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Massive Attack Cover Streisand, Nirvana in Provocative New Show

Trip-hop band pairs with filmmaker Adam Curtis

Massive Attack
Kevin Westenberg
September 27, 2013 10:00 AM ET

Massive Attack's new collaboration with filmmaker Adam Curtis, dubbed 'Massive Attack V Adam Curtis,' opening this weekend at New York City's Park Ave Armory, is an ambitious show that features a combination of live music and video flashing across 11 giant screens. 

"I think there's a risk of everything becoming very generic," Massive Attack singer Robert Del Naja tells Rolling Stone. "The idea is to make it confrontational on an aural level and a visual level."

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Over the years, the British-electronic group have worked with artists as diverse as reggae icon Horace Andy and Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser. Del Naja's own side career as a celebrated graffiti artist has carried over to the band's visual show – he often helps with the lighting design, despite the fact that he is colorblind – though he has never done a full-length video collaboration with another artist before. This show (which has already run in London and Duisburg, Germany) juxtaposes images of conflict with a live, interactive score from the band. "The way hip-hop builds new music from old music through its roots, Adam does that with his film," Del Naja explains.

"What the film is trying to do is tell the history of the last 50 years in a very different way," Curtis says. "What it's arguing is that we have given up any ideas that we can progress socially, politically and culturally and instead are a very conservative society. When you attempt to avoid all dangers, you adopt a brace position and end up in a very static world."

The music Massive Attack play spans decades, from Barbra Streisand and Nirvana to Siberian punk rock and Bauhaus. Horace Andy comes out to sing the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" as video flashes images of minstrel shows and other distasteful imagery. Del Naja is particulary proud of that moment. "That song is kind of a montage that people expect of merry old England in the Fifties and Sixties," he says. "Then we juxtapose that with ignorant and racist images that were actually very apparent in England. When you think back selectively, it all seems very sunny and sweet and, in fact, it wasn't like that."

'Massive Attack V Adam Curtis' premieres in New York on September 28th and runs through October 4th.

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