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Beat It

Jack Dangers, the main man behind Meat Beat Manifesto, has been credited with plenty of musical innovations over nearly two decades, but he's never received the praise he feels he's due for his work in another creative medium: hairstyling. During the early '80s, he and Barry Andrews, a onetime member of XTC, "had receding hairlines -- so we shaved our hair off," he recalls, chuckling. "Now it's a classic haircut, but back then, we'd get called skinheads. We got a lot of shit for it."

Dangers is accustomed to such misunderstandings. A native of Swindon, the English community that gave the world XTC, the Moody Blues' Justin Hayward and '70s shlockmeister Gilbert O'Sullivan, he first delivered Manifesto in 1987, and while his major influences at the time were electronic sounds and hip-hop, the press classified discs such as 1989's Armed Audio Warfare and 1992's Satyricon as industrial music. This tag didn't fit, in his view, and neither did electronica, the term some observers subsequently started using on MBM. Then again, pinning Dangers down is all but impossible. "I don't understand people who do only one kind of music," he says. "Maybe that's all they want to do, or all they can do. But I'm no good at that."

Indeed, Dangers is game to head down practically any musical path. He's remixed tunes by artists as varied as Nine Inch Nails, Public Enemy and Tower of Power, and Manifesto's most recent album, 2005's excellent At the Center, focuses on, of all things, jazz. Throughout the disc, released by Thirsty Ear Records, Dangers blasts bass clarinet and bass flute in the company of keyboardist Craig Taborn and flutist Peter Gordon. What will jazz purists think of it? "Peter's flute chops can't be criticized," Dangers declares, "but my meandering and making noise with things probably could be."

In concert, Dangers ties his wide array of sounds together visually rather than aurally. He's long used spoken-word samples from films or television in his recordings, and in recent years, he's assiduously tracked down the original source material. "Like on Satyricon, there's a track called 'Brainwashed,' and at one point, this guy says, 'That's a nice shirt! It's a Ben Sherman!'" he notes. "I was able to find the commercial that's from, and it's just one example. The hook lines and sample points in most of my songs are something visual, and we've got practically all of them on video samplers that we play live."

The other constant in Meat Beat's highly eclectic music is "my sense of humor, which is injected into everything I've ever done," Dangers says. Still, he concedes that not everyone detects his wit. "My humor is sort of like Kraftwerk's -- very dry, very droll. Some people don't know if they're joking or not, and my sense of humor might be even more camouflaged than theirs."

His resentment against people who've subverted his trademark hairdo isn't disguised, though. "You've got to get rid of people like Phil Collins, who was receding and yet he had a mullet," Dangers says. "Not a good look."

Sounds like the start of a Manifesto.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts