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(Credit: Massive Attack)

Exploring the many movie references of Massive Attack's 'Karmacoma'

The middle eastern vibe of Massive Attack song ‘Karmacoma’ has become a track ubiquitous of the band’s eclectic tastes since its release in March 1995. Band members 3D and Tricky claim the majority of the lyrics were written while high on drugs backstage at a music festival somewhere in England, with the surreal music video certainly reflecting this psychedelic sentiment. 

Filmed in County Hall, London, the music video was the first of the influential filmmaker Jonathan Glazer who would later go on to work with Blur, Radiohead, Nick Cave and Jamiroquai. His success with promotional music videos would later be eclipsed by his auteurship of three monumental British films, Sexy Beast, Birth and the artistic triumph that is Under the Skin.

With a clear interest in the wide landscape of cinema long before his foray into music videos, it’s no wonder that in his wild, experimental video for ‘Karmacoma’, he has sprinkled several subtle (and not so subtle) references to contemporary film. Its most obvious references come inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1980 film The Shiningseen in the decorated halls of the stylised hotel as well as the pair of childish twins that haunt its hallways. 

Discussing the band’s creative relationship with Glazer, 3D stated: “We had seen some of his stuff he had done in advertising and he came recommended and obviously we just really got on with him and we talked about films, which is the most important thing to reference really for us,” whilst in conversation with Mirrorball TV in 1999. 

Along with Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film, several other cinematic references have been spotted by eagle-eyed Massive Attack fans, including two films by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. At one point, a man resembling the Coen brothers’ titular Barton Fink can even be spotted.

Glazer’s influential video would be one of the first examples of music videos using dialogue and sound effects to tell an additional story, working collaboratively with the band in order to achieve this. As 3D recalls, “We don’t really normally go into songs with a complete vision of a video or a trailer for it as we don’t normally write that way”. 

Continuing, the band’s lead singer comments, “Most things come about in the studio in quite a haphazard or an abstract way. You don’t think about as a picture or a story, so you don’t necessarily have a story in terms of the visuals to go with it. So it was good to meet someone who has references you can relate to and vice-versea”. 

Fatefully, it was ‘Karmacoma’ that would inadvertently lead to Tricky severing ties with the band before seeking a solo career in the industry, claiming that the song was mostly his own work, with only minimal input from the rest of the band. Such may explain the producer and rapper’s enthusiasm to include the cover of the song, ‘Overcome’ on his debut album. 

Nonetheless, the track’s music video will forever be remembered as an early indication of the cinematic mystique of Jonathan Glazer.

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