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Meat Beat Manifesto, "Armed Audio Warfare"

20 years ago I got my first taste of Meat Beat Manifesto in the form of Armed Audio Warfare. In the early 1990s, I knew DJs and collectors who had some of the early Sweatbox singles, but for most of my friends the Meat Beat odyssey began with this disc that served as the group's sort-of debut album. The history behind Armed Audio Warfare's release and subsequent reissues is full of mishaps and misspellings, track-listing gaffs and questions about what might have been. Now, 20 years later, I'm going back over the MBM discography to remember why it worked so well for me back in the day, and how it holds up now.

 

Sweatbox (EU) / WaxTrax! (US) / Mute (reissue) / Run (remastered reissue)

Meat Beat Manifesto - Armed Audio Warfare (Remastered)

Armed Audio Warfare starts with a stomper in "Genocide" that never felt too out of place in any good industrial dance DJ set circa 1990. It is a menacing, straight ahead rhythm, nearly frantic shouted vocals and a noisy gated hook that's catchy but far from melodic. If "Genocide" is a little funkier than the work of Meat Beat's US label mates at the time, it still manages to groove in that stiff way that most WaxTrax! records grooved. But hidden within that four-on-the-floor stop are hints of something else—a backbeat, a kind of swing that the album picks up in "Repulsion" and gives itself over to completely by the time "Reanimator" rolls around.

Sampled and looped grooves were nothing new in 1990, but something about the way that Meat Beat Manifesto gleefully re-sourced and abused sounds from a hodgepodge of pop culture sources was unique. The Bomb Squad's production on Public Enemy's 1988 record It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back took sampling on a hip hop record to places where it hadn't gone before; The Dust Brothers produced a sampladelic masterpiece for the Beastie Boys with Paul's Boutique and Pop Will Eat Itself were mining cartoons, commercials, and funk 45's for This is the Day... This is the Hour... This is This! in 1989. Even as MBM's contemporaries were turning the sampler into an instrument of unparalleled flexibility, Armed Audio Warfare anticipated the capabilities of the sampler and the engineer in the studio to twist, distort, and recycle not only sounds but also ideas on a record. This was the hip hop aesthetic in the hands of true collage artists—a strange and infectious combination of experimental technique and self-aware groove.

One of the things that I find most striking about Armed Audio Warfare so many years after its original release is the amount of dissonance and noise that carries on across the record. This no-doubt helped to ingratiate the album with fans of heavier dance music at the time, but most of these tracks are even too abrasive to actually work in a club. Still, each song's hook is essentially a break beat, and therein lies one of the great mysteries to how a record like this ever came to be. It sounds at times like dance music for people who aren't at all interested in actually dancing, or like sound collage for people who aren't at all interested in the fussy world of academic listening. The album features record scratches, Flavor Flav samples, absurd vocal loops, self-referential shout-outs, and the kind of clever connective tissue that later Meat Beat records would use to make albums flow as something more than just collections of singles.

I never picked up the Mute or :/Run reissues as I always just preferred my original WaxTrax! CD and 12", warts and all.  In 1990, I wasn't quite ready for Armed Audio Warfare—not ready to understand how or why it worked anyway—I just knew that I liked it.  It was a record well ahead of its time, and now in the wake of digital hardcore, breakcore, and mashup culture, it seems like a clear starting point for a revolution. 

Samples:

 

 

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