Andrew Vowles - the name Mushroom came later, when he worked as a pizza chef - had just been simultaneously introduced to hip hop and Grant Marshall. He was 15, and hooked: "It was just a case of what side of the culture I was going to apply myself to. A bit of spraying? A bit of breaking or DJing?"
The next night, Grant sneaked him into The Dug Out, the Clifton club where the Wild Bunch were early 80s residents. He was adopted as the crew's junior member. In early photos of the Wild Bunch, he looks impossibly young, intently watching Grant select records, like a kid watching his dad. He's anxious about what the others said in their interviews - "you've talked to the other two and they've said something different, haven't they?" - and his voice, normally so soft it barely registers on tape, puffs up with pride when he takes a step back and begins to talk about their early days. "When we rolled into a party or a club, there was six of us, all totally mad looking," he remembers. "We were into extreme dressing. Miles was like a space-age dread, he'd been to Japan and had the maddest clothes. Grant was this seven foot tall zoot-suited guy with a big hat on. D was like something out of a 70s Coppola movie, white shirts and braces and his hair slicked back. Claude was another mad dread, Nellee had the latest designer gear and I had all the stuff from New York at the time." If 3D's the voice and Grant's the elder statesman, Mushroom is Massive Attack's silent, shadowy force: lurking behind his decks on stage, reclining behind designer shades on the cover of 'Blue Lines'. He never says much in interviews because "I always get asked the same bag of questions they've pulled out of the journalists' vending machine." And he particularly hates the phrase 'trip hop'.
"When the Wild Bunch started, we called it lover's hip hop. Forget all that trip hop bullshit. There's no difference between what Puffy or Mary J Blige or Common Sense is doing now and what we were doing on 'Blue Lines', but no one has the cheek to call them trip hop," he bristles with indignance. "There was one journalist cheeky enough to call our new album 'goth hop'. Fuckin' ridiculous..." Instead, he thinks 'Mezzanine' is a step back from the "electronic studio minefield" that made 'Protection' so slick. He claims to be unaware of Massive's influence on 90s dance culture - "big beat? What's that?" - because he never reads the press and because Bristol is so isolated from the rest of England. It's that isolation, he says, that's shaped the fierce local scene. "We're not affected by the latest cultures or trends; when you go out, nobody's patting you on the back saying, 'Well done, what are you going to do next?' Like, Portishead is one of the most diverse styles of music that's ever come out of this country. Geoff Barrow's a bit of an anorak, right? He enjoys 60s soundtracks, he doesn't give a fuck really, he wants to do what's in his mind. Being isolated helped him to develop that. Or Krust. That guy should go down as one of the all-time great pioneer geniuses, like Larry Heard was for house. The music he's doing is different because he's isolated in Bristol." Ten years on, he's still obsessed with hip hop: "It's a pretty obsessive culture, buying the freshest trainers and keeping them fresh, always wanting the freshest, most bumping bit of music." Talk about guest vocalists and he admits he'd like to work with D'Angelo or Erykah Badu - "but I don't think the others would be down with that". And Massive Attack's greatest achievement? "Just being true to ourselves. Keeping it real." Spoken like a true b-boy.
GRANT Marshall grins. "I'm a frustrated DJ when it comes down to it. I wanted to be a big DJ, like Nick Warren or Paul Oakenfold. That was on the plans seven years ago. I was going to be Oakie." Somewhere along the way, the plans got mislaid. He had a brief, early 90s stint as Nick Warren's DJ partner, dropping house tunes at clubs like Nottingham's legendary Venus. For a good few years before the guest DJ circuit developed, he was Bristol's biggest DJ: credibility and a full house guaranteed if the name 'Daddy G' appeared on the flyer. Indeed G has always pushed his DJ partners forward: first a forgotten house mixer called West One, later Nick Warren. But house "got a little bit cheesy for me, a bit formularised", so he concentrated on 'Blue Lines'. He's been DJing since the late 70s, first reggae, then hip hop, then The Wild Bunch, who "used to play a collection of virtually everything from punk to James Brown, just mix those genres of music together."
People romanticise the early days of The Wild Bunch - writers talk about their "mythic context" - but Grant remembers early Wild Bunch soundclashes, where local punks like Mark Stewart of The Pop Group would "get on the mic, singing farmer's songs and total obscenities in this real deep voice. 'Fuck off, yer bums, fuck off!' over heavy Def Jam beats!" After years of MCing and DJing, on 'Mezzanine', Grant's taken over Tricky's role as Massive's other voice. He admits the transition wasn't easy.
"I've always written lyrics, but they ain't been that good when I compare them with what 3D does. So quite a lot of my lyrics ended up getting chopped out, because they were... shit, y'know. But playing live, I fuckin' love it, mate. There's always that thing, deep down, that you've wanted to be in a band and it's playing out my little fantasy in a way." Another fantasy played out: you're the only successful British hip hop group ever. Like it or not, you started a new genre of music with 'Blue Lines'. Do you ever think about the influence Massive Attack have had? There's a long pause. "Honest?" he asks. Yeah, honest. "Yeah, I do. I do think that we were part of a certain movement, kicked off a certain sound in England. The whole thing was, in Bristol, we were so obsessive, there was this thing about quality control with us. From the early days, you couldn't wear the wrong trainers or the wrong jeans. It was quite subtle, but it was of the utmost importance. Same with music. On that first album, we were testing each other: 'Are you down? Are you down?' And we came out with quite a fucking cool record."
AND now they've come out with another. But there's still one thing bugging 3D. "The only compromise we've ever made is dropping the 'Attack' from our name, because of the Gulf War and the pressure we were getting from the radio in particular. We were naive, we didn't know what the right thing to do was, but we knew it was a compromise. It was a ridiculous, pointless exercise for everyone. Then the other day, I was reading the paper and it's all happening again over there. I can just imagine the headline: 'MASSIVE ATTACK ON IRAQ', the day before the album's released. All the major stores turn around and say we're not stocking the album, it's in bad taste. You can see it now, can't you?" Just another one of those thoughts that spins around your brain on the Mezzanine...
'Mezzanine' is released on April 13th, the single 'Teardrop' is released April 27th, both on Virgin
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