Jack Dangers is protective of sharing too many technical details about TapeLab, his Mill Valley music studio. The place is a tangle of cables, pins, and shiny knobs that evokes post–World War II films showing telephone operators making manual switchboard connections. It's here that the producer keeps a 600-pound synthesizer so rare that he's one of the only musicians putting it to use; a vocoder collection that'd make T-Pain envious; and a gong emblazoned with the logo of Meat Beat Manifesto, his highly influential 23-year-old band. Mac laptops and a freshly dead computer tower attest that he's no stranger to digital, but it's clear that Dangers' passions lie in analog gear.
Dangers' latest musical partner, an avowed Meat Beat fan named Jon Drukman, is a digitally leaning electro producer who works under the name Bass Kittens. Together, Dangers and Drukman call themselves the JDs. The moniker pays tribute to James Brown's band (and their own initials), and isan unintended metaphor for how they complement each other musically the way key Brown players Fred Wesley and Bootsy Collins did.
The JDs' full-length debut, Education, released May 4 via Drukman's digital label, Pretension Records, is a meeting of analog and digital minds. The electro- and breakbeat-heavy album blends the warm feel of the former with the crispness of the latter, and disparate sounds ignite. Waterlogged minor keys dovetail with metallic beats on the opener “Into the World.” “I Don't Know When to Stop” offers a vocoded voice cheerfully proclaiming the title as '80s breakdancing beats dissolve in a tangle of robotic bleeps, while “Dead Calm” mounts a multilayered attack of bizarre boings, spoken samples, and skittering ringtones. It's a taut collection of songs paced for the dancefloor, yet still possessing enough sonic details for the homebound headphone listener.
Most of Education was recorded in two months; it was released as soon as it was completed. “One thing I like about music being centered on the Internet is that the artist is in control,” Drukman says of the speed of the record's release. Meanwhile, the Meat Beat Manifesto album will have been finished for more than a year when it comes out in September. The lag is partly because Dangers is still in discussions with labels interested in releasing the physical product in different territories.
The JDs — who've shared the stage for live stints in mutual friend Mark Pistel's band, Pistel — started working on music for fun about seven years ago. They'd run into each other at a party, and Dangers invited Drukman to TapeLab to check out its monster console. At the time of their first recording session, Drukman's wife was pregnant. After his daughter was born, Drukman put his musical efforts on pause. But he shared the two songs he and Dangers had produced with Pietro Da Sacco, a DJ on UC Irvine radio station KUCI. Da Sacco often played the exclusives on his show, Digital::Nimbus, and periodically asked Drukman whether more music would surface. Last fall, those queries spurred Drukman to call Dangers and see if he wanted to collaborate again.
It was good timing for Dangers. He was winding down work on the eleventh Meat Beat Manifesto album, tentatively titled Answers Come in Dreams. He'd also finished coproduction on a 1957 spoken-word recording from Beat-era humorist Henry Jacobs and former San Francisco poet laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti. They began exchanging musical sketches by e-mail, and got together at TapeLab a handful of times to record improvisational pieces.
The resulting Education showcases a worthy battle for rhythmic supremacy between analog and digital audio technology. It also shows Dangers and Drukman as united minds behind the machines.