Ground Beef

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

Dangers' working-class ethic is still intact, as evidenced by his life in Marin: The Mill Valley house is not extravagant (though his Mount Tam view is grand), nor is it full of needless trappings. His living room reveals the interests one might imagine: records, films, video games, musical instruments. (That bone-chilling sound I heard on the way in turns out to come from a rather harmless and nifty metal instrument called a waterphone, a hollow cup filled with water surrounded by tines that change pitch according to the amount of fluid in the cup, a favorite of soundtrack composers like Lalo Schifrin of The Amityville Horror, among other movies.)

There are a few perks to Dangers' modest success, though. He doesn't drive or own a car, but he does own an EMS Synthi 100, a rare piece of equipment that is the music enthusiast's equivalent to the auto fiend's classic Lamborghini Murciélago. The 600-pound behemoth, made in 1974, has fetched upward of $60,000 from collectors. Dangers had to remove a window in his studio and hire six men to pulley this model up from the ground 30 feet below. It looks like a gorgeous art piece that should go in a synthesizer museum, but so does most of the vintage equipment in the tidy studio.

Dangers' records are housed in protective plastic and organized according to broad categories such as "soundtracks" and "'60s." Looking at them brings us to the issue of sampling, a method Dangers has used liberally in his music over the years. I ask how the recent changes in music law -- including crackdowns on sampling -- have affected his process.

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.

"What changes were there?" he deadpans, breaking a poker face with a giggle. "I've been collared a couple of times after the fact and gotten a slap on the wrist. I sampled a huge chunk of Horace Silver on 99%for the intro of 'Hello Teenage America,' so I was always waiting for that."

Nowadays, Dangers prefers grabbing portions of things in the public domain, like the announcer reading bizarre old want ads whose voice runs through MBM's At the Center ("Willing to exchange unborn baby for cottage").

"You're gonna get more trouble from sampling a Warner Bros.-distributed film than [Texan televangelist] Robert Tilton speaking in tongues," he counsels.

Not that he has always practiced what he preaches. Turns out that a lot of MBM's samples over the years have come from movies, particularly when Dangers still lived in the U.K. (he moved to California in 1994) and couldn't get a lot of cool records he would have wanted to draw from. He says his music might have been different had he not had to rely on films. His movie knowledge appears to parallel what he knows about music -- that is, it's encyclopedic, or, as he puts it, "almost autistic" -- and the songs in MBM's catalog now stand as a neat collection of some of his favorite cinematic bits and pieces of all time.

Among the images that Dangers and Stokes will manipulate at the Centerlive show in time to key music samples are Marianne Faithfull enjoying a fondue break (from 1968's Girl on a Motorcycle), Frankenstein having a stoner moment while smoking a fat stogie (from the 1931 horror classic with Boris Karloff), and Fugitive-era Harrison Ford (circa 1993) running and repeatedly yelling, "Get down! Get down!"

"The video burns itself in almost more strongly than just the audio," he says of his memories of sampling films. "And it's fun, because you can combine images and say something. Like there's a track where I've got the end of Dr. Strangelove, where Slim Pickens is on the nuclear bomb, raving. I've got that as a sample, and then I've got George Bush doing a speech and the banjo scene from Deliverance. Those three things together more or less to me sum up everyday life right now in America."

And that, my friends, is truly frightening.

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