Thanks to the esoteric interests of frontman Jack Dangers, Meat Beat Manifesto's post-Industrial Electro-collages are reaching a new currency in the 90s. Interview by Chris Sharp. This article originally appeared in The Wire 148 (June 1996).
In 1987, the cavernous breakbeat thunder of Meat Beat Manifesto's "Radio Babylon" impacted on the dance scene with explosive force. If Hardcore (and subsequently Jungle) can be said to have started anywhere, it was here - The Prodigy's Liam Howlett has repeatedly cited the track as a major inspiration, and countless hyperkinetic post-rave stormers have sampled and abused its rhythms in the search for maximum velocity and syncopated beat-driven kicks. It comes as something of a surprise, then, that something so potent, so influential, and so fully formed started as the offshoot of a post-Industrial noise outfit called Perennial Divide. Jack Dangers, the sonic technician behind both projects, was, and remains, a connoisseur of the extreme, and he hardly expected his frankly brutal sonic vision to find such willing acceptance in the arms of the Acid-fixated dancefloor hedonists of the day.
"Perennial Divide were completely unnoticed and ignored, and then along came this side project which everyone picked up on. The first couple of singles were completely extreme - I was trying to deal with extremes all the time; I mean, the vocals were done in one take over the talkback mic of a mixing desk with the volume full up so there was just complete feedback and chaos. I was working with a lot of dancers and performance artists; Meat Beat was just a side project which, somehow, is still going on."
"Radio Babylon" was the first of Meat Beat Manifesto's periodic forays into dancefloor acceptance - subsequent releases like "Psyche-Out~2 and "Mindstream" crossed over in the same way - and it defined Dangers's unconventional relationship with the dance mainstream, tracking its evolution from left field, making brief and inspirational connections before spinning away again. Throughout his career, Dangers has been able to collide avant garde history with dancefloor bliss, taking the Industrial project to the raving masses, and bringing the weight of the 20th century's forbidding intellectual lineage to bear on Britain's burgeoning disco biscuit posse. "Radio Babylon" always seemed like a record that took its cues more from Cabaret Voltaire and The Pop Group than from Frankie Knuckles and Phuture, notwithstanding the arms-aloft devotion that it inspired.
"Cabaret Voltaire were always a huge influence on me. I got into them and then into their influences, going back to Kraftwerk and Can, and then I went from them to Stockhausen and Xenakis and Cage - you can just go back because everything has been done before in some way. I found this record a few weeks ago by John Cage from 1953 called Music For Turntables with scratching on it, sothat idea is almost 50 years old. Stuff like that just blows my mind."
The other major influence on Jack Dangers's music was/is the voodoo magic of Jamaican dub - an influence which roots him firmly in an underground dissident tradition dating back to the punk-dub fusion of the late 70s. There's a track on the new Subliminal Sandwich LP called "1979" - an explicit homage to the open-eyed experimentation which tried to wrest the spirit of punk away from major label exploitation.
"Dub and ska have always been a big influence on me. I got into it in the late 70s when the punks started rejecting punk music - they could see that it was a major label commodity which had been commercialised by bands like Sham 69 and Generation X, so they got completely disillusioned and started looking for a music which was more underground."
Dub and its spiky-haired children married live, improvisational urgency with an obsession for texture and the power of the mixing desk, and Meat Beat Manifesto have increasingly followed the same path. Subliminal Sandwich includes two CDs; the second disc reworks the first through powerful editing tools to create something more intense, more concrete than the song-based, bass-heavy tracks on disc one. Dangers, refusing to lock himself into the arithmetical cocoon of the sequencer, has remained alive to the possibilities of improvisation. One track on disc two, "Electric People", edits six hours of live jamming into a dense 14 minute slab, blending the energy of intuitive exploration with the physical payoff of looped rhythms.
"It's not a new idea, it's an old and tested formula going back to the old musique concrète days - being able to get mass pieces of music and just mix and merge them. The final version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" combines 20 takes in three separate edits, and [Kraftwerk's] "Autobahn" was the result of an incredible editing job by Conny Plank. I'd never really approached making music in that way before, but I got my hands on some new equipment which enabled me to explore that new territory."
Subliminal Sandwich is a masterpiece of mixing, a voyage through 140 minutes of prismatic tones, razorblade rhythms and sub-bass motion for which `epic' seems like the only appropriate adjective. Perhaps emboldened by the success of the record, Dangers is taking the same mix-based approach to Meat Beat's live manifestation.
"There are four people on stage: a drummer, a keyboard and theremin player, a guitarist who plays prepared guitars - he rips all the frets out and gold leafs them which gives them a really weird metallic sound - and me doing a live mix of all these elements. I've got loads of effects, some great old tube compressors which really toughen up the sound, and a Vocoder. There's a lot of improvised stuff, which I think makes it quite funky. With pretty much everything I do, it's all in the mix."