Music

Meat Beat Manifesto: Off-Centre

Mike Schiller

Jack Dangers freaked out his fanbase with a jaunt into jazz on his last full-length release, At the Center. Off-Centre is where he tells that same fanbase to chill out, already.


Meat Beat Manifesto

Off-Centre

Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2005-10-25
UK Release Date: Available as import
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It actually makes sense that Meat Beat Manifesto would turn to jazz -- Meat Beat head honcho Jack Dangers has always been about the beat, about the groove that will make the world nod its collective head. If there's something that jazz has as a genre, it's groove. On Meat Beat Manifesto's most recent album, At the Center, Dangers attempted to tap into that groove, even incorporating instruments like bass flutes and clarinets, all while retaining the solid drums and beats that give his band its middle name. At the Center is a study in genre cross-pollination, melding the free-form tendencies of jazz with the strict structures of electronic music, resulting in a push-pull dynamic that's fascinating to hear, even if it's not always enough to grab the typical listener in the naughty bits.

Off-Centre is the requisite follow-up EP, and those Meat Beat purists who were put off by the idea of Dangers's fried-jazz tangent may still find something to enjoy in its six tracks.

Of most interest to anyone exploring the Off-Centre EP will be the inclusion of three brand new tracks -- though the "brand new" label must be taken with a rather large grain of salt since two of the three new tunes have been available as free downloads on Amazon.com for some time. "Postcards" and "Maintain Discipline" are the two tracks on Amazon, and they are both fantastic. A listener would be forgiven for thinking that "Postcards" is an Actual Sounds and Voices-era Meat Beat song for the first few seconds until the piano shows up and drags us back into the Manifesto's modern age. That piano line bursts in with some creepy X-Files-style action while multi-tracked jazz flutes intertwine with one another in and out of the mix, all on top of one of those vintage Dangers backbeats that set the house dancing well into the night. "Maintain Discipline" is a bit more tribal and free-flowing with its beats, eventually featuring a breakdown that culminates in a keyboard freakout that bleeds through to the song's finale. Manic improvisation may not be for everybody, but it provides a fitting climax for the song, allowing the jazz to win the battle over the beats, rather than the other way around as in "Postcards".

The other two studio tracks to be found on Off-Centre are a remix of At the Center's kickoff track "Wild" and one legitimately brand new track, "Dummyhead Stereo". The remix of "Wild" will likely have people wishing it was this version that was on the album proper, as it's far more propulsive than its non-remixed counterpart, integrating the bass flute and bass clarinet with a hip-hop beat that just somehow seems to make sense. "Dummyhead Stereo", on the other hand, is awkward with its beats and offers nothing new to the instrumental palette. It's an At the Center reject, and is best forgotten.

Most intriguing, however, are the live tracks tacked on to the end of the EP. "Shotgun (Blast to the Brain)" is a redux of a track on At the Center, and it hasn't changed that much, save for a slight increase in IDM feel to the beat and a slight decrease in instrumental flourish. Closing out the album is a live version of "Prime Audio Soup", a song that managed a slight bit of exposure bump for Dangers via the soundtrack to The Matrix. The inclusion of this version of "Prime Audio Soup" does three things: One, it's a fantastic display of the way that Dangers enhances his live show with things like extra samples and beefed-up beats. Two, it points out the fact that for all of the hubbub over Meat Beat Manifesto's "new sound", there's not that much of a difference between the sound of 2005 and that of 1998. Yet, third, even as it points out the similarities between the jazzified Meat Beat of today and the dancefloor-centered Meat Beat of yesteryear, the inclusion of "Prime Audio Soup" assuages the fears of the fans who may have considered abandoning Dangers in his new incarnation. He is reassuring us that this is still the same artist who gave us 99% and Asbestos Lead Asbestos, simply wearing a new costume for 2005.

In short, At the Center saw Dangers doing what he needs to do to keep himself interested in his own music. Off-Centre is the slightly reactionary post-experiment sound of an artist calming down his fanbase. As such, it's a treat.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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