Massive Attack

Massive Attack

Massive Attack

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Massive Attack
Origin Bristol, United Kingdom
Genres Electronica
Trip hop
Years active 1988present
Labels Virgin / EMI
Associated acts The Wild Bunch
Neneh Cherry
Robert "3D" Del Naja ("D")
Grant "Daddy G" Marshall ("G")
Former members
Andy "Mushroom" Vowles ("Mush")
Notable instruments
Bass, drums, guitars, strings, synths, samplers

Massive Attack are a collaborative British music production duo from Bristol. Working alongside co-producers, various favoured session musicians and guest vocalists, they make records and tour live. The duo are considered to be progenitors of the trip hop genre.

Originally three in number, DJs Grantley "Grant" Marshall (a.k.a. Daddy G or "G"), Andrew "Andy" Vowles (a.k.a. Mushroom or "Mush") and graffiti artist-turned-MC Robert Del Naja (a.k.a. 3D or "D") met as members of DJ/MC collective, The Wild Bunch. One of the first homegrown soundsystems in the UK, The Wild Bunch became dominant on the Bristolian club scene in the mid-1980s.[1]

Massive Attack itself started as a spin-off production trio in 1988, with the independently-released song, "Any Love", sung by falsetto-voiced singer-songwriter Carlton McCarthy[2], and then, with considerable backing from Neneh Cherry, they signed to Circa Records[3] in 1990 committing to deliver six studio albums and a "best of" compilation[4]. Circa became a subsidiary of, and was later subsumed into, Virgin Records, which in turn was acquired by the now Terra Firma-owned major, EMI.[1][5]


Massive Attack's style is often thought of as being experimental. The duo have talked of their ethos as being to have a very different creative approach to each album and to "avoid the obvious". Some of their most noted songs have been without choruses and have featured dramatically atmospheric dynamics, conveyed through either epic distorted guitar crescendos, lavish orchestral arrangements (like swelling, sustained strings or flourishes of grand piano) or prominent, looped/shifting basslines, often underpinned by high and exacting production values, involving sometimes copious digital editing and mixing.[5] 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,[6] 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."'"[7]

Career summary

Their debut album, Blue Lines (1991), was co-produced by Jonny Dollar and Cameron McVey, who also became their first manager.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] Massive Attack went on to critical acclaim for their ever-changing line-up of distinctive, often 'ethereal' or whispery guest vocalists, interspersed with Del Naja and Marshall's (initially Tricky's) own, similarly hushed, sprechgesang stylings, on top of, what became regarded as, quintessentially British, creative sampling production; a trademark sound that fused down-tempo hip hop, soul, reggae and other eclectic references, musical and lyrical.[1]

With the coffee-table chill-out of Protection in 1994, a rather heavier, guitar-upgraded Mezzanine in 1998, and then the denser, more clinical soundscaping of Robert Del Naja's essentially solo 100th Window in 2003, Massive's overall sound grew persistently more experimental and melancholy, having a greater degree of gothic post-punk texture and moodily cinematic electronica integrated into it.

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, reluctantly and acrimoniously left Massive Attack permanently 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 Mushroom (who, it was felt, had become intolerable and virtually impossible to work with) 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 due to feeling unappreciated and alienated by Del Naja (who in turn had grown resentful of what he felt to be Marshall's overly minimal and unenthusiastic involvement) and out of weary reluctance to confront Del Naja over his own misgivings with regard to the total musical control of Massive Attack he had by the post-Mezzanine-era, particularly the quality of songwriting and the eschewing of any sort of DJist approach at that stage (the substantial and costly "Lupine Howl period" in question would end up being painfully discarded). Marshall's departure was often ostensibly portrayed as merely a fatherhood sabbatical, perhaps to play down tensions. However, G returned to a studio role with greater commitment in 2005, having joined the touring line-up of 2003/4 (following encouragement from Del Naja that he return),[11] though he did not produce "Live With Me", with Terry Callier, the new track from the Best Of disc of 2006's Collected or any other material at that time, having not felt unencumbered enough at Del Naja's 100 Suns studio, and would insist on initiating tracks separately thereafter.

The two would later work jointly once again during 2009's Damon Albarn sessions which would provide most of the impetus to finally start and finish the fifth proper studio album; that and the availability and willingness of Martina Topley-Bird to finally be involved.

A record label, Melankolic, was started in 1995 as an imprint of Virgin [EMI], but had become defunct by 2003, primarily because the newly appointed Virgin executives at that time stopped further funding due to the label's seemingly unmanageable overspending, or rather that of its bands. Over the decades, the group have collaborated with Neneh Cherry, Madonna, David Bowie, Mos Def and Sinéad O'Connor amongst many others. Despite the group's many associations with Bristol, Carlton McCarthy, their first ever featured artist, is the only Bristolian-born and raised guest singer that they have ever featured on a record to date. Roots reggae veteran Horace Andy has featured on all of their regular studio albums, each one being slower to emerge than the last; notoriously taking an increasingly long number of years to be concertedly started and finished.

The current, long-awaited regular studio album is entitled Heligoland. The duo's collective plan to tour globally in promotion of the record - dates in Australasia, the Americas and again in Europe. A follow-up EP comprising leftovers from the Heligoland-era is to be started soon, with May, June or July 2010 as the tentative release window given.


1988-1989: Any Love beginnings

Unsigned, Mushroom (Andy Vowles), Daddy G (Grant Marshall) and 3D (Robert Del Naja) put out "Any Love" as a single,[12] co-produced by Bristolian double-act Smith & Mighty. Through The Wild Bunch they met Cameron McVey and Neneh Cherry.

1990-1992: Blue Lines and Unfinished Sympathy's impact

Main article: Blue Lines

3D co-wrote Neneh Cherry's "Manchild",[13] which went to number one. 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.[14]

The album was critically acclaimed across the board. It encompassed a range of different vocalists, normal practice for an eclectic soundsystem but quite unusual for a high-profile album at that time. The singers included Horace Andy as well as 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".[14]

That year they released "Unfinished Sympathy" as a single (a pun on Unfinished Symphony), a grandiosely string-arranged track at Abbey Road studio, scored by Will Malone,[15] that would go on to be voted the 10th greatest of all time,[16] with a one-take video that also became iconic and much-imitated.

The group temporarily shortened their name to "Massive" on the advice of McVey to avoid controversy relating to the Gulf War.[17] They went back to being "Massive Attack" for their next single, "Safe from Harm".

They undertook a relatively brief tour, including the United States, as a DJs and MCs, hip hop-type setup, with only turntables and microphones. The tour was not particularly well-received, spurring the decision to make Massive Attack into a more traditional live entity for the following tour.[18]

1993-1996: Protection and the Melankolic label

Main article: Protection (album)

After falling out with Shara Nelson over wages and her decision to make a solo record, the band brought in Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn as a new vocalist.[1] Cameron McVey abandoned his role as Massive Attack's manager and Daddy G asked Marc Picken to represent the band.[19] Picken found Nicolette to be the other female vocalist on the album that would become their second studio release, Protection.

With McVey out of the picture, Massive, returning to their roots in some respects, enlisted the production talents of Wild Bunch alumnus, Nellee Hooper to co-produce the record, or rather co-produce some songs on it, with Mushroom. Other tracks were co-produced by The Insects and 3D.

The album was successful. A dub version, No Protection, was released the following year by Mad Professor. Protection won a Brit award for Best Dance Act[20] and 3D joked, on receiving it, that none of them could dance. It was more chilled out and overtly electronic than Blue Lines and ends with a lighthearted cover of The Doors song "Light My Fire", sung by Horace Andy, often thought of now as an ill-chosen reference to their live soundsystem past. The other collaborators on Protection were Marius de Vries, Craig Armstrong,[11] a virtuoso Scottish classical pianist and Tricky. Tricky's solo career was taking off at this time and he decided not to collaborate with Massive Attack anymore after this, having never been very happy with Massive Attack's creative direction or in his relationships with Del Naja and Daddy G.[1]

1994-5 was also the period of Portishead's Dummy and Tricky's Maxinquaye albums and the term, "trip hop" was coined.[21] Massive Attack bitterly opposed its use, wanting to not be pigeonholed. The media started to refer to the "Bristol scene",[22] although this would be spurious to some extent as Tricky based himself in London (and later in the United States) and there was not a great deal of camaraderie between the three entities (although they could be related in that the protagonists were all connected to Blue Lines studio sessions and their wages being initially paid by Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey's "Cherry Bear Organisation").

In 1995, Massive Attack started a label under EMI, Melankolic, a reference to their interest in elegiac music, and signed Craig Armstrong, as well as a number of other artists: 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.[23]

The same year The Insects became unavailable for co-production and having parted ways with Nellee Hooper, the band were introduced to Neil Davidge,[24] 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 de facto 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.[24]

In 1997, the group contributed to the movie soundtrack of The Jackal, recording "Superpredators (Metal Postcard)", a number containing a sample of Siouxsie and the Banshees[25] and "Dissolved Girl", a new song with vocals by Sarah Jay (which would later be remixed in a longer, darker form for the next album).

Later that year they delivered a comeback single, "Risingson", from what would be their third album, Mezzanine.[26]

1997-2001: Mezzanine, the split from Vowles and Marshall's absence

Main article: Mezzanine (album)

Mezzanine was darker, heavier sounding and more guitar-driven, the album came out initially to rather mixed reviews and a perception that it was not a commercial record, although it went on to be their most commercially successful. The record marked Massive Attack becoming a live band and incorporated more fresh, recorded live music as well as samples. Angelo Bruschini would become their permanent lead guitarist both in recording and live.[26]

The lead single, after "Risingson" was "Teardrop", perhaps the most accessible track on the album, sung by Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser. The song was accompanied by a video directed by Walter Stern, of an animatronic singing fetus. An instrumental version is the theme song for the hit TV show starring Hugh Laurie, House M.D. making the track recognizable the world over. Mushroom and Del Naja met Fraser in Safeway, a British supermarket. Her collaboration on three songs came about as the relationship with Tracey Thorn fell by the wayside. Horace Andy was invited back to sing on three songs, including the epic "Angel" and a track the band made for the movie The Jackal, "Dissolved Girl", sung by Sara Jay, was remixed longer and darker for inclusion on the record.

Mezzanine went on to be critically acclaimed, winning a Q Award for Best Album[27] as well as being nominated for a Mercury Award. The record eschewed hip hop to some extent in favour of more experimental, gothic and post-punk-like music, resulting from Del Naja's influence. Most of the songs were started and co-written by Neil Davidge, but Davidge did not receive any writing credit on the record. The artwork for the album is a beetle, made out of parts of a Volkswagen beetle car.

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.[28] He is thought to have leaked Massive Attack material to Madonna in an effort to have her involved on an album and to have been refusing to allow anyone else in the band to modify his material (seen to be against the collaborative spirit of the group). Finding his behaviour intolerable to deal with, the other two suggested he would need to leave or the band would have to end. Mushroom acrimoniously split from Massive Attack officially in the autumn of 1999. It is rumoured that he privately blamed his subsequent severe health problems on the strain of the acrimony. It was widely reported in subsequent years that he would produce a solo album, but no such material has appeared since.

In 2000, Del Naja and Daddy G released a highly publicized webcast on the state of the band and future plans, which was perceived by some to be a show of unity following divorce from Mushroom.

Around this time, Del Naja, with Davidge decanted into Ridge Farm studio with friends and band members of Lupine Howl (itself made up of sacked members of the band Spiritualized, including Damon Reece who would go 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.[8]

Daddy G became increasingly disillusioned with this approach, despite having supported the direction up until the point of Mezzanine, and stayed away from the studio from around 2001, effectively leaving Massive Attack as a producer.

Robert Del Naja and Davidge eventually conceded that the separate elements of the Lupine Howl sessions did not make for great music and this material is almost entirely discarded in favour of a more cinematic and busily electronic sound.

It was around this point that their label, Melankolic started to decline. There were no releases from after 2002 and the company dissolved in 2003. Del Naja later suggested in interviews that it was in part due to the artists "taking the piss" in spending too much money and Daddy G cited Virgin records' lack of infrastructural support as a reason for the downfall.

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 that they initially withdrew from fear of inflaming unhelpful speculation about the relationships in the band at the time, even though it was Daddy G, and not Mushroom who is depicted running away.[29]

2002-2006: Del Naja's unilateral 100th Window, Marshall's return and Collected

Main article: 100th Window

With Daddy G no longer involved in the studio, Davidge and Del Naja steered "LP4" on their own. Enlisting the vocals of a flu-ridden Sinéad O'Connor and perennial favourite Horace Andy, 100th Window was mastered in August 2002 and released in February 2003.[30]

More sonically conceptual than the other records and featuring no samples of other artists or cover versions, 100th Window, a reference to a book about internet security used as a metaphor apropos 'no man is an island'.Also Contribuided with Mos Def in I Against I for Blade II It was not as critically well received in Britain as the other records, although the album received a warmer reception internationally; scoring a 75 outof 100 on review aggregation site Metacritic.[31]

Also in 2003, Del Naja was arrested on child porn allegations, which were reported very widely in all media outlets, thanks to the UK police and The Sun newspaper.[32] The allegations resulted from his having entered his credit card details into a website in 1999 that was connected to other material which he did not view. Del Naja was soon eliminated as a suspect[33] (although he was charged with ecstasy possession and unable to get a U.S. visa for a while) with Daddy G and fans proffering their support. The arrest affected the beginning of the 100th Window tour schedule.

The tour did not include the United States and was very elaborate in terms of its light show, collaborating again with UVA (United Visual Artists).

Despite the difficulties of 2003, 100th Window sold over a million copies and was toured extensively (including Queen Square, Bristol - a one-off concert set up in the city centre park, which was seen as a homecoming).[34] Daddy G was fully involved as a member of the tour. It was rumoured that the tour of 2003 was so expensive, it sent Massive Attack into the red, with the group unable to fully pay the roadies at the time. A less ambitious tour took place in 2004.

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. It was off the back of this lucrative job that they would have the funding to buy their own '100 Suns' studio. 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 more critically well-received 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.[30]

Massive Attack toured their greatest hits record, including North America for the first time in nearly eight years. It sold well and was critically well-received for the most part. The artwork is an echo of the concept of Mezzanine, depicting four wreath-looking flowers as if they were made out of weapons. The justification given for the compilation album was that the record buys the band more time with the record company to develop "LP5" in the way that they want.

2007-present: Heligoland era

Main article: Heligoland (album)

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. All of this soundtrack work was either credited as Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja or under the guise of 100 Suns, in an effort to differentiate the soundtrack/film scoring work from the brand name of Massive Attack.

It became apparent in 2007, through the band's MySpace, that they were working with Stephanie Dosen and she later became part of the touring line-up, Elizabeth Fraser having returned to the live repertoire initially.

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 political engaged bands. A year afterwards, in 2008, it was announced that Massive Attack were to curate the UK's Southbank Meltdown, a week long event encompassing numerous bands Massive Attack like and relate to. 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.[35] Later on the same year, the band picked up a Q award for Innovation.

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 movie, Push and in December, Del Naja completed the score for 44 Inch Chest with The Insects and Angelo Badalamenti.

Davidge and Del Naja then got back together in 2009 with Daddy G to concertedly finish the fifth album, incorporating bits of the Albarn material. It had been widely suggested that "LP5" (formerly known as Weather Underground) would be released in September 2009 (even as specifically as September 22, 2009 on the official forum). Massive Attack have claimed the album will be released in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 and now 2009. It was eventually confirmed that the album would be released on February 8, 2010, after producer Neil Davidge declared the record finished on November 12, 2009. Later it was announced that the band are to headline the 2009 Bestival festival and soon after that they are to tour the UK[36] and Europe,[37] which has led to speculation that "LP5" is imminent, along with two strange and typically caps-locked blog entries by 3D on the official site, one being entitled "SUMMER OF SUBMISSION".[38] In May, Robert Del Naja's instrumental "Herculaneum", featured in the movie 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. [39]

In June 2009, it was announced that, on May 29, Jonny Dollar, aged 45, lost his battle against cancer, survived by his wife and 4 children. Dollar was the programmer and hands-on producer behind Blue Lines, writing the melody that was the basis for "Unfinished Sympathy". [40]

On August 25 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, according to producer, Neil Davidge. A number of articles fuel rumours that Del Naja will call the album Hell Ego Land. [41] It is in fact called Heligoland, after the German archipelago of Heligoland.

"I think it's got definitely a more organic feel[42]," says Del Naja of Heligoland. "100th Window was very much about this amalgamation of everything joining, and eventually the process was so extreme that you couldn't tell if there was a string part if it was electronic or natural. [There were] lots of organic parts that ended up sounding very electronic. It became a whole world of different processes, and we wanted to do something a bit different because we've had that experience so we wanted to do something else."


Main article: Massive Attack discography

Regular studio albums

  • Blue Lines (1991)
  • Protection (1994)
  • Mezzanine (1998)
  • 100th Window (2003)
  • Heligoland (2010)


  • Massive Attack EP (1992)
  • Splitting The Atom (2009)
  • (Untitled Post-Heligoland EP) (ETA 2010)

Other releases

  • No Protection (1995) (A dub remix album by Mad Professor)
  • Singles 90/98 (1998) (An 11-disc box set)
  • Danny the Dog± (2004) (An instrumental film score - rebranded Unleashed for the US market)
  • Collected (2006) (A double compilation album and DVD, comprising a Best Of, new/other material and 16 promo videos)
± Not regarded by Massive Attack or its management as one of the six studio albums owed to their record company.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Ankeny, Jason. Massive Attack > Biography. Retrieved on 2009-05-20.
  2. Carlton Discography. Retrieved on 2009-05-21.
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  17. BBC - Radio 2 - Sold On Song - Brits25 - Unfinished Sympathy. Retrieved on 2009-05-22. Reaching number thirteen in the UK in 1991, Unfinished Sympathy was released under the group name Massive, due to the Gulf War of the same year
  18. Massive Attack. Retrieved on 2009-05-22. The impetus for dropping the soundsystem ethos which had been all the band had known from the days in The Wild Bunch was partly to simply try something new and also because some of the scathing reviews Massive Attack had received, particularly in their soundsystem tour of North America the preceding year, where the whole soundsystem concept involving a rotating roster of MC-ing, toasting and DJ-ing, wasn't understood at all by the audience. 3D said of the North American soundsystem Quote - "Didn't go down too well at all. The worst show was Minneapolis. Prince's Club. What was it called? Glam Slam? In the end they had to put the curtain down on us, we were so bad. Bloody terrible". [Details Magazine - February 1995]
  19. Massive Attack - Protection Tour. Retrieved on 2009-05-22. It was also the Levi's connection that brought the Massive Attack's current manager, Marc Picken to them, who worked for Levi's at the time and had some form of organizing role for the Protection tour, left Levi's to manage Massive Attack full-time and also setup their Melankolic record label as well with them.
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  31. 100th Window.
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  41. Homepage Antena 3. Antena 3. Retrieved on 2009-11-19.
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External links

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  • Massive Attack Collective at MySpace
  • Massive Attack on NPR Music
  • Audio interview with Grant Marshall, March 2010
  • Video interview with 3D and Daddy G before Auckland show 2010
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