has so much more memory capacity. So even though we’re using quite and electronic space and environment, it gives us the ability to explore more human spaces and instrumentals. It offers more freedom as opposed to what some people think – making it colder.
Recently I read about the
discovery of the pigment for ultra-marine blue in the Middle East a few centuries
ago. It was bizarre to think that, prior to that moment, artists couldn’t
paint anything in true blue. Technology, as it were, opened up a whole new spectrum
of colour to painters, in much the same way that electronic production methods
make an almost infinite spectrum of sounds available to musicians.
Definitely. I remember reading a book in university called Mauve, which was about the discovery of the colour purple by a Victorian-era British Scientist. It was talking about the importance of dyes from India, the Middle East, and how manufacturing processes change when you move from natural dyes to chemicals. It was really interesting to see the way that you were restricted to what you had. Now, you’re born into a world where you’ve got an unlimited palette to work with – if you’re privileged, living in the western world.
It’s amazing to think of a place where you didn’t have access to the full spectrum of colour at your disposal. I love technology when it’s used positively, and I can’t imagine going backwards, even life without the internet. That was only a few years ago, like on Mezzanine, I wasn’t online, wasn’t into email, wasn’t using the net a lot. But now it’s part of my everyday life. I shop on it, research on it, read on it. When there’s an issue in the news, I spend so much time looking at different sites, different countries, different nationalities, different news agencies, to try to get as many views as possible on the topic. Online you can see so many more angles.
You appear to take and active
role in the Massive Attack website, posting on the boards and interacting with
If I’ve got something to sat, I don come on there and post – I find it a really useful way of communicating. The message board’s really cool and we recently did a sort of short survey: age, nationality and sex. Everyone was so much younger than I imagined – 18 to 24, or even younger. That’s really cool, considering the message board’s been full of such interesting debate for the last year and a half, and it inspires me that people are searching for things.
The net does have its downsides
though, as you seem to be acutely aware. I had to go through plenty of rigmarole
to get an advance copy of 100th Window, signing a contract with the record label
to guarantee I wouldn’t duplicate or upload it. What’s your stance
on file sharing and internet piracy?
It’s difficult. There’s this lovely mythology of file sharing but the perfect socialist utopia doesn’t really exist – most people who’d download and copy the album would do so for their own capitalist means. The piracy issue’s becoming quite a big deal. In one respect I don’t give a fuck. But in another respect, if we can’t make any money off it then we can’t make any more music. And that’s the issue. I think music is becoming cheapened by the way the industry concentrates on commerce rather than quality. I think the music industry’s paranoid because it knows it hasn’t got a lot of life left in it, maybe 20 years before it operates in a completely different way and doesn’t sell CDs via retail outlets on the high streets. And that’s affecting how they sign bands, how they promote records and what records they market. That, alongside piracy, makes music a lot cheaper these days. When it comes to the decision of copying something or buying it, most people will say, “The music industry’s shit anyway, let’s copy it.” I feel sympathy for that.
In the aftermath of September
11, youth does seem to have been re-politicised to a certain extent –
we’ve begun to realise that there’s more to life than going out
and taking pills at the disco every Saturday night, that what happens on the
other side of the world can affect us, that tragedy can strike no matter where
on earth you are…
Yet the whole manufactured Pop Idol [Popstars] thing is bigger than ever. That’s a stark contrast to the fragile place the world’s in at the moment. You can’t apportion blacme for it, but you feel it’s this whole idea of the American Dream – that you can have it all as an individual, instant fame and fortune. I wonder whether, if you were in a different part of the world looking in on out culture via TV, you’d be saddened and shocked by what you saw. It’s gonna breed more resentment of our culture if we don’t start to balance our view a bit and start thinking of more important things.