MIF: Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis

Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis has probably caused the most debate at this years Manchester International Festival.

By Lee Isherwood | 18 July 2013

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For me Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis has probably caused the most debate at this years Manchester International Festival.


Not because of it’s artistic merit, it’s outstanding visual execution or Massive Attack’s exceptionally casual skill performing a live soundtrack that was queued up perfectly, none of that – it’s because a rather large percentage of people I spoke to went expecting a Massive Attack Gig.

Mayfield Depot is a rather large abandoned warehouse building on the same street as my office, I’ve never noticed it before. From the outside the entrance is small and the dorrway is dark, inside it’s another story entirely. A space opens open that in the context of an abandoned depot is as grand as it gets. Black fabric covers any signs of the event and anticipation is high in the staging area.


The curtains pulled back and the scale of the place is truly revieled, a mad dash to the front as people, despite being unsure about what is actually going to happen, assume that’s the best place to be.

Floor to ceiling screens await us at the front and the entire space is surrounded 360 degrees with monolithic projection screens. The members of Massive Attack set-up behind the front screens and it’s very apparent that they are not the focus of this piece.

Adam Curtis commented recently that:
“The show will be a bit of a total experience. You will be surrounded by all kinds of images and sounds. But it is also about ideas. It tells a story about how a new system of power has risen up in the modern world to manage and control us. A rigid and static system that has found in those images and sounds a way of enveloping us in a thin two-dimensional version of the past.”

True to his word that’s exactly what we got, and more. Guest singers Elizabeth Fraser and Horace Andy performed with Massive Attack and brought the soundtrack to Curtis’ rather totalitarian and some how depressing yet uplifting vision. In watching the film it evokes a sense that you are different to everyone just for having chosen to watch it, they are the ones who have seen the light, who are educated, who will not follow. The irony is not lost on me, a few thousand people in a room surrounded by screens and black space, George Orwell 1984 anyone.

“What links us is not just cutting stuff up – but an interest in trying to change the way people see power and politics in the modern world. To say to them – have you thought of looking at it like this?”

In all I truly enjoyed MAvsAC; it was exactly the type of thing I had gone there hoping to experience and visually was a sight to behold. Definatly one of my highlights of MIF 2013.