Meat Beat Manifesto, an electronic music group formed by Jack Dangers and Jonny Stephens in 1987 in Swindon, UK, has been creating a unique blend of electronic sounds and a stunning live performance for over three decades now. The band has produced hit tracks including “God O.D.”, “Drop”, “Helter Skelter”, “Radio Babylon” and “Edge of No Control”. The single “Prime Audio Soup” was featured in the movie The Matrix and its platinum-selling soundtrack. Having undergone line-up changes over the years, Dangers is the only constant member of the band, having performed with Ben Stokes for many years now. Although the original lineup performed with many dancers and with filmmakers while performing local shows in London, that became unfeasible when the band started touring, only taking 3 dancers with them on the road. These days, Dangers and Stokes combine their music with a unique blend of visuals, concentrating on film, videos and samples. Dangers has experimented with different sounds and musical directions over the years, such as dubstep, jungle, techno, industrial and jazz fusion. He has been recognized as an innovator in the electronic music scene and has done remixes for iconic artists such as David Bowie, Public Enemy, Orbital, Nine Inch Nails, David Byrne, Bush, Depeche Mode, and Tower of Power. In 2018, the duo released their first full length album in 7 years, Impossible Star and released it’s companion album, Opaque Couche, on May 10th of this year. It’s an album that Dangers describes as reflecting more of a mischievous and rhythm-based mood. The sound goes back to the band’s roots with the intent of re-inventing them, containing a more dubby sound with hints of jungle and a bass-drum feel. Dangers is currently working on two projects outside of MBM, with The JD’s, and with Adi Newton. With plans to put out a Meat Beat Manifesto 7″ later this year and hopefully perform some live dates in the US. Dangers has plenty of exciting things in the works for us all to be excited about. You can follow Meat Beat Manifesto and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music, tour dates and news, as well as stream and purchase his music, via the following links. Check out the track “Pin Drop” from the new album below.
You will be releasing your new album Opaque Couche on May 10th. What made you decide to go back to your roots and and kind-of reinvent them for this album?
Well, I was dabbling with it a little bit on the last album. I did sort-of do a bunch of recording over a 5 year period, so some of these tracks could have been on the last album and vice versa. I had a surplus of tracks. We almost brought this album out last year, as well, but we thought that might be a bit too much. So, yeah…I’ve been doing that over the past few years, just going back to a more dubby, even jungle and drum and bass sort-of feel. I hadn’t done that for a while. I went through a bit of a dubstep phase. I’ve always had dub in my music, right from the very first album, so it’s always been a part of my musical inspiration. I don’t really see it as being too much of a massive change. Dubstep was always a bit of a half time drum and bass sort of thing anyways, so I was just going back to the original fast tempo and halving it with the bass lines and stuff like that. I’ve always done that on and off through the years.
You’ll also be doing a limited release of albums pressed to vinyl. I know you are a lover of vinyl, did that factor into the decision?
Umm, yeah. I’ve always collected vinyl, for 40 years now. I’ve got quite a lot of records. We’ve never done a picture disc so this was a good enough reason to do one. The main thing about that was that we were going to do colored vinyl, but it was impossible to match that type of color. We got back a couple of samples and it just wasn’t cutting it so we went down the picture disc route. That’s even more limited. There’s a (I think) 500 run of the picture disc. We’ve done vinyl releases for a couple of records. We’re just keeping that same routine I suppose.
You have said that technology dictates which way electronic music will go and that it’s always about using the latest equipment. You are also a fan of vintage and analog equipment. What do you enjoy about mixing the two, digital and analog together?
40 years ago, the highest technology would have been modular synthesizers. I like mixing new stuff, like software and new ways of recording, with using older equipment. At the same time, I use new equipment, as well. There’s a range by Korg called Volca, these tiny little units, these little boutique versions that I use rather than the older drum machines. I still pick up on new stuff, as well, and like mixing the two together. I’ve always used conventional instruments, as well.
You’ve mentioned that a good electronic track contains something that you haven’t heard before. Do you feel that your 7 year hiatus before the release of your last album allowed you to approach music with a refreshed perspective?
Yeah. That was more for practical reasons. I moved to a new house and built a new studio, which took a few years, and at the place I was living in while that was being done I was still recording. When I got back in the new studio it just didn’t sound correct so I had to redo everything. That kind-of delayed things for a few years, otherwise these things would have come out earlier. You kind-of wear your welcome out if you bring out albums every year. I’ve got enough material to bring another one out next year, actually, but we’ll wait and see. Sometimes it’s good to sort-of disappear for a bit. It’s the same with playing live, as well. If you keep coming around every year…it’s good to have a hiatus and re-group and make it more fresh for the next time.
I know for the new album you revisited your roots. You’ve also explored Jazz themes with Off Centre and Satyricon that had a more commercial verse chorus. Do you think you will re-explore those sounds/themes more going forward?
I’m not sure. I’ve always sort-of had a jazz element, like with the dub stuff. I had a saxophone on the first album and distorted the sound. I’ve always sort-of dabbled with that. I even played some of that on the new record, like the bass flute, but sometimes you wouldn’t even know it was there. It was the same on the album Impossible Star with “We Are Surrounded”. I played a lot of bass flute on that but you wouldn’t necessarily know that’s what the instrument is. I’ve always used elements of jazz. The song “T.M.I” on the last album had a sort of verse chorus structure but I wanted it to be a little bit upside down and not so obvious. I could definitely see going back and doing a more sort-of commercial structure but in a way you might not have heard before. I like sounds which, not so much that I haven’t heard before, but ones where I don’t know how it’s done…I can’t work out how it’s done. That’s always inspirational, trying to work out how to do it and then go a step ahead of that.
You had previously mentioned that it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Do you find yourself paying attention to changes in the industry or musical trends? Do those things have an impact at all on the music you create, or do you just do your own thing and not worry about what other people are doing?
A bit of both, really. I experimented with the dubstep stuff a little bit and was dabbling in it when it wasn’t called that. It’s good to keep an eye open. Although, I can’t say at the moment that there’s a lot that I’m hearing that would inspire me…makes one want to go back to a time then they were inspired. That’s why I’m going back to my roots a little bit I suppose, because I’m not really hearing anything that exciting at the moment.
You’ve done remixes in the past for other artists such as David Bowie, Public Enemy and Nine Inch Nails. Do you have plans to more remixes in the future?
Yeah. I have done some for a few different artists and have some others coming out later this year. I love doing remixes because it takes you away, if you’re working on an album or something, and gives you a chance to jump into someone else’s work. You get to go down a different street or avenue and then jump back into what you were working on and it keeps things fresh and exciting. I’ve always enjoyed doing that luckily!
You’re very much into creating a very visual live show. How do you feel your live show has evolved over the years and what inspires your visuals and samples for each tour? What can people expect from upcoming tours?
In the past (and the future), we always had/will have a visual element. With the original line up we worked with dancers and filmmakers and at one point there were 15 people on stage all doing weird and wonderful stuff. You can’t tour that though. That was when we were in London and could do local shows. Then we went on tour, we had to slim that down to just, like, three dancers. We had crazy costumes. That was about 30 years ago. I wanted to get out of the three dimensional imagery and concentrate more on film and video and samples. In the ’90s I produced a band called Emergency Broadcast Network who were pretty big into doing that and that was a big inspiration for me. When playing live, we use a lot of video sampling and have used a lot audio samples from films in the past so I was able to go back and grab that visual. In “Helter Skelter” I sampled a piece from A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell’s being tortured with his eyes forced open to watch violent films. I sampled him screaming but you wouldn’t necessarily know it was there. When we play it live you see the visual at the same time and that’s happened a lot because I sampled from so many different film sources through the years. That’s always interesting, when you get a big crowd reaction, like “Oh, that’s where it’s from”. It’s sort-of like noticing a famous hip hop sample. You just pop a record on one day and it just pops out. When playing live, it’s just me and Ben Stokes and we’re both juggling different video samples…lots of Kubrick samples actually. So yeah, we’re still doing that…highly illegal (laughs)! When you’re playing live, you can sort-of get around that. We’re not, like, bringing it out on DVD or anything!
Meat Beat Manifesto has had several changes over the years, but you and Ben have played together for a while now. What do you think makes the two of you such compatible musical partners?
Well, I first met him in ’89 actually, so 30 years ago. I met him at a music seminar in New York for like 5 minutes and a few months later in 1990 I was at the Wax Tracks record store in Chicago and the guy there was playing this good music and I didn’t know who it was. I went up and asked what it was and it was the first DHS (Dimensional Holofonic Sound)…well not the first one but the House Of God 12″. That was it really. I was like “Oh yeah, I know him” and we got back together again later that year and ever since then we’ve been working together. I’ve always admired what he does musically. It’s pretty rare when someone does the music and the visual and does both equally well. So 30 years ago, I really didn’t have a clue about doing visuals and have learned over the years. I had a project called The Forger and put a bunch of videos up on my YouTube page. Once again, highly illegal but sometimes you gotta do it…gotta break the rules! I think it’s our mutual admiration for the fact that we can both do music and do interesting visuals, although he does it for a living and I just do it as a hobby.
You have some new projects coming up with The JDs and with Adi Newton. What can you tell me about those projects?
We’re just finishing The JD’s album. We’ve been working on that for a while and it’s going to be called The Texas Chainstore Manager. Each track has something to do with things you might find in a grocery store or supermarket. All will be revealed! The project with Adi Newton should be coming out this year. I won’t even attempt to say what it’s called because it’s in Japanese. He’s going to come over here again later on this year and we’ll be doing some more stuff together. We’re going to try to do some live shows together as well in Europe at the end of the year. I’ll hopefully be doing some more live shows here in the US, as well.
What’s next for you? What else do you have coming up?
Well, apart from those other things, I’m doing another 7″ at the moment…a Meat Beat 7″. Hopefully that will be out by the end of the year, but you always have to tag on a three month period. That’s how long it takes to press vinyl and get it cut and get test pressings and everything. It always drags on a little bit more because sometimes someone drops the plate and they have to be redone. It’s a bit finicky, whereas with a digital release you can bring it out the next day. It’s all about this thing you can actually hold in your hand. I think that’s more important then just having music files. So yeah, I’m working on that at the moment. It’s not anything to do with the album (Opaque Couche), it’s a completely different thing that should be out by the end of the year.
Thank you so much for talking with me this afternoon!