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Decade of Difference: Portishead

Portishead was among the first to popularize trip-hop in the US. Combining slow beats with elements from jazz, house and soundtrack music, the group was not as closely tied to dance as their contemporaries and as a result appealed to a broader audience.

Before Portishead released their debut album, Dummy, in 1994, trip-hop’s broad appeal wasn’t apparent, but the record became an unexpected success in Britain, topping most year-end critics polls and earning the prestigious Mercury Music Prize; in America, it also became an underground hit, selling over 150,000 copies before the group toured the U.S.

Portishead is named after the UK West Coast town where co-founder Geoff Barrow grew up. Barrow had met the members of Massive Attack and written songs for Neneh Cherry before he met Beth Gibbons. She had been singing in pubs and the two began collaborating on songs in 1991. The band mates were both media-shy, making promotion of their first record difficult.

Their second record took three years to create and then Portishead went on a hiatus in 1999 while the bandmates worked on solo projects. Finally in 2005 the group played their first live shows in seven years followed in 2008 by their first record in a decade. A single came in 2010 as a benefit for Amnesty International and since then the group has performed only occasionally.