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Portishead - Treacherous Trends
Geoffrey Barrow and Adrian Utley on returning to a music scene where theyíre no longer the lights of the music pressí eyes.

[image: big p] Four years ago, rave ruled Britain. The youth was out in the country, dropping E and dancing the night away in barns and warehouses. Three years ago, trip-hop emerged from Bristol and ever increasing BPMs became a thing of the past. Massive Attack and their former cohort Tricky released albums and were showered with critical acclaim and media attention.

But, the kings of the hill were Portishead, a position attested to at the Ď95 Mercury Awards, when they beat off their fellow Bristolians to claim the coveted prize. Then, almost as soon as they had appeared, they were gone.

Now itís 1997. Trip-hop is all but forgotten, the Mercury Prize has returned to Bristol, but now itís Roni Size and drum ní bass that rule the roost. However, Portishead are back with a new album, "Portishead", and a tour. Programmer and Percussionist Geoff Barrow is just as happy they are no longer the Ďiní thing.

"If itís because of trends with-in the press, then weíre just as glad weíre out of it. Because if it was a fad trend, itís over, and we can still make records. If people are still interested, then thatís what weíre about. If people arenít interested, we soon know about it. Theyíll stop buying our records."

This attitude is echoed by guitarist Adrian Utley. "Itís treacherous being part of a trend, isnít it?"

They never considered themselves part of a Bristol scene and the category is one that they dislike. According to Adrian, these categories and scenes have nothing to do with music. "Itís a press thing. Thereís bands from other cities doing music thatís similar, but they wonít get lumped into the same thing because theyíre not from Bristol."

Geoff says that the band has always considered themselves "massively individual" and donít see themselves as part of any scene. "Weíve never really been part of any other band, we donít work with other bands. We wanted to join together and make something that was absolutely solid. We donít have people whoíve produced other records produce ours. Generally, everything is done by ourselves and itís massively individual."

The new, eponymous Portishead album is a darker, grittier affair than its predecessor "Dummy". While many bands would drag out the tired old cliche - "Itís a reaction, right, against the whole music biz and the press and stuff", Portisheadís reason is a lot more personal and honest.

"We kinda got into a difficult time making the record," is how Adrian explains it. "We got into a hole where we almost lost vision of what we were doing."

To which Geoff added "Up shit creek without a paddle".

Adrian agreed and continued. "For about a year and a bit, we just made a lot of music we werenít actually finishing and we were getting really frustrated. We lost our way, the light almost went out."

Geoff said they had three aims. "To make a heavier record, a rougher record."

"Thatís only two things," Adrian pointed out.

"And a better record. Being influenced by hip-hop, I always thought that was about a rougher, heavier sound. We were heavily depressed and that possibly effected the way it came out."

Adrian said that it was frustration and anger that gave the record its sound and that can be heard in Bethís vocals.

The darker sound has lead to the band being described as Goth. For many bands, the word "Goth" strikes fear into their heart, with ideas of small club ghettoisation and weird fans. Not so Portishead, in fact they prefer the description to Ďtrip-hopí. Adrian has no bad opinion of Goth because he doesnít know much about it. "The Goth bands that I know about, I think are alright - Bauhaus."

The Goth link was consolidated by their inclusion in "Hex Files - The Goth Bible", in which they were linked to Bristol Goth band Whores of Babylon. So how do they feel about being part of a different Bristol scene?

As they both exploded with laughter, all Adrian managed to get out was that it was incredible and that he was stunned, while Geoff thinks itís "absolutely brilliant." There is a connection with the Whores of Babylon, Portishead shared a studio with them. They also got(h) Whores lead singer, Sean, to sing on the new album with them.

While "Portishead" is only their second album, it could have been their third. Before Adrian joined, Geoff and Beth had been working on material for 4 years. So they donít consider "Dummy" their debut.

As Adrian put it to Geoff, "You could have released an album long before, but you didnít. It was incredibly carefully considered and by the time I got involved, it was very intense. Even though only one track came out of the original sessions, a lot of stuff was discarded that could have been released and judged as an earlier thing."

As a result, they donít feel constrained by the attention their first release got. On the contrary, Geoff considers it beneficial.

"The whole way it was received in the press, it is good, in the sense that it does allow us to carry on."

And carry on they have. The new album was launched in grand style in New York where the band was backed by an orchestra. So, why did they decide on the States instead of home?

According to Geoff it was an exciting place to play, while Adrian added that it gave them more of a buzz. "It definitely put an edge on it that it would not have had in London."

Geoff explained why that was. "We wanted to take the whole idea of using strings and stuff to a different country. We wanted to make it seem really special for ourselves to enjoy. I think a lot of people have done it in the UK."

Since then they have embarked on their first tour in over 2 years and they are glad to be back on the road. Adrian said this because they want to gauge the reaction of the fans to their new stuff.

"You make a record, it takes you two years or whatever and we talk to a lot of people who didnít buy the album, who were given it. When we go out and play, we desperately needed to see people who had bought our records and talk to them, play a gig and see what was going on."

To which Geoff added, "that whole music industry thing, the press, the record company and everything, is completely out the window. Itís the only contact we ever have, as a band, to the people who buy the records."

Adrian also pointed out the creative advantage to touring. "We can now start thinking about how weíre going to play the stuff live, and reinvent things and just enjoy it. And be creative,"

In the end, thereís not much more anyone could ask of them.

by Donnacha DeLong