ScanS → The Guardian Feature
Publication Date: February 2010
It’s been two decades since Massive Attack stood sweating it out on LA’s West Pico Boulevard, filming that video for their first single Unfinished Sympathy. With original art scenester Leigh Bowery helping co-ordinate LA’s lowlife on one side, and David Lynch’s cameraman trying to film them on the other, it was an art-pop epic that would never have been easy to follow up. But, for a group of self-proclaimed “lazy Bristol twats”, Massive Attack haven’t half done a good job of blowing our expectations to bits.
Brushing aside their seminal music (Blue Lines, Protection, Mezzanine), part of the band’s enduring appeal lies in their creation of an actual Massive aesthetic: high-concept videos, and beautiful if downright creepy album sleeves. For better or worse, without them there might be no Banksy; Stephen Bliss might not have made it as Grand Theft Auto’s artmaker-in-chief after his comic-strip cover for remix album No Protection; and the spirit of Jean Michel Basquiat wouldn’t have haunted late-8os Bristol in quite the same way.
Now, on the eve of releasing fifth album, Heligoland, Robert “3D” Del Naja talks us through Massive Attack’s visual adventures.
Unfinished Sympathy shoot
•1991: Often cited as the best track of the 90’s. This video was shot in a single take. “Us Bristol boys being rough-around-the-edges is what made us work so well with people like (video director) Baillie Walsh, Leigh Bowery, Cameron McVey and (fashion designer Ray Petri’s) Buffalo crew. They were very much the London style council of the time. Leigh Bowery was definitely the most outrageous character, but because we weren’t part of that London scene, he tried to dress down and go low-key around us. This basically meant he turned up to the shoot for Unfinished in LA, dressed in this mental outfit, like a faux-Manc casual. Massive parka, a mad pudding-basin wig, big Stone Roses baggies, and dripping with sweat. He was credited as art director, helping out Baillie Walsh’s team while we were grilling the cameraman, who was David Lynch’s steadicam operator. We did his head in about Blue Velvet; at the end, he was supposed to do an overhead shot of LA while Shara Nelson walked around the corner on these Scorsese-ish mean streets. I think we knackered him out of it.”
Teardrop’s Baby Video
•1998: Creepy Walter Stern vid with lip-syncing foetus monthing Liz Fraser’s vocal. “We kept the Teardrop baby but being made of old latex, it just doesn’t have the longevity. It’s now just a primitive animatronic halfcreature in a puddle of rotten latex. It’s still quite scary: it’s like a museum piece, but for all the wrong reasons. We cut ourselves out of a fuckload of money with that song. We got an email from Bryan Singer saying the entire concept of House [the TV series using the track for its theme tune] was based on Teardrop. We were flattered. We let him have it.”
2010: Seventies pornstar Georgina Spelvin looks back at her career for new video. “With the new album, we’ve given the directors a song each and complete control. Jon [Sexy Beast] Glazersaid he had a great idea, I told him not to even tell us and just do it. I don’t know how Toby [Dye] found this lady but it feels quite Warhol, her talking to camera like that; there’s something really beautiful about her.”
•2003: With Daddy G gone, Nick Knight blows stuff up. “This is the most expensive sleeve we and. I’m told, EMI ever made. If I’d painted that cover [after G left], it would have looked like it was my project so I went back to Nick Knight to work on something more abstract. I was thinking about crystals, refracted light and prisms, and Nick was talking about blowing things up. In the end, we found a glassblower in Brixton willing to make eight human-sized figures.”
•Sloganeering with United Visual Artists. “I worked with UnitedVisualArtists on designing our live show visuals (above) but it evolves depending on the tracks and what’s happening in the world. It’s an update on the idea of putting a slogan on a wall in protest like graffiti. In Milan we transmitted a news piece on a kid who had died in police custody and the crowd went mad. It was posted on YouTube, La Republicca picked it up and there was eventually enough media fuss that the ministry of justice apologised to the family and opened an investigation. I wouldn’t say we had a big role in that, but it’s interesting to see how things move.”
•2007: The man from Unkle asks 3D to paint the cover of their album. “It was because James Lavelle wanted me to do the artwork for [2007 UNKLE album] War Stories that I started painting again. I don’t have that drive to create all the time. Plus, painting is difficult for me because I’m colourblind. Back in the day, I had to label my spraycans with what colour they were because I couldn’t tell. No one’s told me I’ve gone drastically wrong. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes: them telling me it’s great and me pretending that’s what I intended. In the seven years I stopped painting, the art market went mad.”
•2010: London Underground bans new album artwork. “We can’t use any of the Heligoland artwork I’ve painted for the posters on London Underground. They won’t allow anything on the tube that looks like ‘street art’. They want us to remove all drips and fuzz from it so it doesn’t look like it’s been spray-painted, which is fucking ridiculous. It’s the most absurd censorship I’ve ever seen. We’re hosting popup galleries [on] tour this year. We’ve got UnitedVisualArtists; Steve Bliss’s No Protection artwork which was like an early prototype for his Grand Theft Auto stuff; and all the extras from Mezzanine and 100th Window.”
Written By Nosheen Iqbal