By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
As soon as he was liberated from Play It Again Sam in 1999, Dangers broke into the hip hop scene by launching the Tino's Breaks record series with his Tino Corp. partners Mike Powell and Ben Stokes. Meant as a piss-take of the records offering beats for DJs, Tino Corp. provided an assortment of drum breaks and sound effects lifted from mambo, dub, Christmas, and Halloween recordings, all presided over by Tino, a fictitious Cuban drummer and action figure who appeared on the covers. (The next edition will be composed of drum passages taken from old 16mm films, which Dangers claims are the final frontier for unexploited breakbeats.)
Over time, Tino Corp. evolved into a live performance outfit that got regular bookings at such A-list scratch-music showcases as "Future Primitive Soundsession." (For gigs, the trio relies heavily on the innovative video-sampling techniques that Stokes pioneered in the early '90s, by which he manipulates film sources like a DJ does vinyl.) That the ensemble has found a home in the insular turntablist community is a source of relief for Dangers. "My dream was always to do things with American DJs," he says. "It took me 16 years to finally get there."
Dangers mothballed Meat Beat Manifesto for much of the past four years, concentrating on Tino Corp. and oddball projects under his own name, including a musique concrète10-inch called Tape Music and an exploration into modified Speak & Spells titled Variaciones Espectrales. Of course, it didn't help his MBM productivity that there weren't any label flacks "jabbing me in the ribs to release anything," as he puts it. Add in his newfound freedom, his approach of middle age (he's now 37), and his studio's pastoral view of Marin County hillsides, and you'd expect his seventh LP as Meat Beat, RUOK?, to be a more sedate, optimistic album. Instead, the release is a paranoia-wracked inner journey that, by its conclusion, turns the innocuous-seeming title into a self-administered reality check -- and a doubting one at that.
There are few familiar Meat Beat reference points on the LP. Dangers doesn't sing or use many drum samples, and a number of the songs were put together on an EMS Synthi 100, a titanic synthesizer from the '70s that looks like it was ripped from the control deck of the Star Trek Enterprise. Only 29 models were ever manufactured, and Dangers is fairly confident his is the only operational one being used. "A rocket scientist in Livermore has a working one too, but doesn't touch the thing," he says. According to Dangers, it's the most extensive synth ever conceived, with around 7,200 possible settings (the popular Moog, from the same era, has about 80).
The range of sounds he culls from the EMS isn't so much wide as it is weird. On "Yuri," the machine whirs and ticks away like a radiation detector in a Cold War movie, while on "Retrograde" it goes gastronomical, squirting fartlike between the drums. Throughout the album, Dangers piles on layers of textures, giving the sense of claustrophobic panic. What's most compelling about RUOK? is the way he uses the same tropes that electronic artists have been running into the ground lately -- old analog synths and programmed, syncopated beats -- in a way that's somehow not bottled by genre.
Like all Meat Beat outings, the album is very much Dangers' trip, alive with the feeling of a wide-eyed gearhead locked in a room. The tracks, though, are less about the beats than any past Meat Beat material; instead, they focus upon the friction between the various substrata of noise and melody. As always, numerous guests add to the tunes' variety. "Supersoul" is a live jam with locals Mark Pistel and Lynn Farmer, who rounded out the Meat Beat "band" on Actual Sounds + Voices. Z-Trip, the turntablist known for blending monsters of rock with hip hop, imbues "What Does It All Mean?" and "Hankerchief Head" with freaky twists and turns. The Orb's Alex Patterson, who like Dangers is a recovering veteran of the early '90s "sampledelia" movement, contributes to "Horn of Jerico," a sample-free squall of stomach-churning electric atmospheres. Listening to all 12 songs at once is like going on a walkabout through dark but oddly familiar lands, where you stumble around in a circle for the entire hour, bumping into the same obstacles over and over. This is not the strutting, forward march of dance-floor breakbeat.
"I think there's stuff on this record that will have people scratching their heads, and that's usually a good thing," Dangers muses. "Hopefully it means it's ahead of things, because you don't have anything to measure it against."