Massive Attack fans were warned in advance that this would be no greatest hits gig and as soon as the battle commenced it was clear that Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis had been won by the documentary maker. But then it was always clear that Massive Attack had long conspired to surrender. Sometimes things are as they seem.
Manchester International Festival regulars (and I’m a big fan) are most likely to compare this with It Felt Like A Kiss from 2009. Both are truly immersive experiences. Here, in a disused warehouse, the audience is bombarded on all sides with Curtis’s polemic, while Massive Attack are only occasionally visible behind a screen. Unlike It Felt Like A Kiss, this time we go at Curtis’s pace rather than our own. Back in 2009 we learned how the American Dream turned to nightmare, particularly for those beyond the borders of the USA. This time there is less focus but the USSR’s influence is perhaps strongest.
World history, it seems, began in about 1975 when it became clear that old, soviet-style attempts to determine the future were doomed. Today we’ve given up trying to determine the future and are instead concerned with managing the present, while obsessing about the past. On to this Curtis bolts an unlikely happy ending: ‘remember you can change the world’ (but you just told us we can’t!).
This isn’t quite a conspiracy theory as there are no conspirators, only players. And some of those players are relatively obscure. One finds it hard not to conclude that Curtis is guilty of reaching a conclusion and then looking back for evidence, of staring at chaos only to impose an imaginary order. Nevertheless, taken as a work of fiction it is as compelling as any good thriller and, with it’s loose ends tidied and happy ending, it is ultimately satisfying. Highly recommended.