Saturday 21 September 2019

10 reasons why Massive Attack are one of the greatest, most influential, most unique bands in musical history

British group Massive Attack performs to a crowd of approximately 10,000 at Queens Square August 25, 2003 in Bristol, United Kingdom.
British group Massive Attack performs to a crowd of approximately 10,000 at Queens Square August 25, 2003 in Bristol, United Kingdom.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

As Massive Attack sell out their first Olympia date and announce a second (for January 20), super Massive Attack fan Darragh McManus on why they're so darn great...

Massive Attack are playing in Dublin next January – and I am disturbingly excited about this. Almost to a Bart Simpson-esque “anticipation overload” level.

For various reasons I’ve never seen them live, which is a terrible shame because they’re one of the greatest, most influential and most unique bands in musical history. Don’t believe me? Oh ye of little faith…

Their music is almost impossible to categorise or describe

Massive Attack don’t sound like anyone else. Yes, they form, or formed, part of a Bristol-based movement loosely known as trip-hop, but how exactly do you describe their sound? A mixture of rap, funk, jazz, dub reggae? Nah, that’s way too prosaic. Incredibly dense and murky, almost brutally heavy, but at the same time dreamy and feather-light, and vaguely narcotic – yeah, that’s better.

Not only that, but each album is significantly different from the last

Trace a sonic progression from Blue Lines through Protection, Mezzanine and 100th Window up to the most recent, Heligoland – and you’ll find that there really is no progression. It’s all so fluid, mutable, ever-surprising.

Pray for Rain from Heligoland:

They inspired Will Self to describe their music as sounding like you were hearing it from the inside out

With all due respect, I can’t imagine anyone saying that about Coldplay.

Like Brian Eno, Massive Attack’s music often seems – this is meant as a compliment – slightly (and deliberately) unfinished.

Which, of course, leaves space for the listener to fill in their own images, sensations, reveries. Which, I assume, is why their stuff is used so often on movie, TV and ad soundtracks.

Massive Attack have inspired at least ten separate scenes in at least four different books I’ve written.

(Don’t blame them for that, please.)

Without Massive Attack, there’d have been no Tricky, and Maxinquaye is spectacular.

They’ve also had a big influence on the likes of Unkle, Radiohead, Air, Hot Chip, the xx, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba…as someone said on the 20th anniversary re-release of Blue Lines, Massive Attack are now part of the DNA of music, particularly British.

They’ve drawn brilliant work from a dizzying array of collaborators:

Shara Nelson, Tracey Thorn, Horace Andy, Guy Garvey, Hope Sandoval, Damon Albarn, Elizabeth Fraser, Sinead O’Connor, Martina Topley-Bird and others. And it doesn’t feel forced or “ooh look at all our celebrity friends”. These collaborations serve the music, always.

Here's Special Cases with Sinead O'Connor:

They’re not from London, or any other huge city

Perhaps that’s why they’re so good, and so unusual; you get room to breathe, artistically, outside the major conurbations. (And no wonder so much of the London and Manchester-centred Britpop was so lumpen, conformist and unimaginative.) See also: Dorset’s one-of-a-kind PJ Harvey, or the mighty Suede, who may sing about London but mostly hail from small towns and villages.

Protection inspired No Protection...

...wherein the Mad Professor remixed the album, or rather deconstructed and reassembled it, with fantastic results.


Much of it sounds like a malfunctioning cyborg shuffling through some a dystopian future

(That’s a compliment too.)

They make babies kick in the womb

Swear to God – tiny embryonic music fans just love those floaty vocals and deep, deeeeep heartbeat basslines. The beats on Angel even sounded like a pulse, muffled but clearly reverberating through the amniotic sea. (Narcotic, amniotic – yeah. Maybe that’s the best description.)

Massive Attack Olympia date SOLD OUT, second date added

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