Making soundtracks for imaginary Film Noir
spy movie fever dreams since 1994
The other famous trip-hop band from Bristol that helped codify
and popularise the genre alongside Massive Attack
, Portishead have been rolling around the music scene since 1991. The band consists of the following members:
- Beth Gibbons - vocals, occasional guitar
- Geoff Barrow - Record Producer, DJ, sampler, keyboards, drums, multiple instruments
- Adrian Utley - guitar, bass, keyboards
Dave McDonald is occasionally named their "fourth member", having served as engineer and producer and occasionally contributed instruments on all their albums.
Portishead's famous Signature Style
is a combination of hip hop-inspired breakbeats, dense productions, Utley's distorted guitars, influences from spy film soundtracks, samples, and Gibbons' haunting vocals. Their music is only enhanced by their Film Noir
-influenced aesthetics and Surreal Music Videos
These elements brought them critical and commercial success right out the gate with their debut Dummy
, but ever since they've pursued a harsher, more dissonant Darker and Edgier
sound marked by claustrophobia, heavy distortion and industrial influences on Portishead
In 1994 they made a short film titled To Kill a Dead Man
, which they wrote and acted in. They're also infamous for taking a long time to make albums, a trait shared by their fellow Bristolians Massive Attack
- they were on a long hiatus between 1999-2005.
- Dummy (1994)
- Portishead (1997)
- Roseland NYC Live (1998) - live album
- Third (2008)
- Accentuate the Negative: Their music is very gloomy.
- Creepy Child: The girl in the video for "All Mine."
- Darker and Edgier: Portishead and Third. While the lyrics don't get any more melancholy, the sound gets darker (Third's beat was a lot more industrial).
- Fake Guest Star: Utley is not officially signed on with the band and is technically a guest contributor on each album, but everyone considers him a full-time member of the group.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: The spoken Portuguese at the beginning of "Silence".
- Gratuitous Panning: All of their videos.
- Last Note Nightmare - "Silence" ends in, well... silence.
- Mind Screw: Their short film To Kill a Dead Man. It's a spy film with no dialogue and nightmarish, paranoid imagery.
- Mood Whiplash - "Deep Waters" in the middle of Third, which is a Hawaiian tune about a girl choosing to face her fears.
- "Glory Box" is either a woman asking her husband to be a bit more caring and loving, or a cheating woman tired of cheating man asking the same question. Either way, the lyrics - and music, somewhat - aren't as sad as the rest of the songs on the album.
- More Dakka: "Machine Gun" uses percussion to audibly apply this effect, though the song itself has nothing to do with the trope.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly - They're classified as "trip-hop", but they're more if Nine Inch Nails was a jazz band instead and if Trent Reznor was a middle-aged woman - there's not much rapping going on, compared to Massive Attack.
- New Sound Album: Portishead and Third.
- Non-Appearing Title: A favorite trope of theirs.
- Reclusive Artist: The band are known for being reluctant to do interviews and talk to the press.
- Retraux: To Kill a Dead Man, styled after Film Noir and spy films.
- Sampling: From old spy film soundtracks, soul and jazz singles and, on Portishead, original material created by Barrow and Utley.
- Smoking Is Cool: Beth Gibbons is such a chain smoker that she is seldom seen without a cigarette during performances.
- Surreal Music Video: Most of their videos.
- Theremin: Played by Utley on "Mysterons". "Humming" also has a Theremin-ish sound, but that's actually a Moog. Both get used if - and when - they do play live.
- Uncommon Time: A few songs on Third are in unusual time signatures. The song 'Small', for example, is partly in 11/4 time.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Everyone in the video for Glory Box.