Before electronic heavyweights like the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk arrived on the scene, Jack Dangers (a.k.a., the man behind Meat Beat Manifesto) had already mastered the art of sampling, infected dance floors worldwide with seriously lethal beats, influenced a whole new generation of artists (Nine Inch Nails and the Prodigy, to name a few) and bestowed some thought-provoking messages to his audiences.
Consistently ahead of his time, Jack’s career has spanned two decades and has included dips into such genres as IDM, industrial, dub, and jazz fusion. On Meat Beat’s latest effort, 2008’s Autoimmune, Jack and bandmates Lynn Farmer, Mark Pistel and Ben Stokes demonstrate both a nod to their past and a vision into the future. Before performing at New York City's Bowery Ballroom, Jack discuses his love for video sampling, his favorite new artists, and his semi-secret side gig working for Steve Jobs.
After making music for over 20 years, what keeps you interested and excited?
Definitely the video sampling -- that sort of breathed a breath of fresh air into everything. Got into sampling audio in the mid-‘80s, did a lot of shows and a lot of albums along those lines, then about 10 years ago I got heavily into video sampling, working with Emergency Broadcast Network. Basically, technology is sort of taking its time to get up to speed so that you can actually do this live. It’s been inspiring -- tracking down old audio samples that are on Storm the Studio and albums like that. I got a lot of that stuff from video -- television, movies -- so there’s a visual attached to all that spoken-word stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of finding these things -- some of them are really hard to track down — so that’s been a lot of fun. It’s good fun playing live that way, as well. You can sometimes say more with a visual than any lyrics. I think you can get your point across more a lot more easily using video samples.
Autoimmune has been really well received …
Has it? I don’t like reading the good ones and can’t stand reading the bad ones, so I just keep away from it. Stumbled across some things a couple weeks ago, cheered me up. Just trying to get out of that mold of doing the same thing year in and year out, so I tend to not know whether stuff is well-received or not. For me, it’s just important that it exists and comes out.
When you’re working on a new record, do you worry about whether your longtime fans will be into it?
There’s always something in the back of my mind -- people might like this, they might like that. That’s what’s sort of hurtful when you read a bad review -- someone might just have had a bad day.
A lot of people have called Autoimmune a return to the “classic” Meat Beat sound. Were you consciously trying to work toward that, or did it just happened organically?
Probably on the track “Solid Waste,” that one more than any of the other songs. I sort of tried to do older-style things, but musically I think it’s more -- I’m not saying dubstep…. Someone comes along and comes up with a name for something and has to be some BPM or whatever. I don’t follow those rules so much, but I’ve been using dub bass lines and dubbing drums for all my musical life. That’s more or less just timing, really, as the name has come along. A couple tracks might be like older stuff, but I don’t think on a whole the album is.
Were you influenced by dubstep for this record?
As a movement I was. It’s always been around -- just because someone comes up with a name for it doesn’t mean you haven’t been dabbling with it in the past. Anything dubstep has to be 70 BPM, or double that to 140, and you have to use native instruments. If you’re doing those two things well, then you’re doing dubstep. Very tenuous sort of genre to be called anything, really. People have been dabbling with stuff like this for years.
Was that what you were listening to around the time you made the album?
I wasn’t listening to dubstep stuff -- wasn’t liking a lot of it. To me, a lot of it’s really normal, sounds very clinical. I like stuff where you can tell the person spent some time on the sound, not just using factory presets on native instruments.
So what newer stuff do you find exciting?
Talking along those lines, I like Scorn. It’s perfect to me; you can’t get any better than that. It’s not necessarily dubstep -- it doesn’t work in that same kind of way every time, and he manages to get this real depressive, morose feeling across with each track, which sometimes I can’t do. I think you’ve got to be a manic depressive to actually make that one work! I’m not manic depressive enough.
Some of the stuff Planet Mu puts out is good. Teltek, I like them. I like Barrium -- I like the way that sounds, whoever it is, however they do what they do to the vocals. It’s a pretty bold move to be completely anonymous, but these guys are doing it.
What else are you listening to these days?
I listen to tons of different types of music -- anything from Dudley Moore to Captain Beefheart to Throbbing Gristle to Scorn. I listen to a lot of old stuff. There’s so much music around these days that you can’t really suck everything in.
How are the kind of things that inspire you now different from what inspired you 10 or 20 years ago?
Like I said, the technology’s got a big thing to do with it. When sampling first was made available -- when it first came out it was just too expensive -- it was definitely inspiring, but you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, so the whole visual thing’s where I’m at these days. That’s the main reason we still play live, so you can see this cool stuff, because we’re not putting DVDs out of what we do, or we’d probably get into trouble. There’s a lot of obvious samples -- I like to do that “guess where this is from?” sort of thing.
When you’re making music, are you already thinking about how to match it to a visual?
Not so much, no -- maybe on a couple tracks. You’ve more or less got to start with the visual if you’re thinking that way, and then music follows that in a very sort of minimal way. Usually I’m just in a music mode, then think of certain things and they fall into place. It’s a big process to get into samples. I use like six different programs: Final Cut, After Effects…
Over the years, you’ve dabbled with many different musical genres, yet a lot of people still label Meat Beat an “industrial” band. Is that annoying to you?
No, no, it doesn’t bother me. It all depends on what you mean by “industrial.” When I came over here, industrial was like Ministry, Frontline Assembly, Nine Inch Nails. I just didn’t get it, there were too many guitars. Industrial to me is Einstürzende Neubaten, Test Dept, SPK. I love those bands; if we’re only connected to that light, great. It was mainly the Wax Trax thing, because we were licensed to Wax Trax. We weren’t on Wax Trax anywhere else in the world. It was only here.
The Young Gods always got put into that bracket, and they were never really like that either to me. They were brilliant -- it was like a heavy rock band but there were no guitars. In ’86, Happy Mondays were supporting the Young Gods, who were supporting my favorite live band, Blurt, so I inadvertently saw the Happy Mondays -- who were absolutely terrible -- and the Young Gods were brilliant.
So there’s not a lot to do about being put in a pigeonhole. Distorted vocals on some of my stuff -- that’s industrial, there you go. But our stuff is more funky and soulful than Ministry or...is Marilyn Manson industrial? “Glam-dustrial”? What’s in a name? Dubstep: What is dubstep? I like too many different types of music and it comes out in what I do. What can you do?
Early on, your music was political in a pretty in-your-face kind of way. Is it still important to you to get your “message” out, maybe just in more subtle ways?
We do that live with visuals more. Like I said earlier, you can get points across way more easily with visuals than you can with lyrics. But I’ve done that through the years and don’t want to keep repeating that, so I don’t tend to do that so much live. For the last eight years there were tons, but the last two weeks it seems like a weight’s been lifted off me -- and the world! I’ve got nothing to bitch about. We’re just going to do an instrumental folk set tonight [laughs] -- unplugged!
What would you say are the worst and best things about music today?
The worst thing would be some of these programs like [Ableton] Live and Logic [Studio] with all these plug-ins and all these pull-down menus you can go to, all rigged out. I spent years learning how to do all that stuff and now all you have to do is go into a pull-down menu and you’ve got it. I think you lose something if you’re doing that -- you don’t know how to get to that point of what you’re doing now, you just rely on this too much. I think that’s a negative thing -- it’s become too easy. There’s no struggle to get to what you’re thinking about.
And the best thing is that everything’s easier [laughs]! Because that’s been a pain in the ass the last 20 years. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. I was an engineer before I was doing music -- that’s my background -- so it pisses me off a bit. I actually did some stuff for Apple -- you can’t put your name to any of it, all these anonymous, amorphous people in the background. Certain things. I can’t actually tell you what, because then they could sue me. Certain pull-down menus, certain things to do with decoders -- I use decoders a lot, always have. People don’t know how to use them, so they asked for my expertise. I guess that’s why it’s annoying to see people “cheating” -- “That’s a good decoder sound!” Bastards!
What’s up next for you? Have you started working on the follow-up to Autoimmune yet?
Not yet, but will be. When I get back after these shows, I’ll probably start. There’s nothing else I can do -- I haven’t got any qualifications. Go back and be an engineer in the studio otherwise. I’ll just keep doing albums ‘til there’s nobody left. If I knew that we’re going to be touring a lot next year, I’d sort of make everything heavily visual. I don’t know yet, until the start of next year.
And finally, what’s the most shocking thing about Meat Beat Manifesto?
I don’t think there’s anything shocking, no. I’m pretty boring, really. I like the music of Dudley Moore; I don’t know if that’s shocking or not. I play Grand Theft Auto at least eight hours a day. See, that’s not shocking, that’s normal.