The Wild Bunch from Bristol: How To Sound Like Massive Attack
With roots in Hip-Hop and Soundsystem culture, Massive Attack took on the world with their conscious but hard-hitting approach to music production.
The collective of Robert “3D” Del Naja, Adrian “Tricky” Thaws, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles, and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall were all original members of The Wild Bunch sound system, along with award-winning producer Nellee Hooper.
Few bands start out with such a culturally definitive album as their debut Blue Lines (1991). Carefully curated samples, driving basslines, downtempo breakbeats, and soulful vocals became a standard that many acts would follow throughout the 1990s.
That Massive Attack sound
As artists, they continued to evolve both visually and sonically until in 1998 they delivered the outstanding Mezzanine album which crossed over into post-punk, alternative, and industrial.
In many cases, much of the overall density of the Massive Attack sound can be attributed to the wizardry of Mark “Spike” Stent and Neil Davidge who delivered mixes that are still studied academically to this day.
Massive Attack used the SSL console at Olympic Studios, for the first 10 years of their career. So when it was time to put their own studio together, they opted for the G+ console.
For a band with multiple creative sources and no defined creative process, a console makes sense. What’s more it’s the preferred choice of Stent, Davidge, and engineer Lee Shephard.
We’ve discussed console workflows before, but you can get a great recording front end with the SSL Big SiX, and you could easily use it for analogue summing too.
AKAI MPC 3000
Most of the core production elements in Massive Attack’s music are sample-based, and the genius behind it has far more to do with taste and techniques than the gear used.
That being said, there are instruments like the MPC 3000 which are well-suited for creating lo-fi downtempo drum grooves like most of their material is based around. The 3000 is an excellent synthesizer too, which adds to its creative versatility.
As an alternative, the modern MPC X provides endless connectivity options as well as the ability to run in both standalone and DAW-integrated modes.
In the mid-1990s, the portable QY22 was Tricky’s personal weapon of choice. It provides the perfect platform for creating sketches and demos. At the time, a handheld sequencer with this degree of sophistication was an exciting prospect.
Although there isn’t much in terms of sound-shaping or effects, you get 8 tracks to work with and the memory has storage for up to 20 songs. In addition, you get Yamaha’s 16-part multitimbral AWM sound engine with 28-voice polyphony.
As a modern equivalent, MIDI sequencers aren’t relevant in the same way they were, but trackers like the Dirtywave M8 and the new Polyend Tracker Mini are powerful handheld production stations with endless potential.
Line 6 Echo Pro
An interesting and relatively inexpensive choice from the Massive Attack studio is the Line 6 Echo Pro rack. At first glance, it might appear rather simplistic, but it has algorithms based on some of the greatest echo and delay units.
It offers full stereo operation with high-quality AD/DA conversion, and quick access to sounds from the Echoplex, the Space Echo, the DM-2, the Deluxe Memoryman, and the famous 2290.
Such a unique collection of echo and delay effects is hard to find, but the Meris LVX can create a huge range of sounds, and the degree of dynamic control you get is very impressive.
Analogue stereo filter units like the Mutronics Mutator and later, the Electrix Pro Filter Factory produce an essential part of the surreal sound of Massive Attack’s tracks from the late 1990s onwards.
The implementation of MIDI and the option to choose either stereo or dual mono operation provide the perfect tools for real-time sound sculpting of drum loops, samples, vocals, and even entire mixes.
You can find the Mutator in plug-in format from Softube, which at least captures some of the magic of the original.
Is Robert Del Naja the mysterious street artist known as Banksy? Let us know your theories in the comments below!
More about Massive Attack:
- Massive Attack official page
- More sound-alikes
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- SSL G-Series: Waves
- AKAI MPC 3000: Music Gateway
- Yamaha QY22: Yamaha
- Line 6 Echo Pro: Vintage Digital
- Mutronics Mutator: Oscidance
- mutator_screenshot_main_pluginboutique: Plugin Boutique
- pb: Plugin Boutique