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Massive Attack is an English musical group formed in 1988 in Bristol, consisting of Robert "3D" Del Naja and Grant "Daddy G" Marshall. Their debut album Blue Lines was released in 1991, with the single "Unfinished Sympathy" reaching the charts and later being voted the 63rd greatest song of all time in a poll by NME. 1998's Mezzanine, containing "Teardrop", and 2003's 100th Window charted in the UK at number 1. Both Blue Lines and Mezzanine feature in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The group has won numerous music awards throughout their career, including a Brit Award—winning Best British Dance Act, two MTV Europe Music Awards, and two Q Awards. They have released 5 studio albums that have sold over 11 million copies worldwide.
DJs Daddy G and Andrew Vowles and graffiti artist-turned-rapper Robert Del Naja met as members of partying collective The Wild Bunch. One of the first homegrown soundsystems in the UK, The Wild Bunch became dominant on the Bristol club scene in the mid-1980s.
Massive Attack started as a spin-off production trio in 1988, with the independently released song, "Any Love", sung by falsetto-voiced singer-songwriter Carlton McCarthy, and then, with considerable backing from Neneh Cherry, they signed to Circa Records in 1990 – committing to deliver six studio albums and a "best of" compilation. Circa became a subsidiary of, and was later subsumed into, Virgin Records, which in turn was acquired by EMI. Blue Lines (1991), was co-produced by Jonny Dollar and Cameron McVey, who also became their first manager. Geoff Barrow, who went on to form Portishead, was an intern and trainee tape operator at Bristol's Coach House studio when the album was recorded. McVey (credited at the time as 'Booga Bear') and his wife, Neneh Cherry provided crucial financial support and in-kind assistance to the early careers of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky during this period, even paying regular wages to them through their Cherry Bear Organisation. Massive Attack used guest vocalists, interspersed with Del Naja and Marshall's (initially Tricky's) own sprechgesang stylings, on top of what became regarded as an essentially British creative sampling production; a trademark sound that fused down-tempo hip hop, soul, reggae and other eclectic references, musical and lyrical.
In the nineties, the trio became known for often not being able to easily get along with one another and working increasingly separately. Andy Vowles (Mushroom), who had once thought of himself as the trio's musical director, acrimoniously left Massive Attack in late 1999, after an ultimatum from the other two members to end the group immediately if he did not. Despite having taken Del Naja's side in the effective firing of Vowles and then participating in a show-of-unity webcast as a duo the following year, Grant Marshall (G) had also effectively left by 2001 in that he abandoned the studio altogether. Marshall returned to a studio role in 2005, having joined the touring line-up in 2003/4.
Any Love beginnings
Unsigned, Mushroom (Andy Vowles), Daddy G (Grant Marshall) and 3D (Robert Del Naja) put out "Any Love" as a single, co-produced by Bristol double-act Smith & Mighty.
Blue Lines and "Unfinished Sympathy"'s impact
3D co-wrote Neneh Cherry's "Manchild", which peaked at number 5 in the UK single chart. Cameron McVey and Neneh Cherry helped them to record their first LP Blue Lines, partly in their house, and the album was released in 1991 on Virgin Records.
The album used vocalists including Horace Andy and Shara Nelson, a former Wild Bunch cohort. MC's Tricky and Willie Wee, also once part of The Wild Bunch, featured, as well as Daddy G's voice on "Five Man Army". Neneh Cherry sang backing vocals on environmentalist anthem, "Hymn of the Big Wheel".
That year they released "Unfinished Sympathy" as a single, a string-arranged track at Abbey Road studio, scored by Will Malone, that went on to be voted the 10th greatest song of all time in a poll by The Guardian.
The group temporarily shortened their name to "Massive" on the advice of McVey to avoid controversy relating to the Gulf War. They went back to being "Massive Attack" for their next single, "Safe from Harm".
Protection and Melankolic
After Shara Nelson left, the band brought in Everything but the Girl's Tracey Thorn as a vocalist.
With McVey out of the picture, Massive Attack enlisted the production talents of ex-Wild Bunch Nellee Hooper to co-produce some songs on it, with Mushroom. Other tracks were co-produced by The Insects and 3D. A dub version, No Protection, was released the following year by Mad Professor. Protection won a Brit award for Best Dance Act. The other collaborators on Protection were Marius de Vries, Craig Armstrong, a Scottish classical pianist, and Tricky. Tricky's solo career was taking off at this time and he decided not to collaborate with Massive Attack after this.
1994-5 was also the period of Portishead's Dummy and Tricky's Maxinquaye albums and the term "trip hop" was coined. The media started to refer to the "Bristol scene".
In 1995, Massive Attack started a label distributed by Virgin/EMI, Melankolic, and signed Craig Armstrong and number of other artists such as Horace Andy, Alpha, Sunna, and Day One. The trio espoused a non-interference philosophy that allowed the artists to make their albums in the way they wanted.
The same year The Insects became unavailable for co-production and having parted ways with Nellee Hooper, the band were introduced to Neil Davidge, a relatively unknown producer whose main claim to fame thus far had been an association with anonymous dance-pop outfit DNA. The first track they worked on was "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game", a cover version sung by Tracey Thorn for the Batman Forever soundtrack. Initially, Davidge was brought in as engineer, but soon became producer.
The trio increasingly fractured in the lead up to the third album, Davidge having to co-produce the three producers' ideas separately. Mushroom was reported to be unhappy with the degree of the post-punk direction in which Del Naja, increasingly filling the production vacuum, was taking the band.
In 1997, the group contributed to the film soundtrack of The Jackal, recording "Superpredators (Metal Postcard)", a number containing a sample of Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Mittageisen" and "Dissolved Girl", a new song with vocals by Sarah Jay (which was later remixed for the next album).
Later that year they released a single, "Risingson", from what would be their third album, Mezzanine.
Mezzanine, Teardrop, the Vowles split and Marshall's absence
Mezzanine was Massive Attack's most commercially successful album, selling nearly 4 million copies. Angelo Bruschini became their permanent lead guitarist both in recording and live.
The lead single, after "Risingson" was "Teardrop", sung by Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser. The song was accompanied by a video directed by Walter Stern, of an animatronic singing fetus. Horace Andy was invited back to sing on three songs, including "Angel" and a track the band made for the film The Jackal, "Dissolved Girl", sung by Sara Jay, was remixed for inclusion on the record.
Mezzanine went on to win a Q Award for Best Album as well as being nominated for a Mercury Award.
Touring extensively, friction between Mushroom and the others came to a head. Mushroom was unhappy with the direction of the group, Del Naja's dominating role and having to appear on tour.
Around this time, Del Naja, with Davidge decanted into Ridge Farm studio with friends and band members of Lupine Howl (made up of former members of the band Spiritualized, including Damon Reece who went on to be Massive Attack's permanent drummer and one of two live drummers) towards a fourth Massive Attack LP, taking things even further into an experimental, psychedelic rock direction.
2001 also saw the release of Eleven Promos, a DVD of all Massive Attack's 11 music videos thus far, including "Angel", a £100,000+ promo
Del Naja's 100th Window, Marshall's return and Collected
With Daddy G temporarily no longer involved in the studio, Davidge and Del Naja steered "LP4" on their own. Enlisting the vocals of Sinéad O'Connor and Horace Andy, 100th Window was mastered in August 2002 and released in February 2003.
Featuring no samples or cover versions, 100th Window was not as critically well received in Britain as the other records, although the album received a warmer reception internationally; scoring a 75 out of 100 on review aggregation site Metacritic. The group also collaborated with Mos Def on the track "I Against I", which appeared on the "Special Cases" single and the soundtrack for Blade II. "I Against I" is also notable as the only track from the 100th Window sessions that features a writing credit from Daddy G.
Also in 2003, Del Naja was arrested on child porn allegations, which were reported widely in the media. Del Naja was soon eliminated as a suspect (although he was charged with ecstasy possession and unable to get a US visa for a while) with Daddy G and fans proffering their support. The arrest affected the beginning of the 100th Window tour schedule.
Despite the difficulties of 2003, 100th Window sold over a million copies and was toured extensively (including Queen Square, Bristol – a one-off sell out concert set up in the city centre park, which was seen as a homecoming).
Afterwards, Del Naja and Davidge agreed to an offer from director Louis Leterrier, to score the entire soundtrack for Danny The Dog, starring Jet Li. Dot Allison, who had sung with the band on the 100th Window tour, sang the end titles track, "Aftersun". Davidge also scored the soundtrack for the Bullet Boy film, with Del Naja on the end titles.
In 2005, Daddy G started coming into the studio, although little came of the material. He decided to instead work with a production duo, Robot Club, in another studio, feeling that he would be more free to develop tracks in the way he wanted. Meanwhile, Del Naja and Davidge recorded with a number of different singers as well as creating a track named "Twilight", for UNKLE's War Stories album. Later that year, Massive Attack decided to release their contractually obliged compilation album Collected in 2006. They released it with a second disc, made up of previously released non-album songs and unreleased sketches.
"Weather Underground" / Heligoland era
In 2007, Del Naja and Davidge scored three soundtracks, In Prison My Whole Life (which featured a track called "Calling Mumia" with vocals by American rapper Snoop Dogg), Battle in Seattle and Trouble the Water.
In February 2007, Massive Attack hosted a charity benefit for the Hoping Foundation, a charity for Palestinian children, cementing their reputation as one of Britain's politically engaged bands. In 2008, it was announced that Massive Attack were to curate the UK's Southbank Meltdown, a week-long event. It was suggested in interviews that this event would inspire Massive Attack back into action, having spent several years drifting towards the completion of their fifth studio album.
Later that year, Del Naja and Daddy G headed to Damon Albarn's studios for some writing and jamming. Around this time, Davidge scored the soundtrack for a Paul McGuigan film, Push and in December, Del Naja completed the score for 44 Inch Chest with The Insects and Angelo Badalamenti.
Davidge and Del Naja got back together in 2009 with Daddy G to finish the fifth album, incorporating bits of the Albarn material. Later it was announced that the band were to headline the 2009 Bestival festival and soon after that they were to tour the UK and Europe, In May, Robert Del Naja's instrumental "Herculaneum", featured in the film Gomorra, won an Italian award for Best Song. Later that month, Del Naja and Marshall picked up a special Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.
On 29 May Jonny Dollar died of cancer aged 45, survived by his wife and 4 children. Dollar was the programmer and hands-on producer behind Blue Lines, writing some of the melodies that were the basis for the string arrangements "Unfinished Sympathy".
On 25 August their new EP, Splitting the Atom, was announced. The other new tracks on the EP were revealed to be Tunde Adebimpe's "Pray For Rain", Martina Topley-Bird's "Psyche" and Guy Garvey's "Bulletproof Love". The latter two tracks appear as remixes of the intended album versions and none of "LP5"'s tracks are expected to resemble the versions that were played on the previous tour, with some songs, such as "Dobro", dropped altogether.
"LP5" was finished on 12 November 2009, and it was called Heligoland, after the German archipelago of Heligoland. Del Naja said "I think it's got definitely a more organic feel". The opening track, "Pray For Rain" featured guest vocals of TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Damon Albarn and Hope Sandoval all check in for a song or two.
Robert Del Naja told the New Statesman of his decision not to tour in Israel, due to the continuing Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.
An Atlas Air EP was announced for 1 November as a vinyl/digital only release in aid of Warchild, also featuring the Heligoland leftover track, RedLight, plus a remix by Warp artist, Clark.
Del Naja said in October, to the Spinner website, that his plans were now for "unorthodox" release of several EPs in 2011, rather than an album.
On 10 October 2011, a limited 12" was announced, called "Four Walls / Paradise Circus". The record contains a long awaited collaboration with Burial, as well as his remix of "Paradise Circus". The record is limited to 1000 copies.
The song "Paradise Circus" is used during the opening credits of BBC series Luther, and during the ending scene of the 6th episode of the second season 2 of Revenge, whilst the song has also been remixed by several prominent artists, such as Canadian electronic music duo Zeds Dead.
On 11 December 2011, their song "Splitting The Atom" premièred as the theme song on Luck, an HBO television series starring Dustin Hoffman.
New album and the return of Tricky
In a 2013 interview for his first solo art show since 2008, Del Naja confirmed that not only was a new Massive Attack album in the works, but that rumors of a reunion with Tricky were indeed true. Tricky hasn't been featured on a Massive Attack album since 1994's Protection.
'The idea is to put a record out next year,' he says. 'We actually get on really well at the moment because we don't spend time in the studio together,' he says with a wry grin. 'Me and Tricky wrote some new tracks in Paris last year, which haven't seen the light of day yet – but that was fun. They should be on the next album.'
— Robert Del Naja, Metro, 23 May 2013
On 5 February 2014, it was confirmed that Massive Attack would headline at Secret Solstice, a new music festival in Reykjavík on 20 June through 22 June.
Some of their most noted songs have been without choruses and have featured dramatically atmospheric dynamics, conveyed through either distorted guitar crescendos, lavish orchestral arrangements or prominent, looped/shifting basslines, underpinned by high and exacting production values, involving sometimes copious digital editing and mixing. The pace of their music has often been slower than prevalent British dance music at the time. These and other psychedelic, soundtrack-like and DJist sonic techniques, formed a much-emulated style journalists began to dub "trip hop" from the mid-nineties onwards, though in an interview in 2006, G said, "We used to hate that terminology [trip-hop] so bad,' laughs. 'You know, as far we were concerned, Massive Attack music was unique, so to put it in a box was to pigeonhole it and to say, "Right, we know where you guys are coming from."
'Fire Sale' exhibition
Del Naja's solo art show was held at the Lazarides gallery in central London, UK from 24 May to 22 June 2013. The show's content spanned a period of over twenty years and featured many of the art pieces that Del Naja created for Massive Attack. Each piece, reinterpreted especially for the exhibition, was hand-printed and finished. The show also featured three one-off 'digital infinity mirrors', two of which contained phrases supplied by Reprieve that were extracted from drone pilot dialogues. Del Naja performed as a DJ during the opening night on 23 May.
Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis
Del Naja conceived and designed an eight-night festival with filmmaker Adam Curtis—in collaboration with UVA (United Visual Artists)— that premiered in Manchester, UK in July 2013. The festival featured Curtis's film, unofficially titled The Plan, which was projected on a huge screen surrounding the audience, while music from Massive Attack was interweaved throughout the film. Del Naja, who orchestrated the film's soundtrack, described the experience as a "collective hallucination" and the film was also shown at the Manchester Festival in July 2013. The show was performed at the Ruhr International Festival in Germany in August and the Park Avenue Armory in New York City in September
Activism and politics
Del Naja has been critical of the government policies of the United Kingdom. He was strongly opposed to the 2003 war against Iraq, and with fellow musician Damon Albarn personally paid for full page adverts in the NME magazine.
In 2005 Del Naja organised and performed at a charity concert in Bristol for Tsunami Relief with Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow of Portishead. The two-night event featured Massive Attack, Portishead, Robert Plant, The Coral and Damon Albarn. Del Naja and Marshall performed three shows in 2005 in support of Hoping, an organisation that helps raise money, support projects for Palestinian youth in refugee camps in the occupied territories, Lebanon and Syria.
Del Naja, musicians Damon Albarn and Brian Eno, and United Visual Artists contributed to a demonstration against the renewal of the UK Trident programme that was held aboard the Arctic Sunrise on the River Thames in 2007.
In 2008, Massive Attack curated the annual Meltdown festival on London's south bank. During the two weeks of live performance, cinema and art, they worked with human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and his Reprieve organisation which uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners.
In 2010, the video for shot by Oliver Chanarin and Adam Bloomberg for the song "Saturday come slow", featuring Damon Albarn, drew attention to the use of music in torture. In 2010, Massive Attack donated the income from a Lincoln car commercial to the clean up campaign after the BP oil spill disaster.
Massive Attack donated all proceeds from their 2010 EP Atlas Air this week for War Child, a charity the band previously supported when they contributed to the HELP album.
Del Naja supports the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and his band will not perform in Israel, a stance Del Naja qualifies as being "not an action of aggression towards the Israeli people" but "towards the [Israeli] government and its policies", arguing that "the Palestinians [in Israel] have no access to the same fundamental benefits that the Israelis do."
Del Naja and Thom Yorke of Radiohead threw an unofficial party at the occupied UBS building in the city of London in December 2011, in support for the international Occupy movement.
On 14 November 2012, on the eve of the Bristol Mayor election the band caused some surprise by endorsing independent millionaire and former LibDem George Ferguson, citing the need for a mayor who would help facilitate creative projects to the city, and wasn't simply following a party political agenda. Previously, Del Naja had openly criticised Ferguson for being a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, an organisation dating back to the 16th century which had many connections with the Bristol slave trade.