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Meat Beat Manifesto & Dälek - Atlanta, February 23rd, 2006

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It's fair to say that Meat Beat Manifesto's latest tour with Dälek sets a new standard for electronic music performance. In Meat Beat's case, the show reasserts just what a pioneer Jack Dangers has been in his field through two of the most entertaining and idea-rich hours of live music that I've ever seen. Meat Beat takes the art of live sound and visual collage and elevates it to a level that others are going to be reaching for for years.

I wouldn't have picked the velvety lounge atmosphere of Smith's Olde Bar for a Meat Beat and Dälek show, but none of that mattered as soon as the curtains pulled back and the music started. Dälek is always impressive and brutal live, conjuring more menace than an entire metal festival with just a couple of laptops and a microphone. Unfortunately, the sound engineer at Smith's seemed to want to take his hate for music out on the opening act and as a result, Dälek's usually pummelling, bowel-loosening sound was pulled back to a more polite level. Regardless, the power of Dälek's energy is the group's ability to cut through technical drawbacks and hit audiences in the chest, and their set of cuts exclusively from their last full length, Absence did just that.

I'd been primed that what Meat Beat Manifesto was doing on this tour was amazing, but even armed with that knowledge, it would have been impossible for anyone to overstate what this latest incarnation of the Meat Beat live experience accomplishes. I had heard all about the live video sampling and the synchronization of visuals and music and I thought that I was ready for that, but when the show began to unfold, the whole night took on the strange aura of the wizard pulling back the curtain on music that I thought I already knew all there was to know about. It wasn't just fun to see where samples came from--every Meat Beat show I've been to since I was 15 has been great fun. But here, once the initial joy of seeing a clip of Electro adressing an audience wore off, I realized that the whole show was manufactured in such a way as to provide a look inside the mind that makes Meat Beat Manifesto work. This wasn't just a concert--it was an examination and display of the creative process behind what is without a doubt some of the most innovative and thoughtful sample-based music ever made. It was at once a concert and a meta-concert, something that had to keep the heads of those who were elevated by chemicals spinning for hours.

Jack Dangers' work as Meat Beat Manifesto is almost universally acclaimed for its groove, its beats, its bass, and its dance appeal, but his technique of fusing sound design with cut ups and postmodern composition tends to get less attention. I've always known he was a fan of John Cage, and that he put out records here and there that took his sound design and music concrete interests to the fore, and I'd always noticed the hundreds of samples that make up a Meat Beat record, whether I could spot their origins or not. But what I'd never known was that even sounds that don't call themselves out as samples, are samples, and they are things that I've taken for granted for years. There's a generation of kids out there who have grown up listening to music laced with movie samples. They are the one's who have kept the sci-fi sections of their local video rental houses in business by trolling for "cool" sounds and mysterious bits of dialogue to inject into cyberpunk disco operas ad nauseam. But who has ever sat down with a spaghetti western, and noticed someone playing a harmonica and thought 'that would make a great hook for a dubbed-out breakbeat track?' Jack Dangers, apparently.

And that was what was so amazing to watch and hear. Those songs I've loved and danced to for years are built up from so many bits of aural detritus and sounds that no one else would notice or even think to steal that watching the show once didn't even seem like enough. The wizard had pulled back the curtain and I began to understand what was going on behind the scenes, but I still can't comprehend it. Dangers takes something so seemingly mundane as a man standing by a window in a documentary saying 'one day I woke up in Miami' and he makes it the hook in a song that an audience full of people can shout like it was a song lyric at a Morrissey show. How does that even work? Mariah Carey becomes a siren drone, men falling off of buildings become the source of a scratch, and more pieces of songs and movies than I will ever remember converge to become something altogether new, bigger, and even more meanignful. That level of taking a sound byte and giving it a completely new meaning in a completely new context while still keeping the party going, and then whipping the audience in the eyeballs with the sound's visual accompaniment is something that I'd never seen before, and I don't know that anyone else could even pull it off.

It's hard to want to be too analytical about music that's so infectiously funky that it gets even the stiffest chin strokers bouncing. Meat Beat's latest effort on stage might be the only example I can think of that wouldn't be at all out of place in an academic lecture about sampling culture and the possibilities that are opened up by the streams of digital media in a postmodern world. Well, it would be out of place simply by the fact that Dangers is able to do all of those things that the scholars cream themsleves over while still pumping out the most banging beats anywhere. I mean, it's almost not even fair!

This latest tour is one for the fans, full of great old tracks (and a few new) that fans will know and love. It's also for the trainspotters, the gear heads, the new media fetishists, the performance artists, the video editors, the viral video scroungers, and the digital art professors who like to talk about the kinds of things that Jack and company are doing but rarely ever manage that kind of energy in a lecture hall. It's a show that can be enjoyed as candy for the eyes and ears just as easily as food for the brain, and that's exceedingly rare. I thought I knew what Meat Beat Manifesto was all about, and to an extent, I was on the right track, but this show has taken my appreciation of Dangers' career to a whole new level.
Last Updated on Saturday, 25 February 2006 03:08  


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