Faithless are currently enjoying their first Stateside hit, with the funky anti-war single "Mass Destruction." It suggests a twist on the famous NRA line about guns: weapons of mass destruction don't kill people, people kill people — especially if they have weapons like misinformation, power and greed at their disposal.
"It's people who are dangerous," said the group's rapping frontman, Maxi Jazz (real name Maxwell Frazer). "The conflict that we appear to be in doesn't stop with soldiers going to somebody else's country and fighting. The front line is right here, in train stations, in shopping malls."
Faithless have long been able to fill arenas in the U.K., emerging in the mid-1990s when trip-hop was at its peak and gaining notoriety for spawning Dido, who continues to collaborate with the group on an occasional basis. Dido's brother, Rollo Armstrong, remained behind, as did Jazz and multi-instrumentalist Sister Bliss (real name Ayalah Bentovim).
But it wasn't until "Mass Destruction" that the U.S. really started paying attention. It's not Faithless' first philosophical number — "God Is a DJ" gets that honor — but their new album, No Roots, can be heard on two levels — an ambient dance record with pattering beats, and a political statement that urges you to think. And that's just how they wanted it.
"I didn't want it to be a tub-thumping anti-war tirade," Jazz said. "But I felt pained and grieved that so many people don't have a voice, so I figured it's about time we found our voice."
One of Faithless' chief concerns is that the U.K. (as well as the U.S.) is becoming less of a proper democracy, and more like an elected autocracy. Jazz compares showing support for your country to showing support for your football team, where a coach is making all the decisions "and we just turn up and pay the money." That, he says, is not how a democracy is supposed to run. He finds fault with what he calls using September 11 as a justification to go to war with Iraq, and with politicians linking al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein — the weapon of "misinformation" cited in "Mass Destruction."
"This is what was really outlined by [Tony] Blair at the time," Jazz said. "I remember thinking, 'Wait a minute, is it not the case that [Hussein] was crushed militarily in 1991? Not a little slap around the face but properly put down?' His military machine was smashed, then 12 years of sanctions. Explain to me what kind of a magician could, after that, have weapons of mass destruction that could threaten my or Britain's interests. It just didn't make sense to me. And of course, nothing's been found. It completely confirms what I thought in the first place. This was an act that was going to be done anyway."
Faithless hoped to underscore their point with a video that suggested tortuous situations, to break down what happens when big nations crush little nations on a more human scale. Shot in February by directing team Dom & Nic (Dominic Hawley and Nicholas Goffey), two versions of the video were created — one that was more straight performance in a brick-walled room that looks like a prison, with the band playing assumed political prisoners, and another that includes children acting as the adults enduring and giving out brutality to others, shot to appear like a documentary.
"That's a very obvious analogy to not being heard, talking to a brick wall," Sister Bliss said. "So they're two very simple ideas, but horribly prescient, because of the atrocities in the Iraqi prison camps. But having said that, people treating each other with complete disrespect is nothing new."
"We might be accused of being preachy," Jazz said. "But at the end of the day, we want to touch people's hearts, and if we can do that, that's the point of carrying on, it seems to me."