False Flags, the most overtly political song Massive Attack have done up to this point was inspired by the civil unrest centered around Paris which resulted in fierce rioting in the french capital during October/November 2005. These events inspired 3D in the making of the track as it became a commentary on the state of the European Union, a far more direct message than the vague decade-old Eurochild image which had a similar idea behind it.
Originally there was no set timeline to release False Flags, as it was very much a track of the moment which would have lost its edge if included on the next proper album which was not due for at least another year. A digital download was the first obvious option but this was then changed in favour of releasing it on Collected, Massive Attack’s “Best Of”, when the idea of such a career retrospective was touched upon by Massive Attack’s management. It was also the b-side to the Live With Me single.
The “Days of Rage” in the lyrics to False Flags is a reference to a famous riot undertaken by a US militant group, known as The Weathermen, in Chicago on October 8th 1969. This reference is more than likely also the same one where “The Weather Underground” the proposed working title for the then as-yet unreleased album, Heligoland got its name.
The working name for the song originally was “Clueless Blues”.
False Flags was first played live at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, USA on the 26th April 2006. It was played throughout the duration of the 2006 tour but usually omitted from the setlist on festival dates. When it was played, it would always be the opener for each show, with much more added guitar than the regular version throughout the song climaxing in a dramatic ending to none other than a piano-based sample of another Massive Attack song, Heat Miser.
Unkle Surrender Sounds Session #2 – Remixed by James Lavelle of UNKLE fame, UNKLE’s first remix for Massive Attack since the UNKLE Situation remix of Karmacoma. It was also played during many of Lavelle’s solo DJ gigs throughout 2006. Included only on the False Flags/United Snakes EP.
Unkle Surrender Sounds Session #2 (Dub) – Much like the first remix but with 3D’s vocals reduced only to the line “Our eyes roll back and we beg for more”. Included only on the promo CD version of the False Flags/United Snakes EP and not on the ITunes release or the 12″ promo vinyl release.
Radiohead’s song “The Bends” off their similarly titled 1995 album is the vocal sample (“Where do we go from here?”) heard at the end of False Flags. It is not credited officially by Massive Attack.
3D on False Flags – “And we had another track called False Flags which was more political and, again, quite simple and it was written around the time of the riots around France. Again it was sitting around, we were thinking about maybe putting it online, y’know, do something digital with it, but that was obviously something which was surpassed by the idea of putting a collection out.” [The Independent Newspaper - March 2006]
3D on both False Flags and it’s accompanying promo video – “It’s very beautiful, its very sad and its very now.” [Collected EPK - March 2006]
In city shoes. Of clueless blues. And no-mans news. Blades will fade from blood to sport. The heroin’s cut these fuses short. Smokers rode a colonial pig. Drink and frame this pain I think. I’m melting silver poles my dear. You bleed your wings and then disappear. The moving scenes and pilot lights. Smithereens have got ‘em scaling heights. Modern times come talk me down. And battle lines are drawn across this town. Parisian boys without your names. Ghetto stones instead of chains. Talk ‘em down cause it’s up in flames. And nothing’s changed. Parisian boys without your names. Riot like 1968 again. The “Days of Rage” yeah nothing’s changed. More pretty flames. In school i would just bite my tongue. And now your words they strike me down. The flags are false and they contradict. They point and click which wounds to lick. On avenues this christian breeze. Turns its heart to more needles please. Our eyes roll back and we beg for more. It frays this skin and then underscore. The case for war you spin and bleed. The sales you feel, screensavers feed. The girls you breed the soaps that you write. The graceless charm of your gutter snipes. The moving scenes and suburbanites. And smithereens got ‘em scaling heights. Modern times come talk me down. The battle lines are drawn across this town. English boys without your names. Ghetto stones instead of chains. Hearts and minds and U.S. Planes. Nothing’s changed. And English boys without your names. Riot like the 1980′s again. The “Days Of Rage” yeah nothing’s changed. More pretty flames.
The budget for the video was approximately £7000, making it the cheapest Massive Attack promo video by a sizable margin. The camera used to shoot the super slow-mo scenes in the video was a Phantom V5.1 digital high speed video camera capable of filming at a 1000 frames per second.
The video for False Flags won an award at the Music Vision Awards 2006. It was for Best Cinematography in a music video and was presented to the Cinematographer, Tom Russel.
Quotes About The Video
3D on the meaning behind the video for False Flags – “It is a still life portrait of someone were they’re forced to be in a riot situation – throwing a petrol bomb. And it’s done in ultra slow motion” [Collected EPK - March 2006]