1998 was a crucial year for Banksy. His transition from being a mere grafittus, part of the so-called Bristol Underground Scene, to a stylistically unique and genuinely individual urban artist had just begun. At this time he was still considerably overshadowed in Bristol by his much more famous partners-in-crime, Inkie and 3D (Robert del Naja, founding member of the band Massive Attack), however it was his enrolment in the creation of the influential Walls on Fire event in Bristol that summer which established his status as a pioneer in the field. Banksy was developing his trademark use of the stencil, primarily to save time and therefore reduce risk of arrest during the execution of his inherently illegal works, and it was at Walls on Fire that he first displayed the potential potency of his adaptation of this device. The event showcased the restlessly innovative talents of the city's underground musicians and artists. The parallels to Keith Haring's Andy Warhol sponsored participation in New York's seminal 1981 Monumental exhibition are considerable.
Banksy, Inkie and 3D, also that year, performed at the Glastonbury Festival using the enormous graffitied lorry of a DJ friend, parked beside the famous striped Dance Tent, as the backdrop for demonstrations of their art. Increasingly Banksy's work concerned itself with a potently humorous anti-establishment sarcasm, often referencing classic images, statements and Hollywood films such as Pulp Fiction and Apocalypse Now to imply, in a pseudo-Orwellian manner, the potentially immediate or inevitable plight of the masses. The present work, originally created on the front of the afore-mentioned lorry, seeks to extort a sardonic acknowledgement, from the Glastonbury viewer, of a faceless authoritarian force which will still remain in control when the music stops, even going as far as to suggest that it provides the music itself for the distraction of the masses. This grim concept was much in the general pre-Millennium psyche, and was the key premise of the hugely successful film The Matrix, which was to be released in the spring of the following year. This pre-occupation with challenging and overcoming authority, although nothing new in history, was experiencing a particular spike in youth sentiment and can be noted in trends in fashion, recreational drug use, art and music in the last two or three years of the twentieth century. The headline acts at Glastonbury that year included Pulp and Blur, both witty critics of the established order. Impressed by his work and by his increasingly loyal following, Damon Albarn invited Banksy to design the cover for Blur's 2003 album Think Tank.
Painting for a Sound System Lorry was preserved, upon the scrapping of the vehicle, with the full permission of the artist. Thus, the present triptych is one of the very few outdoor works to be approved for resale by the artist, and hails from an exceptionally important time in the development of urban art in Britain.