Blue Lines: Tracing Massive Attack’s Genesis Amidst Bristol’s Cultural Diversity

En 1991, la scène musicale de Bristol a explosé avec la sortie de “Blue Lines”, le premier album révolutionnaire de Massive Attack. “Unfinished Sympathy”, le deuxième single de l’album, a été dévoilé en février de cette année-là, propulsant ainsi la scène musicale de Bristol sous les feux de la rampe mondiale. La sortie de cet album a été pionnière du genre trip-hop, car il marque un tournant vers un voyage introspectif et méditatif comparativement au genre hip-hop typique.


In 1991, the music scene in Bristol exploded with the release of ‘Blue Lines’, the trailblazing debut album from Massive Attack. ‘’Unfinished sympathy’’ the second single on the album, was unveiled in February of that year, and it thrusted Bristol’s music scene into the global spotlight. 

“Unfinished Sympathy” rose up the charts and was later recognised as the 63rd greatest song of all time in a poll conducted by NME. 

Blue Lines was named the 21st greatest album of all time in a 1997 “Music of the Millennium” poll conducted by Channel 4, The Guardian, Classic FM and HMV. Pitchfork ranked it at number 85 in its list of “The Top 100 Albums of the 1990s”. Both Blue Lines and Mezzanine (1998) are included in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.


Massive Attack was formed in 1988 and consisted of Robert “3D” Del Naja, Adrian “Tricky” Thaws, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles, and Grant “Daddy G” Marshalll; with 3D and Daddy G being the consistent members of the band. 

Their first album Blue Lines achieved considerable success. As mentioned by Robert Del Naja on the production of Blue Lines, “We worked on Blue Lines for about eight months, with breaks for Christmas and the World Cup, but we started out with a selection of ideas that were up to seven years old. Songs like ‘Safe from Harm’ and ‘Lately’ had been around for a while, from when we were The Wild Bunch, or from our time on the sound systems in Bristol.’’

The album also features notable vocal contributions from Shara Nelson and Horace Andy.

The album’s making has been successful due to assistance from Cameron McVey, the band’s first manager, and Neneh Cherry. The recording took place partially at the residence of McVey and Cherry.

Daddy G said on the making of the album that;

‘’We were lazy Bristol twats. It was Neneh Cherry who kicked our arses and got us in the studio.’’

Neneh Cherry is also famously known for her collaboration on the single, 7seconds with Youssou N’Dour


The creative choices on Blue Lines are intricate. The first track is a comprehensive tone-setter for the album. It sonically possesses the elements and techniques employed throughout the album. Among the oscillating effects present on this LP are samplings, delays, filter work and reverbs. For instance, the use of the normal/cringy record scratch technique, was submerged in reverb at the start of ‘Unfinished Sympathy’’. The use of sampling has been beautifully employed on the title track ‘’Blue Lines’’ with the beat-structure taken from Tom Scott & L.A. Express’ ‘’Sneakin’ In The Back’’

The release of this album has been groundbreaking and the pioneering of the trip-hop genre as the album provides a shift towards an introspective and even meditative journey, compared to the typical hip-hop genre.  

what we were trying to do was create dance music for the head, rather than the feet. I think it’s our freshest album, we were at our strongest then.

Grantley ”Daddy G” Marshall

Nonetheless, considering the trip-hop works that followed, with the likes of DJ Shadow and Portishhead, “Blue Lines” adopts a mellower, slower pace, exuding an introspective and contemplative atmosphere. Its captivating intro sets a heady tone, making it a timeless classic for those late-night, early morning moments of introspection and unwinding. This is different from hip-hop its aim is to convey dance music for the head, rather than the feet. 

The genesis and making of Blue Lines actually started as early as from the 1980s, decade before the release, as a fusion of genres and circumstances that emerged from the diverse suburbs of this historical city.


Bristol is a melting pot of cultures and is also composed of a large Caribbean community following post-war immigration. Following 1980’s riots due rising youth unemployment under Margaret’s Thatcher premiership, and the perceived abuse of police force used, the city’s authority became more lenient in general towards young people.

The riot’s aftermath enabled creative people having more freedom to express themselves, thru late night parties in unlicensed venues, freedom around drug use and the liberated approach to the St Paul’s carnival. 


Bristol’s space and mix of cultures was from which The Willd Bunch took birth, from the predominant sound system movement during the 1980’s. The band was initially composed of Miles Johnson (DJ Milo), Grant Marshal (Daddy G) and Nellee Hooper; and later joined by Robert Del Naja (3D), Willy Wee and Adrian Thaws (Tricky). 

The group took its name from the 1969 Western film directed by Sam Peckinpah.

In Milo Johnson’s words for RMBA, he described the gigs by Wild Bunch as;

When you’re looking out at a crowd going bananas to the tunes you’re dropping – a lot of early Chicago house, a lot of the old boogie tunes, whatever – that’s the only place you’re head is at, it’s all you think about. There were people blowing air horns, blowing whistles and raving it up. It was like a circus. There were never less than 500 people there at any point, the whole night through.’’

The Wild Bunch, as a DJ collective, gained fame and became legendary for hosting now-historical all-night events in Bristol’s vibrant clubs and forgotten warehouses. Their groundbreaking gatherings propelled them to the forefront of the UK sound system culture, establishing them as true pioneers of the scene.

In 1986, they made their last appearance, at St Paul’s carnival, marking one of their final shows before splitting. Tricky gained recognition as a successful solo artist and in the meanwhile, Milo (now DJ Nature and Nature Boy) relocated to Harlem, where he became an iconic figure in the realm of raw, mid-tempo New York disco.

It is also from there that some of the Wild Bunch Members went on to become the trip-hop legends; Massive Attack


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