April 8, 2008
US CD Metropolis MET531
Cover by Rich Borge
Meat Beat Manifesto has been hailed as one of the front runners in the electronic music scene since 1987. Front man Jack Dangers has made sure over the years to keep from being categorized into a specific genre by continuously expanding his musical influences and overall direction of Meat Beat Manifesto. The first album, Storm The Studio, was immediately considered an industrial classic. Even with its success, Dangers refused to rest on his laurels and constantly evolved the Meat Beat sound with no two albums sounding exactly alike. Now after many years of silence, Meat Beat Manifesto is back! With this tenth album, Autoimmune, the seminal electronic band is pushing the musical boundaries even further than they've gone before. Focusing on the type of music he likes to create, mastermind Jack Dangers has created a tour de force of electronic genius which is sure to spark renewed interest in the dubstep and electronic music scenes.
April 7, 2008
UK CD Planet Mu ZIQ202
UK 2x12" Planet Mu ZIQ202
Led by sound sculptor and producer extraordinaire Jack Dangers, MBM continues to evolve. Its tenth album pushes musical boundaries further than it has before, creating a masterpiece of dubstep and electronica. "I feel closest to the Dubstep trend," says Jack. "I feel like Dub has always been part of my sound". Guest vocalist Daddy Sandy features on "I Hold the Mic!", and the techno-tinged "Spanish Vocoder" touches on his early techno roots. "Every record is different," Jack explains, "and in this record I focused on what I like to do versus what other people like me to do: beats, bass and distortion." Meat Beat Manifesto's constantly evolving musical invention has generated a long string of influential futuristic classics , including such tracks as "God O.D.","Psyche Out", "Helter Skelter", "Radio Babylon", "Edge of No Control" and "It's The Music" whilst the single, "Prime Audio Soup"(from the album Actual Sounds and Voices) was featured in the sci-fi fantasy blockbuster The Matrix and on its platinum-selling soundtrack.
Meat Beat Manifesto have been on the music scene long enough now for the term veteran to seem almost painfully apt. Yet after ten albums and more than twenty years spent riding the choppy waves of contemporary music, they have somehow remained on the outskirts of things while like-minded artists have lapped up the applause. One need only think of what happened to Orbital after the brown album to see the vastly different trajectories the two superficially quite similar bands have taken in the last decade and a half. Indeed, while the Hartnoll brothers were almost instantly deified following their first appearance at Glastonbury in 1994, MBM moved to Trent Reznor's Nothing Records and promptly slid out of view. But several records have followed since, and while the Orbital bandwagon has long since shuddered to a halt, Jack Dangers remains, his status assured through longevity as much as anything else. Autoimmune finds him in a typically restless mood, flitting intermittently between techno, dub, breakbeat and, perhaps most surprisingly, dubstep. Yet when one thinks of Planet Mu's increasing associations with the dubstep scene, it perhaps shouldn't raise too many eyebrows to see Dangers experimenting with the form here. The label has moved beyond its early incarnation as a slightly quirky younger brother to Aphex Twin's Rephlex stable and is now one of the most high-profile record labels putting out dubstep records today. Thus, in theory at least, Autoimmune slots neatly into the broad and accommodating musical policy of the label. When we learn from Dangers, however, that his intention here is to intertwine dubstep with his earlier techno-inflected sound, the pigeonholing seems less appropriate. And so the music that results is more an all-encompassing attempt to swallow up several musical genres in one audacious mouthful than anything else. This has its advantages, in that it allows the album to go off in different directions, often at the same time. Tracks as varied as the spacey, glitchy techno of Guns 'n' Lovers and the ragga rhythms of I Hold The Mic! show off the success of such an approach. But they also water down the album's central thrust. What at times looks certain to turn into a deep, dark examination of dubstep mechanics falls away before any momentum can be genuinely sustained. This leaves excellent stand-alone tracks like Hellfire looking a little lost, and gives the album's overall structure a ragged, confused feel. Which is a shame, because there is almost a very good album here. The notoriously eclectic Dangers might not be one to admit it, but his own magpie aesthetic could now and again do with being very gently kicked into touch. Yet with so many artists from the scene's early days now too rich or too musically adrift to retain any relevance, it's refreshing to see a man in his forties continuing to tap into the sound of today without seeming decades out of date. - Robert Rowlands, The Milk Factory
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. 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. - Jonathan Dean, Brainwashed
Meat Beat Manifesto's brainchild, Jack Dangers, has said of his new material on Autoimmune that he feels "closest" amongst his sonic peers to those in the dubstep scene. Cynical ears might attribute Dangers's remarks to a half-hearted guerilla marketing campaign by a has-been hipster trying to make his rusty wires relevant to disintegrating audiences. This, however, reflects a poor sense of history. Dangers has for years been a mystic figure lurking around in the nursery at the genesis of myriad electronic fashions and fancies. His early solo work, in print for the first time in 20 years as last year's Archive Things: 1982-1988, sounds like something that could be debuting at this year's No Fun Festival. Pre-Meat band Perennial Divide was one of the loudest bands of its time, and an early fusioneer of squeal and dance beats. Meat Beat Manifesto's first album, Storm the Studio, established the outfit as an uncompromising force of sampledelic sound collage (the title comes from a William S. Burroughs snippet), borrowing ideas liberally from hip-hop, which was still shunned in those days, even in the rockist college scene. And though they came to be defined by hip-hop, and later, dub, Meat Beat Manifesto never exceeded its welcome within the genre limits and began to evolve outwardly to both anticipate and develop the margins of EBM, drum n' bass, trip-hop, big beat, illbient, ambient, and even mashups through Dangers's production work for Emergency Broadcast Network. I'd even go so far as to call Subliminal Sandwich an early hauntological masterwork. Yet, as far out as Meat Beat Manifesto's sound reached, it maintained commonalities (subterranean bass, funky breaks, atomic age samples) that got the band incongruously pegged as trend hoppers who kept making the same album. True to form, Autoimmune stays the same by being different. The samples are present, but sparse and redistributed in a way that almost makes them feel obsolete. Past Manifestoes have weltered in a kitsch aural collision of various pasts, but many of Autoimmune's more exciting moments come from its embrace of modernism, like its dubsteppers ("Lonely Soldier", "Guns N Lovers"). The signature subsonic bass remains on these and other tracks, the same one that inspired rumors that the band once hit the brown note at an early gig, but the bass's biophysical targets are here geared more towards rumble pack shocks of the gut rather than ass-shaking vibrations inspired to move the legs on up. It's perhaps Meat Beat Manifesto's first ghettoblaster, riddim and bruise for an car ride across the new industrial landscape. Years after the days of industrial music, the new sounds of kling klang are the pin drops in isolated and condemned factories, the moans of urban ghettos, and the robotic arms of tighteningly regimented power structures. "Hellfire" skitter-beats across a dubscape of short-wave radio squeals and hiccupping voices from the real emergency broadcast network ("this is only a test"), with the addition of minimalist high-pitched Mellotron notes making for a maddeningly incessant and dark journey. "Less" and "62 Dub" achieve similar ends with little to no melody. Warped effects and grinding echodrones guide the way through these songs and highlight Dangers's brilliance as a producer who works with a meticulous layer-cake methodology. Each of these tracks, much like the best of dubstep, contains a fungal aura of inertia creeps that harnesses threat and terror without ever going in for an attack. When several voices appear from the ether to simply repeat the word "nothing" in "Less", as if the song was spiraling downward until it reached oblivion, the antagonistic nihilism, especially in one particular vocoded robot who sings the word "nuuuh-thing" in a mocking tone, leaves an unmistakable chill rolling down one's back. Dangers has been particularly prolific these past few years, releasing a dub re-interpretation of RUOK?, musique concrete work for Important Records, and even a jazz album with Thirsty Ear. Along with Autoimmune, these experiments finally make Meat Beat Manifesto sound like an adventurous band trying out new things rather than making the most Meat Beat Manifesto interpretation of varying styles. That makes Autoimmune's failures more acutely upsetting. Opener "International" is a minute and 40 seconds long, goes nowhere beyond a mere introduction, and feels like the MBM business card. It has the token global radio sign-ons, a stale familiar break, and some sampled brass hits that fall totally out of step with the rest of the album. Worse, the track returns in "reprise" form at album's end to function as opening and closing credits. Dangers would have done fine to jump right in with the frantic reggaeton of "I Hold the Mic", which bears some resemblance to Subliminal Sandwich's "Nuclear Bomb" (both feature Daddy Sandy on vocals), though not nearly as apocalyptic as that track or the next few that follow on Autoiummune. While "I Hold the Mic" succeeds by being derivative of a style perfected by Meat Beat Manifesto years ago that happened to be ahead of its time (making it quite relevant now), "Spanish Vocoder" just feels like a tired retread. Repeating the bleeps and bloops of legendary Meat Beat Manifesto songs like "It's the Music" is not necessarily a bad thing, but "Spanish Vocoder" is tame and tepid, which cuts against the profusion of dense architecture elsewhere in this collection. "Young Cassius", featuring the San Francisco MC Azeem rapping atop substandard Meat Beat Manifesto fare, is a pure hip-hop track whose backing music essentially amounts to a canny breakbeat and some flimsy deep bass curdles. It's not the only venture back to hip-hop though. "Solid Waste" revives the monotone, almost slam poetry-esque Dangers rap featured on so many early Meat Beat recordings. The tactic has aged pretty well, actually, all things considered. Dangers uses the lyrical opportunity to rail against the vapor trails that the title material, defined in an opening stretch-marked sample as "the visible leftovers of our consumption", imprints against the international psyche to the point where "Common sense seems to take offense" and "Life has lost all its appeal". It's hard not being transported to a different time when hearing the track, which used to be part of why you turned on a Meat Beat Manifesto record. Retro-retro futurism isn't nearly as appealing as the real thing, though. And on Autoimmune, there's too much good nowism going on to settle for imitations. - Timothy Gabriele, PopMatters
You're Skyping a friend who's studying in Europe, while WOWing a player in Japan, while live-blogging the news reports of a protest in Tibet. What time is it? Where are you? Who, even, are you? These were questions you might have been able to ask before you entered the Matrix. Not anymore. Bookended by the tracks "International" and "International Reprise," Meat Beat Manifesto's latest album Autoimmune charts the global map of this electronic age. Autoimmune remains true to MBM's dance-club roots. Its five-minute tracks reveal little more to concentrating listeners than to listeners distracted by dance partners' legs. MBM doesn't set out to surprise the listener. That's not to say that the songs remain static. They morph undercover-a flow of sound, one element bleeding into another, rather than a shift. Throughout the album, voices (at times British, at times Jamaican, at times Spanish, Portuguese, Russian), drum rhythms, city sounds and digital glitches all share the same soundscape. Reduced to zeroes and ones, the sounds of the lived world enter our ears as binary bricolage. More than just reinterpreting the sounds of the known world through computer circuitry, MBM discovers unknown cyberspaces. "Spanish Vocoder" begins on a city street but then repositions the listener at the bottom of the sea, the sounds muffled under water; then in outer space, cosmic rays shooting off into infinite; and then in a dungeon, wet drips echoing against stone walls, before ending with a feedback glitch fade out. Informed by the Internet and gaming, today's listener navigates this fragmentary positioning with ease. Modem dial-up rings and gaming soundtracks, however, don't count as music for most. MBM's robo aesthetic, more HAL than Haydn, might pass for music at a laser tag arena, but not on an iPod. -Ian Ferguson, The Daily Californian
"Autoimmune," the latest disc from influential electro-innovator Jack Dangers, is an electronic melting pot that retains the traditional Meat Beat Manifesto sound while shifting into new musical territory. Though the opening track's sliced-up breakbeats and public radio samples echo 1998's "Actual Sounds and Voices," the album soon veers off into Autechre-style glitch with "Less," distorted proto-dub with "Solid Waste," Download-esque sound-collage with "Colors of Sound," and nearly every electronic genre in between. MBM records have never been known for sticking to one specific style, but "Autoimmune" sees Dangers continuing to explore and combine even further musical regions. Just look to the track "Young Cassius," which takes some furious MCing, then mashes them up with trip-hop atmospherics, big beat style breaks and vocoded samples. And if that isn't enough to satisfy you, it's followed by "Guns N' Lovers," which sounds like bar music from a William Gibson novel. If you're already a Meat Beat Manifesto fan, "Autoimmune" will give you another solid reason to look down upon the uninformed plebs with disdain. If you're new to Dangers' sound-stylings, but you've liked some form of electronica, be it industrial, big beat, drum and bass, IDM, trip-hop, or anything else under the bloody sun, this is as great album to start with. There may not be anything as hook-laden as "Paradise Now" or "Asbestos Lead Asbestos," but the album makes up for it through its sheer sonic variety. Consider it a vaccine against your stagnating record collection and hook yourself up now. - Calder Fertig, ABORT Magazine