Much has been made of the fact that two members of Meat Beat Manifesto — dancer/choreographer Marcus Adams and costume/set designer Craig Morrison — have no musical input. But the group’s commitment to the visual aspect of its stage presentation shouldn’t create the impression that the audio side can’t stand up on its own. In fact, the sounds (produced mainly by Jack Dangers with Jonny Stephens) have consistently merged hip-hop rhythms with industrial overtones and a myriad of samples to devastating effect.
A series of UK 12-inches put Meat Beat Manifesto on the map, only to have a fire at the group’s London headquarters destroy its debut album. (A collection of early mixes and unreleased tracks later emerged as the frequently rewarding Armed Audio Warfare.)
Four 12-inch tracks were then disassembled and (to borrow a title) re-animated in four different versions apiece for the double album Storm the Studio. Meat Beat stretch the concept of the remix further than most, and few of the tracks on this violent sonic assault sound like any of the others. Taking the groundbreaking electronic grooves of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire as their base, toughening them up enormously and occasionally adding vitriolic stream-of-consciousness raps makes for uneasy but rewarding listening.
With 99%, Meat Beat readjusted its focus, maintaining the industrial aspect but tidying things up and making use of house grooves. Very little of the musical content (apart from Dangers’ raps) was actually recorded by the group, but the enormous range of sampled voices, TV themes and pop cuttings lead to a bizarre and fascinating clash of styles on instrumentals like “Hello Teenage America” and “Hallucination Generation.” Psyche-Out and Now are EPs of album tracks remixed by the band.
Reduced to a duo of Dangers and Stephens, Meat Beat traded some of the abrasiveness of earlier releases for a lusher, more accessible sonic palette on Satyricon. Most of the songs graft propulsive club rhythms to pop skeletons, bolstered by squelched sirens, dub echoes and intergalactic bleeps. Dangers’ vocals have settled into two recognizable forms: an appealing quasi-monotone that resembles Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and an insistent whisper (as on “Euthanasia”), which takes its menacing cues from Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder.) The Edge of No Control EP consists of the album track in three mixes and three other songs.
From 1993, during the four-year wait that preceded the next MBM album, the Peel Session places the live working unit in the studio to middling effect. “Fire Number Nine” suggests a trip more worthy of the Butthole Surfers than the Beatles, but while the band sounds BBC crisp, the tracks are not as strong as properly calibrated Meat Beat releases.
Dangers relocated to northern California, and made the two-CD Subliminal Sandwich without much input from Stephens. Though the second disc has more collaborators on paper, the first sounds more like a real band integrated into the increasingly complex sampling architecture, with the second disc providing an outlet for uninhibited electronic tweakery. A cover of World Domination Enterprises’ “Asbestos Lead Asbestos” speaks to the strengths of the first disc, as Dangers balances his pop instincts with a thick, layered assault. The single “Nuclear Bomb” features guest dancehall toasting, while “She’s Unreal” responds to the call of a pathological sample (“I have love so that I can kill”) over a slow, dubby grind.
Original Fire combines past singles (including three versions of “Radio Babylon”) with re-worked Meat Beat material, including “Helter Skelter (’97).”
Actual Sounds and Voices pares down the onslaught; the band stretches out more to invigorating effect. Dangers succumbs to a weakness for jamming (often electronic),but “Wildlife” takes good advantage of this freedom; it’s like an atonal lullaby. Amid tracks that stick to a heavy, driving beat, such as “Book of Shadows” and “Funny Feeling,” the lighter jungle tracks don’t fare as well. “Prime Audio Soup” was used in The Matrix, which exposed Meat Beat Manifesto to a new audience.
When his long relationship with the Belgian label Play It Again Sam ended, Dangers took a brief Meat Beat hiatus. He launched a label called Tino Corp. and released beat-oriented vinyl and retro miscellany of his own under various monikers as well records by DJ Shadow. The Meat Beat Manifesto name next appeared on Eccentric Objects, a limited-edition breakbeat-driven 12-inch which, aside from the conceptual packaging, is mainly of interest to the DJ culture that Tino serves. An accompanying flexi-disc, Sounds of the 20th Century, offers up a bit more verve.
As others played catch-up with his voracious media sampling, Dangers veered off to something more arcane. He procured one of the only functioning examples of the EMS Synthi 100, a gigantic modular synthesizer from the mid-’70’s. Dangers used it to create R.U.O.K.? largely on his own. Less expansive than other Meat Beat recordings, R.U.O.K.? registers more as a private labor of love than a public display of pyrotechnics. While not satisfying an album overall, tracks like “Dynamite Fresh” still provide enough bounce and ring-modulation to excite longtime fans, while offering a novel mode of production for bedroom tweakers.
To celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Storm the Studio, Dangers enlisted some of his manipulator cohorts — including Antipop Consortium’s High Priest, DJ Spooky and Merzbow — to re-animate the tracks, producing Storm the Studio R.M.X.S. In addition, the original Storm the Studio and Armed Audio Warfare were reissued.
In Dub was one of the first audio albums composed specifically for 5.1 Surround Sound. The tracks, mainly dub versions culled from the R.U.O.K.? sessions, could well have been transmitted through the On U Sound System 20 years earlier. A useful aid for any hypnotist’s toolkit.
At the Center takes another turn in search of a viable contemporary musical statement. Dangers abandons vocals entirely for a mainly instrumental exploration in the vein of ’70’s fusion. “Curated” by free-jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, the album is a window to the “out” universe for diehard beat-heads. With industrial-sized drums, the ensemble resonates in a carefully controlled environment. The edges of sanity still loom on the horizon: Burroughs-inflected humor squeaks through on a pair of spoken-word songs, “Want Ads One” and “Want Ads Two.” The session favors more of a sit-down crowd than the dance freak-outs of yore, but remains a worthwhile effort from a group that has not lost its relevance.
Outside of Meat Beat, Dangers has done remixing work for such disparate heavyweights as David Byrne, Nine Inch Nails, Coil, Chemical Brothers, David Bowie, Public Enemy, Mickey Hart, Scorn, Orbital and Aphex Twin. He also developed a relationship with Consolidated’s Mark Pistel, who became a fixture in Meat Beat recordings and tours.