I’d read a fair bit about the new collaboration between Adam Curtis, twice BAFTA winning documentary director, and Massive Attack, the Bristol-based trip-hop collective, but even so I was extremely under prepared as I was waiting for the show to begin. It’s sort of left me in a difficult decision review-wise, as on the one hand it didn’t actually feel like a concert, it was more like a film with music as the backdrop, and on the other I really don’t want to reveal anything. If you get the chance, just go and see this. It’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And beware, spoilers ahead.
The tickets warn that sensible footwear must be worn and earplugs were given out at the door, so I was understandably fairly nervous for what I was about to witness. I mean, I have seen My Bloody Valentine so I kind of knew what to expect when earplugs are involved. Still, this seemed unlike anything I had ever seen before. The ‘gig’, if you could call it that, is situated in the Mayfield depot. This was an enormous, unused Edwardian building situated behind Manchester Picadilly station, possibly one of the coolest venues I’ve been to in my life, a place unused for 20 years. It definitely gave it a sort of haunting vibe. Inside, everything seemed to be shrouded in secrecy, the audience stood waiting outside these huge curtains that covered up everything inside. When we were let in, the audience found that the curtains were covering enormous screens covering three sides, boxing us in in an almost claustrophobic way. I stood fairly near the front, regrettably, as I’d later find out. Behind the screens immediately in front of me you could see the vague outlines of a variety of instruments and as the show began it became clear that Massive Attack would be situated behind these screens, and behind them was a further screen. The band themselves didn’t come out until quite a few minutes after the film had begun. The effect though, was that at times it seemed like Massive Attack were hiding in the shadows and at others it seemed to be that they were part of the
As the opening credits rolled we were introduced to a few of the key players, including Massive Attack themselves who were highlighted by a spotlight alongside such names as Donald Trump and Walt Disney. The film itself is difficult to explain. It consisted of several interlocking stories ranging from the Chernobyl disaster, to the story of a man who could predict chance events, to the Twin Towers tragedy to the rise of a Russian punk outfit named Grob. The overarching story or point of Adam Curtis’ breathtaking, visceral and often gruesome and uncomfortable documentary film, titled Everything is Going According to Plan, seemed to be that the future is not as predictable as we’re led to believe. He tells the tale of the utopia’s that Russia and America planned can crumble, even if the future can be predictable. Massive corporations like banks can get around the predictability of the stock market by falsifying data. It’s sort of unclear how music is meant to tie into this revelationis it contributing to the problem or easing it? The whole point of the film seems to make you question everything, with the music providing the backdrop and occasionally taking centre stage.
But this definitely didn’t feel like a gig and anyone going to experience Massive Attack favourites like Teardrop or Paradise Circus will be left disappointed- in fact, anyone going to have a good dance or move to the music will be left disappointed, too. Instead, the audience are regaled by covers ranging from Nirvana’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, to Shirelles’ ‘Baby It’s You’. It’s an odd and eclectic mix, lightened by the inclusion of special guests Horace Andy and Elizabeth Fraser who were real treats. The music itself was executed perfectly and by the end it was pretty clear why the earphones were required as waves after waves of noise hit you. It was often a sensory overload for the audience, who, like Massive Attack, felt like they were part of the film themselves. At times it was quite draining as your eyes were hit with a barrage of lights as sounds hitting over 100dB bombarded your ears.
To be honest, it was really unclear what the entire audience was thinking until the end of the last song, myself included. At which point the entire crowd erupted into the most tremendous applause I’ve ever been witness too - perhaps because it had been bottled up for so long during the course of the evening. At any rate, walking out the doors there were the murmured conversations of over a thousand people discussing what they had just seen and engaging in extremely thought-provoking conversations. Which was kind of the point, I guess.
Review by James Lowther