Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis
Mayfield Depot, Manchester International Festival
Thursday 11 July 2013
When was the last time you or anything changed? Not for 30 years according to Adam Curtis and Massive Attack. I headed down to the Manchester international festival for LTW to decipher their trip-hop, post-punk angst about modern culture.
It was uncomfortably hot and dusty as hell in the Mayfield depot where filmmaker Adam Curtis joined trip-hop duo Massive Attack to open Manchester international festival with a live video collaboration. There were a lot of people and it was dark, really, really dark and there were signs everywhere saying wear sensible shoes..?
Before the show began everything seemed a bit primal, at one point Curtis walked through the audience on the phone and was almost floored by a guy intent on holding his position in the crowd. It was intense. I was looking around thinking what do these people want? Entertainment? A life lesson? An ‘I was there’ badge? I mean, there were some obviously hardcore Massive Attack fans and lots of ‘artsy’ people but also a lot of ‘unidentifiable’s’ and a great sense of doubt or apprehension (I couldn’t decide which) about what was going to happen next. The atmosphere was more than expectant, it was sweaty and shifty; these were the conditions for the beginning of something, we wanted a show.
This black curtain in the middle of the warehouse fell and we surged forward, well, the way we all thought was forward anyway. It turned out it didn’t matter. Adam Curtis had built Trump’s Television City for the production: 11 floor to ceiling screens cocooned us in. We were surrounded by the flickering ‘reality’ of 30 years to a soundtrack that didn’t sound like Massive Attack at all, one second it was Liz Fraser and Baby its You the next Horace Andy and Sugar Sugar and then, finally, actually Massive Attack and actually Karmacoma. The whole thing was disorienting, you didn’t know where to look, whether to sit or stand, what to listen to when, but this was all part of the numbing theatrics of the show. For 90 minutes Curtis forced us to occupy a kind of transient purgatory where the 2D and 3D worlds of our current existence collide. The whole show was a sensory jam, so jarringly loud (Robert -3d- del Naja said that his audio hire company used more bass speakers than in any other single Massive Attack show) and pixellated you are left in a disturbed nightmare zone. At one point I swear I hallucinated, thinking I had actually become one of the wall to ceiling screens. And this was just it.
The exhibition was an exercise of complete power and management. We were all staring up at the screens, obsessed and powerless, not even allowed to engage with Massive Attack who were behind a mesh screen and would be slammed into darkness after every cover. Some people clapped and whistled at the end of their songs but it didn’t seem to make sense, the musicians were just another cog in the wheel for the ‘entertainment’ of the night. It was all precisely staged and manufactured. It wasn’t about the music or the film it was about the jarring of the two, you weren’t allowed to find your place in it. Curtis was attempting to startle you out of yourself and Massive Attack physically shake you. Together they wanted to wake you out of stupor I think.
It was ubiquitously eerie and unsettling. Curtis tells us we are not the purveyors of individualism we think we are; we’re transfixed by the past and in being so we are unable to visualise different hopes, dreams and futures outside of this ‘safe zone.’ This technocratic management started at the end of the Cold War when politicians had a new idea for a risk-free vision of the World. From this point Curtis and Massive Attack chronicle the birth of the stable world we now live in.
‘YOU ARE THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING’ flashes up repeatedly on the screens bigger and bigger, louder and louder. This new system loves you, understands you and gives you what it knows you want and nothing will ever change. Here the dead live with us, immortalised in glass they still dance and they won’t let us go. And to us, this uncanny unsubstantiated world is just as convincing as the real, and for them everything is going according to plan. ‘If you like this then you will love this’ has become our mantra. Curtis cuts up and strings together Donald and Ivana Trump, Nicolai and Elena Ceausescu, Jane Fonda and Ted Turner, Hamid Kazir and his brothers, everyone in Goldman Sachs who made a killing in 2008, the neutron bomb, the Siberian punk movement, Bambi and all your own worst fears… to tell the same story: they say to us ‘don’t bother with the future’, stay here with us forever. At one point the text started moving so fast I kept missing lines or words but it didn’t seem to matter, I had seen it all before. We have become desperate archeologists Curtis said. How depressing.
Before I knew it Liz Fraser, silhouetted in blue, sings Yanka’s Dyagileva’s song quietly and the screens shout:
‘IT IS NOT PREDICTABLE… OUTSIDE OF OUR ENCHANTED COCOON AND THE MUSIC OF THE DEAD ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE AND YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN WAY.’
Our passivity must come to an end is their message.
NOW FIND YOUR OWN WAY HOME.
And it’s over.
1800 people filed out of the humidity past the porta loo’s (which stunk), through the single door exit onto the street. People split off and I turned right to my car. Two prostitutes were waiting on the corner. It didn’t feel like the start of a new world or anything like that but I haven’t watched a TV since… And I can’t stop talking about that show.
All words by Mia Veglio-Taylor. You can find all Mia’s writing for Louder Than War at her author’s archive, although if you’re reading this today (14th July) there’ll only be this as it’s her first piece for us. You can follow Mia on twitter at @Mia_VT