Perennially digging two feet deeper than superficial trends can earn an artist legendary underground status. Unfortunately, it may also cause the world to lose musicians beneath the mantles of fashion, forcing them to wait for later generations to discover them.
Exhibit A: Jack Dangers.
As the primary sample-chopper behind Meat Beat Manifesto, for two decades Dangers has meddled with genres the way Dr. Frankenstein meddled with brains, dissecting musique concrète, industrial noise, funk, dub, hip-hop, and jazz into modular pieces to be reconstructed at whim. Meat Beat's newest offering, Autoimmune, is as contemporary as it gets: Nearly half of its 14 tracks offer the dyspeptic slo-mo churn of electronica's subgenre-du-jour, dubstep.
This is hardly a case of Dangers hopping a trend, however. He's been mixing dub basslines with unsettling electronic beats for years. If anything, people are biting his style: Meat Beat's dub-heavy, late-'80s classic "Radio Babylon" is frequently hailed as one of the most influential techno tracks ever. And, as the affable Dangers notes, "Live we're even doing a track off the very first album [1989's Storm the Studio], 'Re-Animator Part 4' — and that's got the same dubstep tempo ready to go."
Dangers hails from the small British city of Swindon and has been a "fish out of water" Bay Area resident since the early 1990s. Yet he has undeniably integrated himself into many of electronic music's most prescient genres: clashing dub, sample-crunching industrial and techno, political hip-hop, Matrix breakbeat, improvisational electro-jazz, and now, completing the loop, dubstep. Given the breadth of Dangers' influence — and of the influences upon him — it seems only appropriate that Autoimmune be released by two distinctly different record labels, futurepop pimp Metropolis (in North America) and experimental/breakcore iconoclast Planet Mu (in Europe).
"I'm all over the place," he shrugs. "I like too many different types of music. It's not like it changes from album to album — it changes from fuckin' track to track! It's a record label's worst nightmare: 'What are you doing now? A jazz record? Oh, Jesus Christ ...'"
This variety is readily apparent on Autoimmune, where dancehall toasts drain into space radio transmissions, and paranoiac bass pulses suddenly jump into bravura hip-hop spitting contests. The dubstep cuts are straight-up 2008, while "Solid Waste," an enervated environmentalist rant, could easily be a single from 1992's Satyricon.
But that is, quite literally, only the half of it. Dangers says Autoimmune "was gonna be a double-CD thing. That would have been even more varied: complete noise tracks for 10 minutes and then, like, a hip-hop thing."
Onstage, the expanded Meat Beat Manifesto — Dangers, drummer Lynn Farmer, video wrangler Ben Stokes, and ex-Consolidated programmer Mark Pistel — employs bleeding-edge video technology to trigger and remix the original film clips that generate the group's famous dialogue and sound samples. "It's definitely a visual event," Dangers says. In fact, there's so much eye candy flickering across the screens that your retinas can almost distract your ass from what it's there to do: dance like a monkey on hot lava. Because despite all the experimentation, time-warping collages, and spacey jams, Meat Beat Manifesto defiantly remains a dance band.
"People give dance music a hard time," Dangers says. "Usually they just think it's throwaway, it's disco, it's the Bee Gees. To me, it's all dance music. You can dance to the Velvet Underground, you can dance to Kraftwerk, you can dance to anything."
Well, MBM is definitely not "throwaway" music — the band's logo has always been the recycling symbol, the sign of reclamation and reuse. And just as Dangers reworks old songs into new musical manifestos, along comes the next generation of dub spelunkers to unearth Meat Beat Manifesto's legacy. Two eras, two undergrounds, become linked. The cycle continues. Dig it.