Whether you’re a hardcore fan or have never even heard of them, Massive Attack were undoubtedly a formative part of the 1990’s music scene in Britain. Hummable tracks such as ‘Unfinished Symphony’ and ‘Protection’ sit amongst collaborations with Madonna, and songs that have since been covered by the likes of Jamie Cullum.
Last week, Massive Attack unveiled their first track in four years, after a string of hints on their Instagram page. Entitled ‘Eutopia’, the group’s new audovisual release is especially noteworthy as in addition to Algiers, Saul Williams, & Young Fathers, the EP features none other than SOAS’s own Professor Guy Standing, lecturer in the Department of Development Studies, and co-founder of the Basic Income Earth Network.
We talked to Professor Standing about his part in Massive Attack’s latest hit.
How did the collaboration with Massive Attack come about?
The collaboration began when Massive Attack contacted me after the pandemic hit, which was shortly after my new book came out in March. I think they had read or at least seen my earlier book, which is my analysis of the ethical and economic foundations of basic income.
Were you a Massive Attack fan beforehand?
I had heard only good things about them. I know a bit more now. I do believe all forms of art must have a political dimension.
Have you ever been part of a project like this? How does it differ from your day to day work?
I have been researching on basic income for my whole career and with several friends set up BIEN in 1986, chairing it for 22 years. The project has been a long-term building of an international network to coordinate work on basic income, by philosophers, economists and other social scientists and activists. We have thousands of members and networks in 35 countries, and I have been privileged to do pilots in parts of Africa and in India. On the journey, we have reached out to as many people as we can, and have held 19 international congresses, the latest one being in Hyderabad.
So, in a sense this project has been the latest part of a long journey. I strongly believe in the message I have tried to convey in the video, and if Massive Attack are able to translate that into a visual and musical form, hats off to them. As it happens, a new group wrote to me recently and asked if I would mind if they called themselves The Precariat. They told me they were drawn to my books on the class. There is also a brilliant Danish jazz group, with which I have had dealings, which has made a great song about basic income and the precariat.
What do you think the impact is of an academic being part of a popular music track?
I do not want to speculate on personal impact. The crucial point is that the music and the message is reaching a large number of people – 96,000 viewers at the time of writing this response to your question — who need to be part of a crusade for justice and basic security. These are the values steeped in SOAS history.
What do you hope people take away from Massive Attack’s ‘Eutopia’?
I hope some will gain a little more confidence that we can develop a new progressive politics. Over the years, many politicians have told me that they believe in basic income but do not know how to come out in favour of it. We will only obtain transformative change if the new dangerous class, the precariat, demand it and struggle for it. Nothing would please me more than if students from SOAS were among the leaders of the next forward march, driving back the threat of Extinction and leading to a new progressive politics.