Return Of The Tokyo
Curse (Word October 2003)
FUJI FESTIVAL July 25 - 27 NAEBA, JAPAN
Last time Massive Attack
played the Fuji Festival, they were only ones not airlifted to safety. This time
there^s other problems - the still-smouldering feud between their hard-living
frontmen and the porn charge that practically sunk the ship.
GOT cocaine, a little bit of MDMA powder, three-quarters of a bottle ofJack Daniel's
and the contents of the mini bar." Robert Del Naja, Massive Attacks indomitable
front man is taking stock, laying the carefully horded contents of a battered
record bag onto the table of his Tokyo hotel suite as if he does this every morning
at 6am. "That ought to see us through." Dividing the small quantities
of class As into equal sized party piles he takes a good long lick at the MDMA
and pours himself another JD and coke. 'And someone get some porn. I'm not having
you lot pass out and leave me on my own."
Ten hours previously
Del Naja - aka 3D, but usually just D - had publicly sworn off rock and roll's
most infamous elixir for being "too dark, too sticky and too dangerous",
but that was before a four-hour bus journey back from the Mount Fuji rock festival
dissolved into an open season of sake and vodka cocktails. And D likes a drink.
But while the rest of Massive Attack have slipped off gratefully to their beds
to recover from last night's show stopping performance, D still isn't ready to
call it a day. Maybe it's the residual adrenalin of a gig well done but, to be
honest, he's been like this since we met 72 hours ago.
On the floor of the
hotel room a selection of road crew and hangers-on loll pathetically around, more
than a little worse for wear. One has fallen asleep where he sits and is snoring
insistently, his head rolling limply around his shoulders like something from
The Exorcist. Then suddenly, as if driven by some primordial instinct, or perhaps
just responding to D's demands for pornography, the roadie wakes up and grabs
the nearest available girl before collapsing back to the floor, snogging loudly.
D steps over the writhing couple and hands me a rolled up 1,000 Yen note. "If
you're not drinking, take some drugs," he orders. I weakly protest that I
have to leave for the airport and my flight home. "Bollocks," D insists.
"Change your flight. You're on Massive Attack time now. No-one's going anywhere."
But we're getting ahead
of ourselves here. When I arrived in Tokyo two days ago to travel with Massive
Attack to Japan's biggest open-air music event, we found a much less lively band
sitting around the hotel bar, jetlagged and grumpy after a four day break from
the punishing international schedule of their first tour in four years. Then,
the Bristol-based inventors of trip hop had been glued to their bar stools with
an inertia born of sheer boredom. "Is it really worth corning all the way
out here for one gig to prove we're still big in Japan?" D's creative partner
and long time musical adversary, Grant 'Daddy G' Marshall, had grumbled as he
slipped away for a medicinal spliff. Quite how we've managed to descend to the
seventh level of tour hell so quickly is anyone's guess.
"BEER BEFORE WINE,
you'll feel fine. Wine before beer, have no fear, drink more wine to return to
fine." D raps the personal mantra wearily, as he decants himself another
glass of red and examines the menu in the only Tokyo noodlebar that will agree
to serve us after iopm on a Friday night. The recipe seems to be doing the trick.
Now braced against the trans-Pacific jetlag by a couple of bottles of Japanese
plonk, D is rolling like a wagon train. He raises his glass in a toast. "Here's
hoping we actually get to play the Mount Fuji festival tomorrow," he says.
"Last time we tried there was a fucking typhoon."
Few would describe D as a pessimist, but on any yardstick the diminutive leader
of the Radiohead of dance music has reason enough to see his cup half-empty after
this past year. Back in February they were still widely celebrated as the trail-blazers
for a new wave of R&B-infused British chill-out that included Morcheeba, Portishcad
and even So Solid Crew, but Massive Attack's fourth studio album, 100th Window,
was released to the first muted reviews of the band's career. Effectively a solo
project after tensions in the studio led Grant 'Daddy G' Marshall to walk out
during the early sessions, to most observers it seemed the volatile Bristol mood
unit, famed for their internal squabbles and inability to conduct a band interview
from the same room had finally collapsed under the weight of their own spectacular
musical differences. Then just as things could hardly get worse, The Sun announced
that D had been arrested as part of Operation Ore in a sweep against internet
child pornography. As is usual in such cases, police swooped on D's Bristol home,
removing every shred of digital memory that he possessed, only to return it three
months later with only a $3 credit card bill from a fairly innocuous porn site
to show for their troubles. The story broke just as the band was packing to go
on tour and by the time the eventual retractions and apologies appeared, the damage
had been done.
Even without the tribulations
of the past year, Japan has always been the bad penny in Massive Attack's international
revenue stream. Back in 1986 when D and G first paid an ill-starred visit to Tokyo
in their pre-Massive Attack incarnation as The Wild Bunch, D ended up getting
fired from the band after a breakdown induced by a diet of pizza and complimentary
party canapes convinced him to run away back to Bristol to earn an honest living
washing pots, leaving only a note to his bandmates attached to the fridge by way
Then in 1998, in an
inspired moment of natural pathetic fallacy, came the Mount Fuji tvphoon. As the
festival was cancelled and legions of refugees were airlifted to safety, Massive
Attack were left stranded for two days I in a deserted hotel with only the apocalyptic
ramblings of fellow inmate Lee 'Scratch' Perry to distract them from their own
stormy dysfunction. By the time they were rescued, they'd been reduced to shooting
it out among themselves with an artillery of soft pellet machine guns. Core member
and beats architect, Andrew 'Mushroom' Vowles, never really recovered from the
ordeal and when they returned to England he quit the band and disappeared off
Tonight however there
is no sign of discord between Massive Attack's pugilistic front men. Unless you
knew better it would be impossible to guess they hadn't spoken for nearly two
years prior to this tour. Surrounded by long-term floating members like reggae
legend I loracc Andy, Debbie Miller and Dot Allison, the tensions and musical
rivalries which define Massive Attack's studio career are temporarily subsumed
by the daily rituals of long haul travel, most of which come in liquid form. "That's
the thing about being on tour," D tells me in mock despair. "No matter
what time zone you're in, it's always time for a drink."
D, guitarist Angelo
Buschini and violinist LucyWilkins have formed a daily Lunch Club for the express
purpose of getting as drunk as humanly possible in the best restaurants of Europe.
Their crowning moment came at a poolsidc restaurant in Cannes where a damp and
dishevelled Buschini passed out dressed only in a white bath robe. This evening,
the time zone-challenged Lunch Club make short work of our noodle bar, covering
the table first in red wine and then, following a G-inspired attempt to repair
the damage, salt. As we leave, giggling and bowing clumsy apologies to the ever-polite
waiting staff, D grins at me and says "Well that's the jet lag dealt with.
Now let's get drunk."
Four hours later in
the hotel bar D has added vodka, Jack Daniels and Caipirinha's to the list of
drinks that 'you'll be fine' on if you drink wine afterwards and is idly chatting
up a photographer. The rest of the Lunch Club has dissolved into drunken conspiracy
theorising about D's arrest and the insidious spread of internet surveillance.
Among the Massive Attack family it's a given that D was set up because of the
public anti-war stance he took with Damon Albarn, but, like all good conspiracies
the exact details remain muddy. Especially at 3am. In just under 17 hours all
of these people will be walking out in front of 40,000 Japanese festival-goers
to close the country's biggest annual music event. "You know I wish we could
knock the booze on the head sometimes," G confides. "It does affect
us. But on tour," he shrugs, "what can you do?"
NEXT MORNING D AND G finally emerge together around midday in far better shape
than either has any right to. G turned in relatively early, but the party finally
broke up around four, and D swears there were still people in his room when he
passed out. He's just not sure who. We partake of D's patented hangover cure (two
cold beers and a banana) and are about to head off for the three hour drive to
Mount Fuji when Macy Gray's band turn up in the foyer. There's a brief exchange
about how "the rain was coming
down in sheets" and D and G exchange weary looks. The 'Tokyo Curse' is hanging
heavy in the air.
We arrive at Niigata
just as the sun is starting to dip behind the mountain and the festival site is
bathed in a soft mist, punctuated by the sparks of a thousand paper lanterns that
mark the perimeter of the five main fields. In the changing-rooms behind the main
stage Elvis Costello is quietly waiting to go on, and the backstage area is cleared
so he can take the stage undisturbed by Massive Attack's stage crew who are bitching
about their ambitious 60-foot LED stage show. The equipment alone requires three
container trucks to transport it round the world and the constant maintenance
required to keep the system streaming live internet feed and emails to the crowd,
in real time and local language, has kept its operator, Chris, up for the last
Amazingly, the previous
day's rain has passed and in the last of the evening sun, groups of roadies stand
smoking and moaning about the food. If the back stage scuttlebutt is to be believed
Coldplay have antagonised everyone by picking a fight with The Orb, Iggy Pop disappointed
everyone by going to bed early and the only place to buy drugs on site is from
a mad Dutchman locked in the onsite ski hotel's Room i oi with a medicine cabinet
that would make Keith Richards wince.
Front of stage, Mount
Fuji resembles Glastonbury in the same way that sake resembles white wine. For
one thing it's so clean, crowd included, all of whom appear to have spent the
last 48 hours somehow levitating above the mud in their spotless white trainers.
Bins have been divided in separate sections for plastics, paper and food and nowhere
has the system shown any sign of breaking down. Despite barely bothering with
a perimeter fence, everyone sports their visitor's pass with pride and when someone
drops their chicken and rice onto one of the designated roadways, I watch in astonishment
as complete strangers stop to help them clear up the mess.
Over in the unambiguously
named Love Field, The Thrills provide the perfect accompaniment for a shiatsu
massage or a plate of spam wasaabi. While the crowd take time out to boost their
mobiles at the banks of coin operated phone chargers, in the nearby dance tent,
The Orb have attracted a huge crowd of pristine club heads, keen to show off their
manoeuvres in a sea of precision, Sega-inspired line dancing rarely seen outside
Leicester Square's Trocadcro.
As Costello s electric
set ends to ripples of polite Japanese applause I head backstage to catch up with
the band before they finally go on. By now the changing-rooms are deserted and
G is sitting alone, rolling a stream of endless bitters while, endearingly, trying
to cover the heavy skunk scent under a cloud of joss stick smoke. D has disappeared
off in search of the mythical Room 101, so we sit down to chat about G's decision
to quit Massive Attack.
When G walked out of
the sessions for moth Window 18 months ago it was by no means certain that he
would be coming back for this tour. At the time, the official line was he had
taken a sabbatical for the birth of his daughter, Ava. But in reality G had just
D and I weren't getting
on that well, musically or personally So I just decided to walk out," he
admits now. "I never really had it in my mind that I would leave the band
for good, but it's reallv hard working with D sometimes. He's so headstrong and
has to have things his own way That can build confrontation. He likes to have
total control of everything he docs."
100th Window is just
a Massive Attack album made 3D," he says, diplomatically. "It has a
Massive Attack feel, but I think it's an album that sounds the way D thinks Massive
Attack should sound. Maybe if I was involved it would sound quite different. You
know, I haven't been in the studio for a year and a half. It will be interesting
when we go back in to find out if our differences were creative or personality-based.
I am quite nervous about it."
Tonight he will only
perform on three tracks during the whole 90-minute set and with his absence from
100th Window he now appears on fewer Massive Attack albums than Horace Andy. What
he'd really like to do, he says, is record a great reggae album. If that's the
case, I tell him, it seems an odd decision to leave his new family at home, to
put himself through the inevitable hangovers, jet lag and perennial rows that
go with another Massive Attack tour. Mount Fuji is, after all, an awfully long
way to come just to perform biarmacoma.
G pushes his glasses back up onto his head and looks at me with barely disguised
exasperation like I really haven't understood anything I've seen over the last
"When the charges were brought against D, it brought us back together in
a way that music wouldn't have." I Ie tells me softly. "I've known D
for 20 years and 1 love him. icoth Window is the stupidest thing we have ever
fallen out over but friendship always prevails at the end of the day. This has
been a reallv terrible year for D, I just couldn't turn my back on him. 1 wanted
to be around to help him out. Now, no more questions. I want to get stoned."
And having said this he fires up another joss stick. "And when you're talking
to D," he adds darkly, "remind him that he owes all this to me. If it
wasn't for me convincing the Wild Bunch to take him back after he ditched us in
Tokyo, none of this would be happening."
LATER, D RETURNS GRINNING like a Cheshire cat and chatting aimlessly to a posse
of tour buddies and dealers who have joined the backstage entourage. The subject
quickly turns to porn as Chris the roadie has procured a new DVD called Straight
To The A. Despite his troubles, D remains unrepentant about his appetite for the
stuff. One of his proudest claims to fame is that he recorded the soundtrack to
Liam Hewlett's Uranus Experiment in 1999 which boasts the world's first zero gravity
"Being accused of something vou haven't done, when it's up therewith rape
and murder as a social taboo, was awful." He says now, still angry. "
I was suddenly living in a Kafka novel. I went back to the police station and
asked why they leaked the story They denied it of course, but I'm sure it was
them. Everyone looks at porn these days. You can't avoid it. It turns up in your
inbox every morning and has become part of our daily lives. Besides, when you're
in the studio at three in the morning it's a laugh. Amazingly though, if they
were trying to discredit me they failed. People from my past have gone out of
their way to get in touch and let me know they didn't believe it. People were
coming up to me in pubs. And the gigs have been the same. Fucking amazing, over
the world. It was a big deal to me, but no-one else cared. Every night we are
printing emails being sent in to us at the show and we haven't had to censor a
Back behind the main stage it's five minutes to showtime and D and G arc completing
their pro-stage rituals (another last beer for D and a final bifter for G). Neither
looks even remotely like a rock star as they fit their eaq')icccs and take a last
look over the crowd from the wings. G hasn't even bothered to change his clothes
since yesterday. Even so, when they amble onto the stage, the roar from the crowd
suddenly transforms both into the epitome of swaggering cool. It's amazing how
much better they look at a distance. By the time they reach the encore the polite
applause has been replaced with ecstatic screaming and pogoing. A few even throw
their towels at the stage. As the band walk off, the mountainside still ringing,
D grabs a beer and asks innocently "was that alright?" and it falls
to oldest band member and reggae falsetto Horace Andy to reassure that it was.
The bus ride back to Tokyo soon becomes a long and drunken affair with regular
roadside stops built in for fresh supplies. The constant consumption has made
I) bolshy and you wonder if he ever thinks that booze may have had anything to
do with the band's inner tensions.
"I used to think that staying up all night, boozing was away of stealing
time to do more." I Ie says. "Now I realise that it just makes you go
back over stuff you've already done. But, yes, I am an alcoholic. But a very functional
one. We got here didn't we?"
That's when I remind him that he owes all this to G for getting him rehired in
'86. D laughs and glances affectionately at his snoozing band-mate. "That
may be true," he concedes, "but I got to bring him back this time. And
for once nothing went wrong." •
By STEVE HOBBS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY OLIVIA HEMINGWAY