Art & design in music

Published:  April 22, 2010
Art & design in music

Last month I was fortunate enough to see Massive Attack at the Sidney Myer Music bowl in Melbourne. The musicianship was absolutely stunning and something that I highly recommend if you get the opportunity.

Aside from the brilliant sound, the visual landscape they produced is what I want to discuss. Massive Attack, Lady Gaga and artists alike, blur the lines between creative industries and produce both an aural and visual feast. Of course, theatre has always been a huge part of a live music show, and a lot of contemporary art delves into sound as well as picture. Music video clips are also a format in which musicians can artistically express themselves. However I think we will be seeing much more of the seamless integration of design, art and music in a live performance.

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

The Massive Attack show didn’t have the production budget of a Lady Gaga musical/feature film-like extravaganza, but rather used simplicity to convey strong political and emotional messages. It gave them a canvas to express these messages that otherwise might go unnoticed in the lyrics. These visuals play a harmonious part with the music to surround the audience in the true meaning and give a deeper understanding of the song.

Renowned for their brilliant light show, it appeared the Massive Attack set was constructed using a series of LED lights. The use of straight lines, pattern and typography is a graphic designers haven, all perfectly in time the entire gig.

The screens were not only used for visual sake but to inspire us to think about the world around us. During songs that had strong political messages, the LED screens were plastered with such information. Economic figures were compared, that made the embellished nature of first world countries look utterly terrifying, inhumane and grossly out of proportion. The audience are left gob smacked at the performance, but also emotionally touched. However they were not left short of a laugh during parts of the concert, the LED screens were also used to project humourous news excerpts and quotes.

While there is some difficulty in fully absorbing all the visual information as well as watching the live performance, I believe they went hand in hand. Each song was accompanied by imagery that would truly make you appreciate the meaning.

A visual landscape like seen at a Massive Attack concert is not something that will work for all live music. For example, Paul Kelly and strobing lights plastered with political messages don’t seem to mix with each other. However with ever-evolving technologies I think we will begin seeing a lot more live music being accompanied by digital art and design. It would be a credit to the industry if musicians, set designers and builders, art directors and graphic/digital designers could regularly work together on full-scale creative productions.

Jack Mussett is a Creative Director at Melbourne based design studio Motherbird.

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

All Images Copyright Massive Attack

6 Responses

  1. jr

    this gig looks wicked – looks like they had a pretty good budget!

  2. Natap

    I’d really love to go to a chemical bros. or daft punk show – they always seem to put so much effort and money into their live visuals.

  3. A

    I am a musician called LVX you can make lights for me please. Interesting read. Massive Attack are super rich and would have a pretty big budget, but true, not with with the support of the labels and more rich people that support Gagaloo. It was the most ridiculously good show I’d ever seen

  4. Dancer

    The lighting for the Massive Attack visual extravaganza was developed and produced by a company called United Visual Artists (see: There is no doubt that there was a huge budget although Massive Attack have been using this setup for an extanded period (I don’t know for sure but at least 2 years).

    I went to the Mebourne gig last month and was lucky enough to actually know the background of the visuals at the time, all of the ‘local’ headlines were streamed from online sources live and I assume most of the statistics also. It was such a good show!

  5. DW

    I am green with envy :o (

  6. hey, I am still jealous of this damned story….. grrrr

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