Meat Beat Manifesto

[30 June 2005]

By August Forte


Meat Beat Manifesto

For nearly 20 years, Jack Dangers (born John Corrigan in Swindon, England, 1967) has worked under the moniker Meat Beat Manifesto, applying the style of William Burroughs’s cut-up literary experiments to his own sonic explorations.

The cut-up method was put on the map by surrealist Tristan Tzara in the 1920s (he would create poems spontaneously from words drawn from a hat) and adapted decades later by Burroughs and his colleague Brion Gysin. Their process was straightforward: a page of text was cut into sections and those sections were rearranged to create something entirely new.

Dangers, along with a string of collaborators, has excised elements of dub, hip-hop, industrial, techno and, more recently, jazz and arranged them to create his groundbreaking releases for classic indie/electronic labels Wax Trax!, Mute, Play it Again Sam, Nothing, and Thirsty Ear.

Never one for the sterile, surgical approach, Dangers/MBM make all of these vivisections sound organic, as if the sound-body is going through a metamorphosis rather that lying on a hospital slab. He is often at odds with his industrial music peers when it comes to the visual presentation of these resonant Frankensteins—most musicians in the field choose to hide behind their synths and sequencers, while Dangers just wants to rock to explosions of color and light.

Chicago got a rare eyeful of the MBM live experience when Dangers and company took to the stage at Metro for an inspired two hour set. Gone were the dancers and elaborate, spiked dinosaur costumes that graced the same stage a decade ago (when MBM supported then-rising stars Nine Inch Nails). Instead, a small but enthusiastic crowd was treated to an impressive video presentation by H-Gun co-founder Ben Stokes.

Employing both rear and front projection, Stokes created a perfectly-edited looping montage of computer icons, exploding suns, pirated news footage, classic film/television clips. These included images nicked from The Bride of Frankenstein, The Exorcist II, Westworld, “The Incredible Hulk”, “The Apprentice”, and Dirty Harry as well as filmed musical performances from James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and Mariah Carey. The images were blown up dramatically on the two horizontally aligned screens which acted as a potent backdrop.

The genius of Stokes’s visual input is that it commented appropriately on the Burroughs “cut-up” and Dangers’ musical adaptations of the technique. Video was synched perfectly to samples and beats (some prerecorded, most played by a live drummer), so that a young godfather of soul appeared to be dancing to MBM or a gang of kung fu fighters seemed to have choreographed their moves to Dangers’s propulsive programming.

On the musical front, Dangers treated the audience to cuts from archetypal MBM albums, including their 1988 debut Storm the Studio, the Wax Trax!-released Armed Audio Warfare, fan favorite 99%, 1998’s groundbreaking Actual Sounds & Voices and the recently released At the Center. His three-piece crew shifted effortlessly from Lee Perry-worthy dub to DJ Shadow-style hip hop and then on to high energy techno and down-tempo, trip hop, and trance.

Toward the end of the set, just as Meat Beat Manifesto (and the audience) was reaching rapturous climax, an image of Jack Dangers’s GIANT HEAD filled both screens and the circle was complete: the artist was cut from his position at stage left and pasted in front of his audience. In that moment, Dangers became part of a process, as he commented on an idea first presented by Burroughs, whereby the “author” is placed in a context that may appear to be random: in this case, images (exploding suns, James Brown, Frankenstein’s Bride) that have no formal relationship to each other but are entirely under his control.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/meat-beat-manifesto-050622/