Massive Attack on politics

But British band will leave opinions at door for shows at 9:30 Club

September 28, 2006|By Fred Shuster | Fred Shuster,New York Times News Service

Massive Attack's dark, cinematic music has often been more of a sedative than a call to arms.

But behind the scenes, in conversation with the British collective's leader, Robert del Naja (also known as 3D), angry feelings surface about the state of the world, particularly the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Del Naja puts the blame squarely on the doorstep of Prime Minister Tony Blair for what he calls "the misrepresentation of the British people, the passive compliance to U.S. global affairs and the constant denial of civilian slaughter."

Like most reasonable people, del Naja separates a country's citizens from its government's policies, but is still perturbed about what he views as tacit approval in the United States for the Iraq war and the policies of President Bush.

"Doesn't anyone realize what's going on?" he asks. "So much is being hidden in Britain and the United States. Everyone's kept so busy trying to make ends meet, they can't get angry enough to at least try and change things."

Those who prefer to keep their politics outside the concert hall can relax. When Massive Attack arrives at the 9:30 Club tonight and tomorrow, the ensemble led by del Naja and Grant Marshall ("Daddy G") will couch its rhetoric in some of the most appealingly atmospheric pop music around.

A pioneering force behind the chilly, sample-driven electronica genre called trip-hop, Massive Attack was among the most innovative and influential bands of the '90s. Its hypnotic, darkly sensual underground club music fused hip-hop rhythms, soulful melodies, dub reggae grooves and well-placed samples for sublime late-night listening. The band's 1991 instant classic, Blue Lines, highlighted by the landmark track "Unfinished Symphony," created a template for such acclaimed artists as Portishead, Beth Orton, Zero 7, Roni Size and Tricky, himself a Massive Attack alumnus.

"Our sound is a direct result of where we live," del Naja, 41, said, referring to Bristol, a hilly, culturally diverse university town on the River Avon in the southwest of England. "We grew up with Jamaican music, dub, punk, soul, funk and hip-hop. Some of us got heavily into obscure film scores. It just made sense to put everything together. It's a very multicultural vibe, which is what Bristol is about."

Along with a handful of intriguing albums (especially 1998's Mezzanine), Massive Attack has collaborated with Sinead O'Connor, Madonna, Everything But the Girl vocalist Tracey Thorn and film composer Craig Armstrong. The band's songs have also emerged in the films The Matrix and Snatch and on TV on 24 and House.

Del Naja says a Massive Attack show doesn't aim to duplicate the recordings. Instead, he hopes to sustain a mood strong enough to keep an audience enthralled for almost two hours.

"Sometimes we don't use vocals at all," he said. "And I think our audience expects something different. You're getting an experience with some of the sounds and personality of the records, but it's being created in the time we're on stage. We've learned not to even try and please everyone, so we just do what we like and hope everyone's with us."

Massive Attack is at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W., Washington, at 7:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow. Tickets are $40 and are available at For more information, go to

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