Massive Attack has remastered its album Mezzanine into a can of DNA spray paint

Massive Attack has remastered its album Mezzanine into a can of DNA spray paint

Off the wall

Text: Aravin Sandran

From visual albums that blur the boundaries between music videos and film such as Frank Ocean's Endless to Travis Scott's hypebeast-worthy merch, music marketing is a whole new ball game right now. But Bristolian trip-hop group Massive Attack just upped the ante with some mind-blowing futurist technology. 

In April of this year, they announced that they had encoded their chart-topping 1998 album Mezzanine into DNA in celebration of its 20th anniversary. While it sounded like some hokey-pokey sci-fi bullshit at that point, it is now completely real. The group recently unveiled a remastered, limited edition spray can containing one million synthetic DNA copies of the album. 

You might be scratching your head wondering how the hell did a music duo figure this out. Well, they didn't do it on their own. They had help from Dr Robert Grass of TurboBeads, a commercial entity that is part of Swiss university ETH Zurich. We won't bog you down with the technicalities of the encoding process as described by Grass in the official release. Basically, the digital bitstream of the album (0s and 1s) was translated into DNA sequences, chemically synthesised, encapsulated in synthetic glass fossils before being added into the spray can as matte black paint. Yes, we can't wrap our tiny minds around this either. 

Massive Attack's 3D — who also happens to be a graffiti artist and once rumoured to be the infamous Banksy himself — said: "It's an interesting way to vandalise your back catalogue, although DNA-encoded spray paint is unlikely to be adopted by street artists seeking anonymity." 

Currently, the Nanopore sequencer is the only portable device that'll be able to 'play' this album but the price is steep and the processing time can take up to a week. That leaves two options for fans of the record: buy the can as a collectible and display it proudly — and silently — on your mantelpiece or get the 'Super Deluxe' package that comes with a large-format book with photography by the legendary Nick Knight. Well, we'll be sticking with Spotify to revel in the album again but hey, we'll happily give this conceptual release a generous 'A' for effort. We barely understand it, but we like the sound of it, and who knows, we might use it to give one of our dusty ol' neighbourhoods a facelift.


Massive Attack's Mezzanine is available for pre-order now.

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