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Massive Attack, Naples and anonymity

The history of the cult band and the bond of its leader, Robert Del Naja, with art and Italy

Massive Attack, Naples and anonymity The history of the cult band and the bond of its leader, Robert Del Naja, with art and Italy

Just a few days ago Liberato unveiled the new single We come from Napoli, a track created for the soundtrack of ULTRAS by Francesco Lettieri with the collaboration of Robert "3D" Dal Naja of Massive Attack. One of the most influential bands of the last twenty years comes back in the spotlight with a made in Italy project, which is just the most recent example of the strong bond between the English duo and our country and, in particular, Naples. The new partnership gives us the opportunity to look back at Massive Attack's history, their oniric downbeat, but also to discover Del Naja's love for art ( is he Banksy?) and for the Napoli football team. 

Bristol, trip hop and worldwide success.

In the beginning there was the Wild Bunch. The dj crew that mixing down beat electronics with the hardest hip-hop, dub, reggae, slowing down mood and rhythm has shaped the sound of an era and revolutionized the music world. Three of the musicians who created Bristol soundsystem and later will be called trip hop, Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles founded Massive Attack. Just two albums, Blue Lines (1991) and Protection (1994) with tracks like Unfinished Sympathy or Karmacoma sung by Tricky (he, Massive Attack and Portishead are the three gods of the trip hop), were enough to project the band in the spotlight. 

When the 20th of April 1998 Mezzanine was released, came the enormous popularity. Their groove based on samplings and dreamlike atmospheres went even more hypnotic, dark, heartbreaking and gave us masterpieces such as Risingson, Angel and Teardrop, the unforgettable hit with the voice of Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins and the famous video directed by Walter Stern featuring the fetus immersed in amniotic liquid singing. 

The commercial and critical success of the album, one of the most important of the decade, however, was not enough to resolve the conflicts between the trio. Vowles and Marshall split up. Del Naja found himself working on 100th Window solo in 2003, spent the following years creating soundtracks and the retrospective Collected previewed by the wonderful blues Live with me ft. Terry Callier. Then Marshall returned. Massive Attack, now a duo, published Heligoland featuring long-time friends and collaborators such as Damon Albarn, Horace Andy e Martina Topley Bird

The 90s when they revolutionized British dance music by slowing down the rhythms and making dark melodies are far away, but their alchemy is still alive. Those dub bass and lysergic atmospheres enter into the stomach and into the veins. Creativity and innovation are mixed with music, art, politics, in albums and, above all, in live performances. A perfect example of Massive Attack's ability to be coherent with themselves and at the same time evolve while remaining connected to the present we are living is the Mezzanine Twenty Years Tour. On stage, there are not only 3D and Daddy G or one of the most influential albums of the last decades, but Donald Trump's America, the Syrian crisis, Family Day, the Cucchi case, the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, artificial intelligence, the relationship between privacy and social media,...

Art, Banksy and the identity game.

No, it's not Robin Gunningham. Banksy is Robert Del Naja. At least according to Craig Williams, who a few years ago conducted an investigation, also taken up by the Daily Mail and the Independent, putting in parallel the works of the mysterious artist with the dates of Massive Attack or Del Naja's dj sets in the cities where the graffiti had appeared. Here all the clues. 

#1 3D is from Bristol, the city where Banksy's first graffiti appeared;

#2 the musician has a past as a streetartist;

#3 there is a link between Massive Attack's live dates and the cities where Banksy's graffiti appeared;

#4 the two are mates, they hang out at the same rounds and with the same people (like Geoff Barrow from Portishead);

#5 Banksy frequently cited Teardrop band's music as inspiration and confirmed Del Naja's artistic influence, writing in the preface to the 2015 volume 3D & the art of Massive Attack:

When I was about 10 years old, a kid called 3D was painting the streets hard. 3D quit painting and formed the band Massive Attack, which may have been a good thing for him, but was a big loss for the city.

#6 Robert is of Italian origin, exactly from Naples. The city, with which he maintains close ties, counts a number of well-known artists who have made anonymity one of their main characteristics. Have you ever heard of Elena Ferrante and Liberato?

And then there is the thing with Goldie. The drum and bass guru revealed in a radio interview for Distraction Pieces Podcast the first name of the famous anonymous graffiti artist: Robert. Same as Del Naja. When asked about the theory, Massive's founder has always denied it, explaining that he and the visual artist are mates, but not the same person. However, what is certainly true is the close connection between Del Naja and the art world.

Before becoming a musician, the man was a pioneer of the stencil technique applied to street art. Recalling the early 1980s, he said:

No one was stencilling at the time, it just wasn’t on the radar at all. So I started doing these stencils of Marilyn, Maggie Thatcher, Robert De Niro, Mike Tyson. I did a Mona Lisa one, which was the one I put in the ’87 show in Birmingham that had mixed reception from the lads.

Right about the same time, Massive Attack signed for Virgin and Del Naja started designing the band's covers, merging different inspirations such as Basquiat, the Wild Style movement, punk, industrial and medical logos, elements that characterized his style for all the nineties. In the new millennium, the connection between his art and politics has become closer, reflecting current issues such as immigration, social media or the relationship with technology. The perfect examples are the LED installations he created for the live shows of Massive Attack and Volume, the result of a collaboration with Neil Davidge and United Visual Artists, the London-based collective composed of artist Matt Clark, director Chris Bird and developer Ash Nehru.

So is Banksy Del Naja or not? Maybe we'll never know.

Napoli, we love you.

Bristol and Naples. Two cities apparently so different, but both marked by a deep bond with the world of music and football, are the places that Robert Del Naja calls home. Massive Attack's leader is the son of an immigrant from Campania who went to seek his fortune in England. From him the artist has inherited a love for the city and his football team, a passion that increased during the years in which Maradona played.

My family is from Campania and I love Naples - he said on several occasions - When I first came to visit my relatives, I saw the football match. Napoli was a great team and I went directly to the San Paolo stadium because it was the best way to get to know the city. Football has the power to let the soul of a population emerge immediately, as it celebrates events and expresses its emotions. I was impressed by the emotions and passion that won my heart. 

Still nowadays it is easy to meet him at the stadium, maybe together with his friend James Lavelle aka UNKLE. With him, a few years ago, he made an original track for the short video documentary Why I Love Napoli, in which they both talk about their relationship with Napoli and cheering, while their faces alternate with images of Inler's goals. 

Rumor has it that Robert has been working on a new anthem for the team, a special version of 'O Surdato 'Nnammurato. This is also confirmed by Raiz, Almamegretta singer who in 1994 for Massive Attack remixed Karmacoma, renamed for the event Karmacoma (The Napoli Trip).

He would record a Napoli anthem immediately, even paying for it. Some time ago he asked me to send him some tracks I was working on, he told me that starting from 'O Surdato 'Nnammurato would try to create his own version of the song for the stadium. He's got a thousand things to do but if De Laurentiis asked him he'd say yes right now. He would do it just to see his name linked to SSC Napoli for eternity. Why 'O Surdato 'Nnammurato? Because he told me that the song recalls him Naples.

It's hard to say if the project will ever happen. Instead, collaboration with Liberato has become real. The song We Come From Napoli was created for the soundtrack of ULTRAS, a film directed by Francesco Lettieri that will arrive on Netflix on March 20. A cinema enthusiast, Del Naja has in the past worked on music for the big screen and in 2008 he composed the track Hercolaneum for Gomorrah by Matteo Garrone. It is no coincidence that the musician continues to choose works with a strong connection to Naples. The city is part of his DNA.