Massive Attack

For the Nicki Minaj song, see Massive Attack (song). For the LOMOcean Design boat, see Massive Attack (Motor Boat).
Massive Attack

Background information
Origin Bristol, England, UK
Genres Trip hop
Years active 1988–present
Associated acts
Past members Andy "Mushroom" Vowles ("Mush")

Massive Attack are an English trip hop group formed in 1988 in Bristol, consisting of Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and formerly Andy "Mushroom" Vowles ("Mush"). 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.[1] 1998's Mezzanine, containing "Teardrop", and 2003's 100th Window charted in the UK at number one. Both Blue Lines and Mezzanine feature in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[2][3]

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.[4][5] They have released five 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.[6]

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,[7] and then, with considerable backing from Neneh Cherry, they signed to Circa Records[8] 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.[6][9] Blue Lines (1991), was co-produced by Jonny Dollar and Cameron McVey, who also became their first manager.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[6]

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 and 2004.[13]

Any Love beginnings

Unsigned, Mushroom (Andy Vowles), Daddy G (Grant Marshall) and 3D (Robert Del Naja) put out "Any Love" as a single,[14] co-produced by Bristol double-act Smith & Mighty.

Blue Lines and "Unfinished Sympathy"

Main article: Blue Lines
Robert Del Naja at Barcelona 2007

3D co-wrote Neneh Cherry's "Manchild",[15] which peaked at number 5 in the UK single chart.[16] 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.[17]

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".[17]

That year they released "Unfinished Sympathy" as a single, a string-arranged track at Abbey Road studio, scored by Will Malone,[18] that went on to be voted the 10th greatest song of all time in a poll by The Guardian.[19]

The group temporarily shortened their name to "Massive" on the advice of McVey to avoid controversy relating to the Gulf War.[20] 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[6] and released "Protection" on 26 September 1994.

With McVey out of the picture, Massive Attack enlisted the production talents of former 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.[21] The other collaborators on Protection were Marius de Vries, Craig Armstrong,[13] 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.[6]

1994-5 was also the period of Portishead's Dummy and Tricky's Maxinquaye albums and the term "trip hop" was coined.[22] The media started to refer to the "Bristol scene".[23]

In 1995, Massive Attack started a label distributed by Virgin/EMI, Melankolic, and signed Craig Armstrong and a 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.[24]

The same year The Insects became unavailable for co-production and having parted ways with Nellee Hooper, the band were introduced to Neil Davidge,[25] 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.[26]

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.[25]

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"[27] and "Dissolved Girl", a new song with vocals by Sarah Jay (that was later remixed for the next album), which was featured at the beginning of the 1999 film The Matrix, although it was not on the official soundtrack.

Later that year they released a single, "Risingson", from what would be their third album, Mezzanine.[28]

Mezzanine, Teardrop, the Vowles split and Marshall's absence

Main article: Mezzanine (album)

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.[28]

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[29] 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.[30]

Around this time, Del Naja, with Davidge decamped 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 a rock direction.[10]

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[31]

Del Naja's 100th Window, Marshall's return and Collected

Main article: 100th Window
Grant Marshall of Massive Attack at the Eurockéennes Festival 2008

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.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34] Del Naja was soon eliminated as a suspect[35] (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).[36]

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.[32]

"Weather Underground" / 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.

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.[37]

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,[38] 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.[39]

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".[40]

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 album.

The fifth album was released 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".[41] The opening track, "Pray For Rain" featured guest vocals of TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, and Damon Albarn and Hope Sandoval also provide guest vocals on the album.


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.[42]

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.[43]

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.[44]

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.[45]

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.[46]

On 11 December 2011, their song "Splitting The Atom" premièred as the theme song on Luck, an HBO television series starring Dustin Hoffman.

Ritual Spirit EP, 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 rumours of a reunion with Tricky were indeed true.[47] 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[47]

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.[48] On 21 February 2015, it was confirmed through the Massive Attack Facebook page that they would be collaborating with Run the Jewels.[49]

On 21 January 2016, the iPhone application "Fantom" was released. The application was developed by a team including Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja and let users hear parts of four new songs by remixing them in real-time, using the phone’s location, movement, clock, heartbeat, and camera. On 28 January 2016, Massive Attack released a new EP, Ritual Spirit, which includes the four songs released on Fantom. The EP was written and produced by Robert Del Naja and long term collaborator, Euan Dickinson. It is their first release since the 2011 Four Walls / Paradise Circus collaboration with Burial, and the first time since 1994 that fellow trip hop musician Tricky has been featured on Massive Attack content. Artists such as Scottish hip-hop group Young Fathers, London rapper Roots Manuva and singer Azekel also featured on the EP.[50]

On 26 July 2016, Massive Attack previewed three new songs: "Come Near Me," "The Spoils," and "Dear Friend" on Fantom, an iPhone application on which they previously previewed the four songs from the Ritual Spirit EP.[51] On 29 July 2016, Massive attack released a new single, "The Spoils," which includes "The Spoils" and "Come Near Me" which were both previewed on Fantom. "The Spoils" features vocals from American singer-songwriter and Mazzy Star frontwoman Hope Sandoval, and "Come Near Me" features British vocalist Ghostpoet. A music video for "Come Near Me," directed by Ed Morris, and featuring Kosovan actress Arta Dobroshi, was released the same day as the single.[52] The videoclip for "The Spoils," featuring Cate Blanchett, and directed by Australian director John Hillcoat, was released on 9 August 2016.[53]

Musical style

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.[9] 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,[54] 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."[55]

Other projects

'Fire Sale' exhibition

Del Naja's solo art show was held at the Lazarides gallery in central London, England, 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 2013.[56]

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, England, 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.[57] 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.[58] The show was performed at the Ruhr International Festival in Germany in August 2013 and the Park Avenue Armory in New York City in September 2013.

Activism and politics

Del Naja has been critical of the government policies of the UK. 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.[59]

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 Gaza strip and the west bank, Lebanon and Syria.

Del Naja, musicians Damon Albarn and Brian Eno, and United Visual Artists contributed to a demonstration against the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme that was held on board the Arctic Sunrise on the River Thames in 2007.[60]

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.[61]

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.[62] In 2010, Massive Attack donated the income from a Lincoln car commercial to the clean up campaign after the BP oil spill disaster.[63]

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.[64]

Massive Attack have previously played two shows in Israel, but have declined recent offers. They have described this "not an action of aggression towards the Israeli people" but "towards the [Israeli] government and its policies", arguing that "the Palestinians [in Gaza and the west bank] have no access to the same fundamental benefits that the Israelis do."[65]

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.[66]

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.[67] Previously, Del Naja had openly criticised Ferguson for being a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers,[68] an organisation dating back to the 16th century which had many connections with the Bristol slave trade.[69]

During their concert at Istanbul, Massive Attack named those who died in anti-government protests on the outdoor screen at their back with following sentences, Their killers are still out there and We won't forget Soma.[70][71]

In July Del Naja and Marshall visited the Bourge-El Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon to meet with Palestinian volunteers at an educational centre. The band's profit from the show in Byblos was donated to the centre.[72]

Banksy claims

In September 2016, freelance journalist Craig Williams claimed Robert '3D' Del Naja was in fact the elusive graffiti artist Banksy or as an alternative theory, that Banksy is in fact a group of artists led by Del Naja and associated with the band.[73] Williams plotted Banksy artwork appearances and found some coincided with Massive Attack tour dates. Del Naja immediately dismissed the claims saying "He is a mate as well, he's been to some of the gigs. It's purely a matter of logistics and coincidence, nothing more than that."[74]


Awards and nominations

MTV Europe Music Awards

The MTV Europe Music Awards were established in 1994 by MTV Europe to celebrate the most popular music videos in Europe. Massive Attack has received two awards from three nominations.

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1995 "Protection" Best Video Won
1998 "Teardrop" Best Video Won
Mezzanine Best Album Nominated

Q Awards

The Q Awards is the UK's annual music awards held by music magazine Q for excellence in music. Massive Attack has received two awards from two nominations.

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1998 Mezzanine Best Album[75] Won
2008 Massive Attack Innovation in Sound Award Won

Brit Awards

The Brit Awards are the British Phonographic Industry's annual pop music awards.

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1996 "Protection" Best British Video Nominated
Massive Attack Best British Dance Act Won
1999 Mezzanine MasterCard British Album Nominated
"Teardrop" Best British Single Nominated
Best British Video Nominated
Massive Attack Best British Group Nominated
Best British Dance Act Nominated

UK Music Video Awards

The UK Music Video Awards is an annual celebration of creativity, technical excellence and innovation in music video and moving image for music.

Year Nominee/work Award Result
2010 "Paradise Circus" Best Dance Video Nominated
"Splitting the Atom" Nominated
Best Animation in a Video Nominated
2011 "Atlas Air" Best Animation in a Video Nominated
Best Visual Effects in a Video Nominated


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