Ground Beef

After nearly two decades of experiments, Meat Beat Manifesto pulls it all together with a cinematic live show

MapQuest is garbage. I'm not even sure that this is the right road, and there's no visible house number, only a steep driveway in the spot where the number (and building) should be.

Down the driveway, the front door to the house is open, but it's a warm day, and folks don't need to be paranoid and lock everything up in the hills of Mill Valley. So I'm not sure if I've made it to the home of Jack Dangers, best known as the brain of Meat Beat Manifesto. I squeak out a tentative hello.

The place doesn't quite feel right; it's too quiet. But then a noise suddenly pierces the silence. It's that clichéd, almost nails-on-the-chalkboard sound used in horror movies to build tension. Only today it doesn't register as a cliché: It sounds fucking creepy. No one knows I'm here on this assignment, and I'm pretty sure there's nobody nearby who could hear me scream.

You Can't Beat Their Meat: Jack Dangers, 
Lynn Farmer, Ben Stokes, and Mark Pistel.
You Can't Beat Their Meat: Jack Dangers, Lynn Farmer, Ben Stokes, and Mark Pistel.
You Can't Beat Their Meat: Jack Dangers, 
Lynn Farmer, Ben Stokes, and Mark Pistel.
You Can't Beat Their Meat: Jack Dangers, Lynn Farmer, Ben Stokes, and Mark Pistel.

A cat scurries by, but it's a fluffy calico rather than a demonic black one. Finally, out comes Dangers, with a cup of tea in his hand and a warm smile on offer.

Whew.

Jack Dangers is a musical godfather to a lot of electronic-based artists who thrived in the '90s, from Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor (who used to open for Meat Beat Manifesto -- a project Dangers designed to allow him to collaborate with a loose list of others), with their razor-edged industrial sounds, to rave-era U.K. giants such as Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. MBM's 18-year career includes several acclaimed albums that stretch from the menacing (1990's 99%) to the hip hop funky (2002's RUOK?). Though Dangers has always been a revered musician's musician, producing on albums by artists as diverse as Reznor, Public Enemy, and Depeche Mode, he resisted the spotlight of the U.K. scene to marry and settle in Northern California, where he's made music under less pressured circumstances.

Now Meat Beat Manifesto -- in its current incarnation, Dangers plus longtime collaborators Lynn Farmer on drums, Mark Pistel on keyboards, and Ben Stokes on visuals -- has embarked on its first tour in seven years. In many ways the live show is a complete look at the group's career through a modern lens, a neat summation of nearly two decades' worth of experiences. The act will present songs from the entire catalog in what may seem like a startling new context, but is in fact true to the way many of the old songs were constructed: using clips from films. Dangers and Stokes (Dangers' partner in the Tino Corp. project and label, which features an animated Cuban bandleader named Tino) will edit video of these clips live, in time to the music (which is also performed totally live, unlike many computer-based performances); the musicians will stand on the side of the stage so as not to detract from the main visual attraction.

This is not to say that MBM puts its sound second to its cinema. The group has always been about combining the best (and, sometimes, the rudest) elements of styles such as dub, funk, hip hop, industrial, techno, and jazz, and Dangers' role has long been one of conductor. Take the band's current full-length, At the Center, part of the "Blue Series" (for which Dangers also produced DJ Spooky and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo's Drums of Death), a collection of albums released on Thirsty Ear Recordings that aims to capture a free-form spirit of experimentation among diverse jazz, electronic, and rock musicians. Centerincludes collaborations with Peter Gordon (flute), Dave King (drums and percussion), and Craig Taborn (piano, keyboards, and clavinet); Dangers acted almost like a DJ, controlling the proceedings, adding effects like echo and reverb, and weaving bass lines and rhythms in and out of the mix. His credits on the album read "bass, bass flute, bass clarinet, everything else."

It's not a radical departure for Meat Beat Manifesto, particularly given the group's more recent albums (including 1998's Actual Sounds + Voices, which featured Herbie Hancock contributors Pat Gleeson and Bennie Maupin), but it highlights the easygoing, laid-back side of the project. At the Center is closer to the jazz of John Coltrane or even Sun Ra than the more brash and confrontational direction that was a part of the band's past. Suffice it to say that Nine Inch Nails would no longer be an appropriate tourmate. And that's probably got a lot to do with Jack Dangers being a much happier person now.


"[Journalists overseas] ask me why I settled in Marin County. To me, it's the opposite of where I grew up. Besides," he says, motioning around the studio, "I'm mostly here, so this is Marin to me anyway."

Dangers (not his real name, but he prefers his anonymity) came from humble beginnings. He was born and grew up in Swindon, in the West Country of England, where his family didn't own a telephone. He took over his father's job sweeping up at a factory after his dad contracted cancer from the asbestos in the building. At the time -- the mid-'80s -- his salvation was playing in the band Perennial Divide, which he joined with friend Jonny Stephens. The two took on a side project in 1987 and named it Meat Beat Manifesto. MBM eventually outstripped its predecessor and took on a life of its own.

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