If you’ve heard the name The Wild Bunch then you will no doubt know that they were the pre-cursor to Massive Attack. It was in The Wild Bunch that the core members of Massive Attack cut their teeth as performers and producers long before Blue Lines saw the light of day. There is a lot more to Wild Bunch than just their association with Massive Attack, however. In the 1980s they were trailblazers in fusing a sound that combined elements of punk, reggae, hip-hop and soul to name just a few of the styles. They were also influential in helping to develop the early hip-hop scene in Bristol and establishing connections with groups in places like London through jams they held with the likes of the Newtrament Krew. However, because of the success of Massive Attack the group are often cast in the shadow and frequently forgotten about beyond the city limits of Bristol despite the impact they had on hip-hop and underground music in the city.
The group began as a reggae sound system in the St Pauls\Montpelier area of Bristol in 1983. The founders of the system consisted of DJs Milo and Nellee Hooper and MC Daddy G, performing every Wednesday at the Dug Club. They gradually began to mirror themselves more on the hip-hop systems of New York, incorporating a variety of sounds into their sets that set them apart from other systems that tended to focus on one specific style of music. They would also gather more members, forming a loose collective of performers, DJs and anyone else willing to pitch in handing out flyers or selling some beer. Among these new members would be the graffiti writer\MC 3D, MC Willie Wee and vocalist Mushroom as well as part-time affiliate Tricky. Their reputation grew across the city and beyond as the decade continued with their all-night performances whether at illegal parties outside or in warehouses, private parties, legit gigs\sound clashes or at St Pauls Carnival unmissable events. In particular, their St Pauls Carnival sets till dawn are the stuff of legend in Bristol. Much of this popularity was down to their sound. As well as mixing disparate styles into their sonic soundscapes, they were also unique in that they focused on slower rhythms and ambient electronic atmospheres. This would help to lay the foundations for what became known as the ‘Bristol sound’ and the backbone for much of the trip-hop of the early\mid-1990s.
By 1987, they had secured themselves a record deal with Island records and released the single “Tearin’ Down the Avenue”. However, by this point the cracks were beginning to form as tension grew within the collective. On the back of their 1987 single and thanks to connections with Face magazine and Neneh Cherry, the group had managed to secure themselves a tour of Japan that same year. During the tour, however, 3D left the group, partly due to frustration at a lack of creative input and also due to homesickness at being in Japan. Milo and Nellee Hooper had signed for Island records as the sole signatories of The Wild Bunch and promptly moved to London after the tour, further straining relationships in the group. There were two releases to appear in 1988 before the collective completely collapsed, a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Look of Love” and the single “Friends and Countrymen”, recorded before 3D had left. “Friends and Countrymen” in particular shows what could have been had the group been able to stick together and keep recording.
The group had formally split by 1989, but the musical legacy, as has been well documented, has lasted well beyond the collective’s lifetime. 3D, Daddy G and Mushroom would go on to form Massive Attack, whose first few albums very much followed The Wild Bunch blueprint and helped make them successful all around the world. Nellee Hooper helped form Soul II Soul with Jazzie B, whose song “Back to Life” was a number one hit in the UK in 1989, as well as going on to produce the likes of Bjork, Madonna, No Doubt and U2 and winning the 1995 BRIT Award for Best Producer. Of the other members, DJ Milo went to work as a producer and DJ in Japan, while MC Willie Wee would perform vocals on Massive Attack’s “Five Man Army” in 1991 before disappearing into obscurity.