Brighton, UK (17.11.96)
(published in The Guardian, November 1996)

“Somebody’s making noise down there. Somebody’s f***ing talking. Security! Can we get this geezer up? Security! Is there any security in the house?”
   By Tricky’s standards, this is mild. Abuse of the audience is an old favourite of his, and tonight, for once, it’s deserved. The venue is riddled with people who seem to have bought tickets for the sole purpose of squawking throughout the gig. More than most, Tricky’s music demands attention. It’s strange. It’s complex. It’s dance music you can’t dance to, unless you have an improbable sense of rhythm and an abnormally high leg count. You can’t see the band, because the lighting is so furtively dim. You can only listen, and you’d be a fool not to.
   Tricky makes music as dark as his stage set. His first solo LP, Maxinquaye, was a masterpiece of claustrophobia, a thrillingly original pleasure, possibly the album of the decade thus far. Within months, this mixture of scrambled hip hop beats, sinister sonic loops, spectral guitars, whispered asides and the plaintive female vocals of his regular accomplice, Martina, had spawned a plague of imitators. This may explain why Pre-Millennium Tension, Tricky’s second LP (unless you count a set of collaborations, Nearly God, released earlier in the year), is so extreme. Without changing his technique, Tricky has upped the ante. It sounds like an attempt to go where no copycats will dare to follow. It is also quite brilliant, and obviously far too demanding for tonight’s crowd, who shout in vain for “the one with Isaac Hayes” - Hell Is Round The Corner, his most tuneful track to date, which borrowed the same Ike sample as Portishead’s Glory Box.
   If they shut up long enough to find out, they’d notice that Tricky has finally come up with a live show to match his recorded output. Essentially, he’s a producer, a man whose first instrument is the studio. His early performances took place in total darkness. They weren’t bad shows, because the songs weren’t bad songs, but they felt hamstrung and subdued; and Tricky, on the rare occasions you could see him, always looked as if he’d rather be somewhere else..
   Now, thanks to Pre-Millennium Tension, he has a set of songs which expresses his disgust musically. The ferocity of the hardest hip hop and the most savage heavy metal has been distilled into them. With a new and more sympathetic band to play them, they come alive and burn with a harsh, smoggy flame. And while we can hardly see more of him, Tricky’s shadowy presence seems more like the tease of a performer who revels in his own excellence than the defense of one who doubts it.
   The outlandishly catchy Tricky Kid, with its hilarious ego-tripping rants, remains much as it is on record, which is nothing to complain about. The same goes for Christiansands and Makes Me Wanna Die, where Martina becomes Tricky’s mouthpiece, intoning pretty melodies caught in a dense fog of paranoia. Bad Dreams, like Black Steel, the devastatingly denatured Public Enemy cover which precedes it, takes an already radical piece of hip hop and through inspired sonic restructuring and Martina’s broken automaton vocals turns it into a truly convincing episode of nightmare, far beyond the queasiest dreams of any future shock merchant you care to name.
   Tricky is not a thing apart from hip hop, but nor is he exactly of it. He clearly admires and draws on the deft, dazzling brutality of premier rap “family” The Wu-Tang Clan. Freestyle Conversation, a stand-out track from the new Snoop Doggy Dogg album, Tha Doggfather, which owes more than a little to Tricky, accompanies his band’s arrival onstage. But it’s unthinkable that any rap act might come up with a show like this. Lyrics Of Fury and Vent both refer to hip hop, but turn into gargantuan rock-outs. Vent manages to lend a convulsive glamour to the notion of stress-induced rage, while Lyrics tumbles headlong into the beyond like Can or Remain In Light-era Talking Heads, a blazing funk-rock probe disappearing into space.
   Failing to silence the chatterers, Tricky does the next best thing. He drowns them out with apocalyptic noise. But it’s no random assault of decibels. The louder it gets, the more focused and furious the music becomes. This show is breathtaking. It sees the transformation of a studio-bound talent into a live firebrand. That’s why Tricky is the most important musician in Britain today. Not because he’s the most copied or widely praised or likely to change the face of music in the long run. Because he’s the best.


Trip hop was first used to describe the slow, soulful sound which emerged from Bristol via acts like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky, like a narcotic version of the hip hop beats which underpin rap music. Now it refers to anyone who has access to a sampler (an instrument which plays back snatches of recorded sound) and knows a girl on his English course who writes poetry and can sing a bit.
   Like jungle, trip hop came about when the British finally conceded they couldn’t rap like the Americans, and decided to put to other uses all those old records they’d bought to nick beats from. It’s easy to do, now that everyone else has done it. All you need is a sluggish beat, a dub bassline and an echo chamber. A few ideas wouldn’t hurt, but judging from the genre’s recent showing, these are definitely optional.
   Luckily, pretty much all trip hop sounds good if you smoke enough dope. But then so does everything else, apart from Shed 7. If, when the smoke clears, you’re holding onto records by DJ Shadow, Rob D, DJ Food or The Poets Of Thought, then you grabbed the right ones.

David Bennun
this review is taken from with kind permission of the author 




back to tricky
tricky concertography

martina concertography

back to martina