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Meat Beat Manifesto, "Autoimmune"

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cover image The tenth studio album by Jack Dangers' main musical outlet takes a maximalist approach, combining apocalyptic dubstep and industrial-strength breakbeats with the assimilative spirit of a beat hacker. In the process, he creates an album true to the MBM legacy: one foot in cyber-age cross-genre multimedia assemblage, and one foot firmly planted in the timeless psychedelic ocean of sound.

 

Metropolis

Autoimmune refers to reactions which inolve the body's immune system misrecognizing certain constituent parts of the self, and attacking them as if they were foreign invaders, the other. In a world in which fiercely pitched ideological and physical battles are being waged in the name of nationhood, religion, ethnicity and class—all of which hinge on the differential identity of self and other—autoimmunity becomes an interesting metaphor for political and cultural unrest. This bodily metaphor may be particularly close to Jack Dangers, as he suffers from psoriatic arthropathy (the Singing Detective disease), an autoimmune disorder, and thus is the living embodiment of the self turned against itself, the breakdown of the "body politic" metaphor in the age of unprecedented control, wiretapping, globalization, climate change, sleeper cells and hacktivism. Though the embodied, rhythmic ("meat beat") manifestoes of Dangers have always danced at the edge of politics, this album seems particularly apocalyptic, an acknowledgment of a world gone mad.

The album opens with the introductory "International," trying to cleanse the geopolitical borders literally and metaphorically from the outset. The dense layers of sound and samples from radio and television place the album immediately in the territory that MBM inhabits so well: the multimedia, audiovisual perceptual landscape. "I Hold the Mic!" is pulse-pounding dubstep with dancehall vocals and yawning layers of echoplexed sounds, the audio equivalent of Tokyo's Ginza district as seen in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, a teeming human metropolis in which all markers of nationality, ethnicity and language have disappeared, and all that remains is a confounding, extra-geographical hybrid. "Hellfire" gets more diabolical, with a vocal formant synth spitting out nonsense syllables over a deep, resonant dubstep groove that keeps dipping itself into the fiery magma of distortion, with haunting X-Files melodies weaving in and out, and frequent samples of the familiar phrase "This is a test." It's interesting to compare this track to something that The Orb might have done in the late 1990s: the techniques are similar, but MBM ends up with a track that is less playful, more urgent.

"Children of Earth" is a standout, beginning with a child intoning "Hello from the children of planet Earth," and quickly entering the land of loping, rubbery riddims and elastic acid basslines that fly across the stereo channels. It's a particularly frightening soundworld, bearing some similarity to the backing tracks created by The Bug and J.K. Broadrick for their Techno Animal hardcore HipHop project. On tracks like this and "Guns n' Lovers," MBM seems to nod to past associations with industrial music, as these rhythms never tire of toying with barely-reigned-in distortion, constantly flirting with the red, and never shying away from playing up the machine aesthetic, reminding us of our technological inheritance rather than attempting to obscure the methods of production. "Return to Bass" sounds like something that might be at home on the Ant-Zen label, if any of the artists on Ant-Zen were interested in bringing some groove along with their taste for violent distortion. It's Miami Bass for a generation weaned on Venetian Snares and Otto Von Schirach. "62 Dub" is the closest Dangers gets to bringing a rocksteady, traditional dub groove, but it is still dark and distorted as fuck, with treated didgeridoo (a la Love's Secret Domain-era Coil), and echo drops that make me feel like I've suddenly lost my footing and I'm falling through a vacuum.

"Colors of Sound" is something else entirely, a whole track given over to the chirping of analog synths, weird alien skronk from a galaxy of wacky oscillators and filters, complete with tape-cuing sounds just like vintage musique concrete. It's an interesting ambient stopgap, and sounds like nothing else on the album. Eclectic is never a bad word in my book. Then comes my favorite track, "Spanish Vocoder," which combines the hardcore breakbeat of earlier tracks with some devious and delicious Detroit electro action. I don't mind HipHop and dubstep, but electro is like crack to me, and Dangers really knows how to bring the Cybotron in his own inimitable style. Though this track certainly feels a brighter and less apocalyptic than the rest of the album, it nevertheless maintains an intensity and urgency, with chopped-up vocoderized vocals and layers of choral voices weaving in and out of the mix. The didgeridoo is also back, this time treated to sound like a buzzsaw. By the end, the track fades out into ambient territory, with only the vocodered voice left to frantically attempt to communicate its message, fading out into deep space.

MBM certainly aren't the first to link up electronic music with cyber-age political outrage, but they do an excellent job of it. Part of what makes Autoimmune work is that its nods to contemporary trends—British dubstep, HipHop, post-Jungle IDM—are combined with sounds that are utterly out of fashion, and would sound more at home with the outmoded '90s chillout-rave or breakbeat sound. This isn't a problem for Dangers, who is clearly uninterested in staking out a clear position in the marketplace, instead allowing his eclecticism free reign. Paradoxically, this gives the album a timeless quality, as it moves between eras and styles effortlessly, evoking the contemporary mediascape in which time seems indefinitely frozen, and past and present sprawl out in front of us on the magic screen, organizing themselves in infinite combinations, with unpredictable results.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 27 April 2008 15:36  


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