BEATING THE RAP
(Jack February 2003)
BEATING THE RAP
n an exclusive interview, Massive Attack's Robert '3D' Del Naja speaks to Stephen Dalton about the false child-porn allegations and tabloid smears that have blighted his life for two months ... and of his joy at getting back on the road with his bandmate Daddy G
MASSIVE Attack have always conjured up a dark, brooding, traumatised landscape with their exquisitely melancholy music. But the last two months proved to be the most traumatic in the pioneering Bristol band's 15-year history. The launch of their fourth studio album 100th Window coincided with career- threatening internal friction and a series of emotionally draining anti-war protests. Then, in February, came the shock tabloid revelations that the band's creative driving force, Robert '3D' Del Naja was under police investigation for child pornography and drugs offences. In Bristol, where we have mutual acquaintances, Del Naja's friends and associates swapped lurid gossip and wild conspiracy theories. But even those unimpressed by Massive Attack's music and local hero status could scarcely believe the allegations. Drugs, yes. Conventional adult porn, maybe. But child sex pictures? Nobody was convinced.
Sure enough, the porn investigation was dropped late last month. But as the band gear up to start their UK tour in Glasgow, 3D says tabloid mud has a nasty habit of sticking.
'It's probably been the worst month of my life,' a weary Del Naja admits, just off the plane from a tour of Australia and Japan, which coincided not just with the porn allegations but also the outbreak of war in Iraq. 'The most difficult month of my life. There was never any case. There was an investigation but never any charges. No-one believed it, it was ridiculous. And when they dropped the investigation the relief was for everyone around me, not me, you know? I knew there was nothing there but it was difficult for everyone in my family, my friends, my colleagues, all the people on tour with me. It was for them I was relieved because they've been through so much with me. The human cost is just horrendous.'
Del Naja's ordeal began with a raid on his Bristol home by Avon and Somerset Police on February 25, under an offshoot of Operation Ore, the national crackdown on child pornography. Questioned over allegations of drug possession and internet porn offences, he was emphatic and defiant from the start: 'I have never looked at child pornography in my life,' he insisted in a public statement. 'I would ask everyone not to judge me prematurely.'
The story was broken by The Sun, fuelling dark speculation in the music industry that Del Naja was being 'monstered' by the jingoistic tabloid for his high-profile anti-war stance. Alongside Blur's Damon Albarn, the Massive Attack frontman has campaigned prominently for CND and Stop The War, paying for huge adverts in NME and helping to fund a legal challenge to military intervention in the international courts. Del Naja is wary of conspiracy theories, but claims the collusion between the police and The Sun was both illegal and shady in motivation.
'The fact that the police went to The Sun is the most cynical part of it,' he shrugs. 'Because obviously I've been very loud, very vocal about my opinions all over the press, and there's nothing more the press like to do than knock you down. So that's where the cynicism lies.
'Rebekah Wade [The Sun's editor] said in her editorial on the day that if I was proven innocent they would print an apology, but there's been f*** all, you know? The news that it had dropped appeared on page 50 or something. It's only a story if you plead guilty, but if you're innocent it's boring for the papers. For instance, in Naples, they picked up on the story because that's where my father's from, but when the case was dropped the news didn't go back down the wire, so there's been no reporting in the same papers that there's no charges.'
Another conspiracy which circulated in Bristol was that Del Naja was shopped to the police by some shady confidant or resentful rival from the city's divided, clannish music underworld. But he shrugs this off, blaming the affair on a single 'mis appropriation' of his credit card for a three-dollar internet site in 1999. From this one event, a series of 'horrific' police interviews about child abuse and illegal pornography followed.
'What really upsets me about all this,' says Del Naja, 'is that there is terrible, institutionalised abuse in our country, in the social services and the church. Terrible sex traffic comes through London every day from Asia, from South America, from eastern Europe. These are the areas they ought to be looking at. This is just a smokescreen. It's bullshit.'
Not all the allegations were entirely baseless, however. Del Naja admits he is due to receive a caution for drug possession. 'They found some ecstasy, basically,' he says. 'It might affect whether I can go on tour to America, although I don't know if I want to go to America any more, you know? The stories I read about them taking people aside and questioning them for two hours about terrorism and shit ... I'm not sure if I even want to go there. Damon [Albarn] has just come back from Texas. He was there when war broke out and he says it's horrendous.'
But tabloid vilification and the outbreak of war have not dampened Del Naja's stance on Iraq. He brands the current news from the front line 'obscene and disgraceful', especially the distinction drawn between 'terrorist' acts by Iraqis and 'collateral damage' against innocent civilians by US or UK forces. Far from feeling powerless now that war is underway, Del Naja argues that the protest stakes are higher than ever.
'I've spoken to CND about this and I think if people make their continued feelings known, their opposition to the war, it might take Blair out of power,' he argues. 'It could charge the face of British politics. I think this war was inevitable from the moment Bush came to power.
They were going to do this anyway, regardless of what happened on September 11. But I think the protest, the fact that we all marched, will set a precedent in the future so people will know that they can't misrepresent a population that way. Britain is not a warmongering nation; it's a peace-loving nation.'
Ironically, during the first Gulf War, Massive Attack were pressured into shortening their name to avoid association with the conflict. 'It was under duress, but a convincing argument was put forward,' Del Naja shrugs. 'If people don't know who you are, you could be seen as making a pro-war statement. We went along with it, but it became apparent later it was bullshit. I even thought about dropping it again for this album, as an anti-war statement. But then I'd be buying into the whole notion that music and words and opinions are offensive, and they're not. Words aren't offensive; bombs and bullets are.'
At every show since the conflict began, Massive Attack have opened with a one-minute silence for the victims of the war on both sides. 'When we got to the first gig, I told everyone I felt really conflicted about this, and waving a flag or making a short, glib anti-war statement after the set isn't enough,' he explains. 'Its a difficult way to start a show, because it's a totally different dynamic to how we normally do it, but everyone's been fine -- 7000 people in Tokyo, absolute silence. I'm hoping the British crowd will be equally understanding, because to spend all this time pleading for peace and then go on tour during war is difficult for everyone.'
This week's Glasgow shows will open with the same sombre statement, and will also include gigantic computer screens on which locally targeted, constantly updated statistics about military spending, health and unemployment are displayed alongside e-mails sent directly to the Massive Attack website.
Another feature which may surprise Massive fans is the presence of Del Naja's fellow founding member Grant Marshall, aka Daddy G, following a fraught year in which the duo became seriously estranged. Marshall had no input into 100th Window, and there were rumours that he would stay at home with his new daughter during the tour. But as Del Naja tells it, outside conflicts seem to have united the band once more.
'It's been great,' he nods, sounding happy and relaxed for the first time . 'Me and G -- out of all this horrible stuff, one thing it has done is bring us together again. We've bonded with each other again, which is good for the future, because obviously it was getting a bit bleak out there. Being on tour together feels good, after such a long period of segregation in the studio. The friction is dealt with now, we're getting back into a space where we can enjoy each other's company in the studio. Sometimes it takes bigger things to make you see through the trivia.'