“We were lazy Bristol twats”. That’s how Grantley ‘Daddy G’ Marshall, one of Massive Attack’s founding members, bluntly recalls the early days of the collective that spawned an entire genre (trip hop), and cross-pollinated many others in the process.
In 2021, Massive Attack’s debut album “Blue Lines” celebrates its 30th birthday – but if there is a record that seems to be blessed with eternal youth, this is it. The nine tracks have not aged a day, and their pervasive influence can still be found across the most disparate genres. And that has always been one of Massive Attack’s key features: to defy classification… to confuse listeners while seducing them. Their proclivity for stealing the best elements out of different scenes, however, solidly anchors their sound in the purest and earliest hip-hop tradition. Eschewing the gangsta clichés so popular in the early 90s, Massive Attack ignored their contemporaries and invented trip hop in the process.
Don’t get confused by the fact that the video for the monumental “Unfinished Sympathy” was shot in Los Angeles: Massive Attack is a perfect distillation of its home base – Bristol, England. Heavily connected to The Wild Bunch sound system, the collective counted their first fans among punks, bikers and dreads. When they made it across the Atlantic, it was the ravers who became obsessed with them. This was before Massive Attack went truly global – becoming an institution. The days of “Mezzanine” and its unforgettable “Teardrop” masterpiece were still far, but it all started here, in 1991, with this unusual take on hip-hop. Heavily infused with electronica, mellowed by reggae, peppered with psychedelic rock – and made all the more mysterious by Tricky’s moody voice.
But it wasn’t all “meant to happen”. As the members often admitted, it took a lot of effort to get them into a studio to record something, anything. A strange, beautiful slacker symmetry was at play in the early 90s between the West Coast of the US, with its thriving grunge scene, and the West Coast of the UK, with Portishead also making their first steps there in 1991.
Gold certificates galore, 13 million copies sold – all would come eventually for Massive Attack. So much for being a bunch of lazy spliffers.