British Band Publishes Roadmap for Low Carbon Live Music

Massive Attack takes on one of the most formative challenges of our time.

Extinction Rebellion Protests Continue Over The Easter Bank Holiday
Robert '3D' Del Naja and Cuts from Massive Attack play a surprise DJ and live mix set at the Extinction Rebellion protest camp at Marble Arch in London. In a bid to highlight the ongoing ecological crisis, musical acts participated in performances after the environmental campaign group blocked a number of key junctions in central London at rallies earlier in the day. Guy Smallman / Getty Images

We recently reported on a musical composition that you can only hear if your city is threatened by sea level rise. Drawing attention to the threat, however, is one thing. Doing something about that threat is something else entirely. 

And that’s what British band Massive Attack is looking to do, having commissioned the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research to develop a roadmap for what a genuinely low carbon live music industry would look like. They are sharing it openly to promote best practices across the industry.

Consistent with a band that has explored many different musical styles and directions, the report they are backing up is not about simply buying carbon offsets or sourcing greener tour merch. Instead, it explores a rethink of many of the fundamental tenets of how live music operates.

Here’s how Tyndall Center researchers describe the challenge in the report: 

“Super low carbon practices can only be delivered if they are central from the inception of a tour. Super low carbon needs to be baked into every decision – routing, venues, transport modes, set, audio and visual design, staffing, promotion etc … this requires the various actors in the sector to use their direct power as well as their wider influence to overcome barriers and champion new practices.”

What that means in practice is revisiting a wide range of assumptions about how things have "always been done," including:

  • Developing plug-and-play options at venues to reduce the need for heavy and unnecessary production freight
  • Switching shows to renewable energy sources that provide genuine additionality, incentivizing investments in new wind, solar and other technologies
  • Phasing out diesel-powered generators at festival shows, and replacing them with battery-electric and renewable options
  • Incentivizing low carbon travel to concerts and festivals
  • Working on smart routing to minimize travel, and exploring experimental options like electric freight or even chartered train travel 
  • Reducing reliance on air travel, including setting a sector-wide target of a post-COVID maximum of 80% of air miles compared to 2019 levels. (Yes, that does include eschewing private jets.)

The band is incorporating many of these practices into their 2022 tour, are also bringing on other collaborators:

We’re also excited to be working with industrialist Dale Vince and Ecotricity to design bespoke convergence partnerships with a variety of music arenas and venues – so we can create far greater renewable energy capacity for the UK grid, help train event staff to run and generate sustainable operations, and to introduce vegan food options in front and back of house set ups. 

Of course, it should be noted that Massive Attack has had considerable commercial success, and as such, has the luxury to rethink some of the fundamentals of how their tours operate. Indeed, many of the recommendations are more focused on large acts that cart around a lot of equipment and people. As with all aspects of sustainability, we should be careful not to place an undue burden on individuals and/or entities.

A perfect example is a band just starting out that has little choice but to participate in a fossil fuel-driven economic paradigm in order to make a living. Here too, however, Massive Attach are making it clear that fairness, inclusivity, and support are needed in order to make this a just transition: 

“Massive Attack are committed to using whatever direct power or wider influence we have to forward these objectives. But we also want to see these transitions carried out fairly and equitably, in order that smaller independent venues and festivals who have suffered so badly during the COVID 19 pandemic don’t suffer further – and are financially supported in their own adaptations, by both the government and the sector overall.”

Now, as a '90s kid who grew up near the band’s hometown of Bristol, England, I confess to some not insignificant bias on this story. Massive Attack provided a soundtrack to many formative moments in my life. So I’m delighted to see them taking a stance on one of the most formative challenges of our time.