CULTURE

The band that redefined pop music returns

It has been quite a while since they generated any news, and three years since their last performance here, but the pioneering act which spearheaded the trip-hop scene – as the British band’s style was dubbed in the early 90s – is preparing for two shows in Greece later this week. The band struck instant success with 1991’s debut album «Blue Lines» and, since then, they have never faltered. Their unwaning popularity has developed into something of a paradox, considering Massive Attack’s apparent disinterest in musical formulas and love of undecipherable lyrics – a never-ending game of words. Even so, Hollywood producers are often at the band’s heels for soundtrack contributions. «Dissolved Girl» was used for «Matrix» as well as «The Jackal.» «Inertia Creeps» is heard on «Stigmata,» and «Angel» on «Snatch.» That’s quite an accomplishment for a band of extremely humble roots. Massive Attack’s founding trio – one member has since departed – were raised in a strictly working-class environment where dignity had become a luxury item. Rewinding to their roots, Massive Attack’s embryonic years date back to the early 80s in Bristol. At the time, 15-year-old Andrew Vowles was nicknamed «Mushroom,» because of his job at a pizza parlor. Grant Marshall worked a daytime job at a local record store and DJ’d at night as Daddy G. Robert del Naja, who liked to spray graffiti – he was once charged with damaging private property – and attended subsidized seminars for the unemployed. Amid all this, the trio, victims of social exclusion, formed a soundsystem, or group of DJs, which they called Wild Bunch. Fortunately for the three youngsters, Bristol then ranked as the UK’s most multicultural city. While punk and new wave were the most popular styles elsewhere in the country, dance-oriented styles such as extreme forms of funk, or reggae, a favorite at local pubs, dominated Bristol’s airwaves. Wild Bunch developed into Massive Attack, and other local budding acts such as Portishead, Tricky and Morcheeba began hanging around the prospectively fertile scene. By the early 90s, the British music press began talking of a Bristol circuit. Massive Attack weren’t musicians in the conventional sense, but managed to produce an interesting musical hybrid containing elements like dub and reggae, as well as dashes of dark new wave and hip hop. As long as the music technology of the time was used innovatively, music-making was possible without instrumental dexterity. When the aspiring Bristol trio remixed the song «Mustt Mustt» by the celebrated Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Coca-Cola bought the song and used it for one of its ads. Massive Attack proved to be masters of instrumentation and surprise when selecting collaborators. Their song «Weather Storm» is based on a theme by Debussy, played on piano by DJ Craig Armstrong. The Bristol trio brought back neglected reggae singer Horace Andy and put him up as one of the group’s main singers. They picked some of the indie scene’s best female vocalists, such as Shara Nelson and Tracey Thorn, whose group Everything but the Girl was not doing too well – Elizabeth Fraser of the forgotten Cocteau Twins, and the eccentric Sinead O’Connor. The band’s second album, 1995’s «Protection,» reached No. 4 on the UK charts, while the following two, 1998’s «Mezzanine» and 2003’s «100th Window,» both topped the charts. The success, however, has not been unblemished. Co-founders Mushroom and Daddy G both distanced themselves from the band. Del Naja has carried on with permanent collaborator Neil Davidge for support in arrangements. During the first Gulf War, the band cut its name to Massive until the campaign’s end. Del Naja became closely affiliated with the anti-war movement following the invasion of Iraq. Fans that attended the group’s previous performance in Athens three years ago will surely remember the anti-war messages – translated in Greek – on a giant screen as a stage backdrop. Massive Attack are not an everyday act. They have definite opinions about world affairs. The band is set to release a new album, «Weather Underground,» a tribute to the radical left organization in the US in the 60s. Besides more success, Del Naja and friends can expect to have to visit Scotland Yard. Thursday, International Exhibition Center, Thessaloniki; Friday, Karaiskaki Stadium Neo Faliron, Athens. (Tickets 35-40 euros.)