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The Collage Dropout

Electronics Pioneer Jack Dangers Returns With A New Album And Meat Beat Manifesto’s First U.S. Tour In Seven Years

BIG AND BOUNCY: Meat Beat Manifesto (featuring Jack Dangers, far left) expands its audio sampling to the video realm for its new tour.

By Tony Ware | Posted 6/29/2005

Meat Beat Manifesto plays Sonar June 29 with Dub Trio.

Jack Dangers is jazzed. Releasing dense, dubby cut-and-paste beat collages under the name Meat Beat Manifesto for nearly two decades, Dangers has achieved plenty to be psyched about while holed up in a studio. Some critics trace the prototypes of big beat and jungle to early MBM productions (which date to 1987, when Dangers, who has lived near San Francisco since 1994, was still in his birth country, Britain, and the group was a duo also featuring Jonny Stephens). And Meat Beat Manifesto—a project itself influenced by Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, Devo, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, et al.—certainly inspired Trent Reznor (Dangers’ former label mate and collaborator) as much as the Prodigy.

But right now Dangers is wired by a much more contemporary collaborative spirit of hitting a pocket. He’s appropriately jazzed about At the Center—his entry in the Thirsty Ear label’s “Blue Series” of jazz ensemble/producer pairings—and the first Meat Beat Manifesto U.S. tour in seven years.

“I think ‘jazz’ means improvisation, whether used in music, dance or Beat poetry,” Dangers says by phone when asked about the philosophy backing his latest release. “They don’t call it ‘jazz poetry,’ but it’s the same thing, because it’s a very John Cage approach—you subtract your ego, be completely free and open with your instrument, take it where it leads you before returning to the center.”

Jazz is not new to Dangers. He has played soprano saxophone since the mid-’80s, subsequently moving to bass clarinet and now bass flute (which he plays on At the Center). And there were jazzy flourishes in Meat Beat Manifesto’s material, often mislabeled as industrial (such as a sample of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” in “Hello Teenage America”), as early as 1990’s 99%. And MBM’s 1998 Actual Sounds + Voices includes contributions from Bennie Maupin and Pat Gleeson from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

Also not new to Dangers is any aspect of production—he says he’s been engineering, mic-ing pianos and amps, since his early/mid-’80s days in the band Perennial Divide—or the Thirsty Ear label, for which he did DJ Wally remixes and worked with DJ Spooky and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo on their entry in the Blue Series.

What is new to Dangers is the luxury of time. The album came about across a period of sessions— between Dangers, the Bad Plus’ Dave King on drums and percussion, Peter Gordon on flute, and Craig Taborn on keyboards—that stretched out for more than a year, allowing Dangers the opportunity to, well, center himself in respects to the material.

“Usually I’ve only had a small window in which to do a record, do the tour,” Dangers says. “For At the Center we passed files back and forth after the initial recording. I’d get sessions, mess with them, add things, and send them on where more things would be added and messed with. Or time would be spent not listening to it at all, which is a luxury I don’t always have, and which allowed for considerations to be made with fresh ears.”

This space allowed Dangers to conduct accumulated sounds in to a headspace edging past the faint fusion jazz of MBM’s earlier years and closer to Sun Ra territory. At the Center features everything from fluid, free-form fills to stuttering blunted stabs and spectral spoken word atop a funk-dub shuffle. “Some of the tracks haven’t got any rhythm stuff because I wanted that space . . . for placing some short-wave radio stuff I like to collect and gather and edit into forms where they say things they might not have initially said,” Dangers says. An avid radio listener since an early age to programs from John Peel and Radio Luxembourg, Dangers says he still has Communist manifestos broadcast in English that he recorded off Russian radio as a child. “I like that cut-and-paste element. It’s similar to cut-up theories of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the other Beat poets.

“Also, I’ve always been aware of the criticism in the past that I like to stack things too much,” Dangers continues. “But whatever. The reason I didn’t do it so much on this record is not because of anything anyone’s said, but because the beauty of a good Steinway will shine through. You’ll know it’s the real thing rather than a snatch off a record of one, and I wanted to celebrate facets like that.”

As for why it’s taken Meat Beat Manifesto seven years to launch its latest U.S. tour, that also has to do with the time needed to approach the project with a fresh perspective, but also the technology needed. The touring MBM quartet celebrates not At the Center so much as MBM’s earlier oeuvre, especially through an exploration of Dangers’ other love, film. Much of his inspiration and source material has long been culled as much from the movies as transistor radio. It’s only now, however, that laptop samplers have allowed he and visuals partner Ben Stokes to put on the type of presentation Dangers has long desired, following a line from visual-sampling pioneers EBN, Coldcut, and DHS.

“Because of legislation, sampling has become safe and robotic, it often just sounds like factory presets in a synth,” Dangers says. “What we do live is still dangerous, because I rely more on a lot of TV and film samples than their recycled bits from the records. I’ve been able to go back and get the visual, the images for those musical passages. We use that live, which is the ultimate form of breaking every copyright there is. The song ‘Nuclear Bomb’ [from 1996’s Subliminal Sandwich], the visuals I use consist of the ‘Dueling Banjos’ from Deliverance superimposed on a speech from George Bush on Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove—all being manipulated and terminated like scratching style. It’s a medley of American life, eh. And all of this is on two big screens onstage while we’re to the side.”

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