Meet the Beat
Meat Beat Manifesto
Why limit music to the sounds you hear or the run-of-the-mill images that litter video and concert appearances? Steve Cogan discovers that there's no reason at all - for Meat Beat Manifesto.
Where technology meets art, art meets good taste, and MT meet the artists behind the controversy, there's sure to be a good story.
"We put on a very active 3D show with slide projections, dancers, sets and costumes, then at the back we projected some hard-core porn."
Stevens explains that the show is so active that the audience assumes any mistakes are part of the spectacle.
"It's quite a good touring show, it's not too over-the-top technology-wise, or set and stage wise. We were restricted by the shapes and sizes of the stages and we haven't got a massive lighting rig or anything like that. It's mostly physical things, a couple of times I've fallen over but nobody notices because I'm flying around stage anyway, it seems as if it's in the choreography. It's such an energetic show that it just adds... It's like organised chaos."
Accepting the integration of the various media, where do Meat Beat believe their experiments in entertainment are leading them?
"It's going to evolve into a circus act, we're going to be trapeze artists" claims Adams, tongue in cheek. Then, seriously: "No, I don't want to be doing this for the rest of my life. It's a very interesting concept to do and prove that it can work, but we never stay in one channel for long, it's like repeating ourselves. When these bands keep on going on they're only doing it for the money and because they can't be bothered to do something else."
MOVING ON TO THE SUBJECT OF equipment, I discover that here, too, Meat Beat Manifesto have have built a reputation for themselves - primarily one of devastating loudspeakers.
"We've blown Tannoys, all sorts...", comes the story. "Once we were sending loads of feedback through a reverb - we were trying to get as low a signal as possible. We blew the high-frequency driver first but we didn't know that at the time, and we kept going for about ten minutes. Eventually we were burning the coil and smoke was coming out of the speaker - it was actually burning into the cabinet.
"At one studio we were doing a night session, and we blew the speaker fuses loads of times. We kept getting the house engineer out of bed in his underpants to replace them. Usually the feedback from the echo unit when you send it through itself is a killer for speakers."
Out of the studio and on to the stage, the emphasis falls on sampling. A fully-expanded Akai S1000 does most of the hard work (Dangers calls it "the brain") in conjunction with a pair of Octapads. Additionally there's a Korg M1, a Yamaha RX5 for certain drum duties, and a Roland MC500 MkII sequencer. In fact, it's the matter of sequencing that is currently giving the Manifesto the most trouble.
"At the moment we're writing stuff on the MC500, which is a bit of a pain really, and not to be recommended", says Dangers, "but we're getting an Atari ST and Cubase. We did the whole album using the code from the RX5, and using the RX5 to drive the sequencer."
The Storm the Studio album showcases the use of samples and points towards the medium of television as a source of inspiration and source material - the Rainbow sample (where Zippy is heard to say "You're supposed to listen to the rhythm George, the rhythm of the music") being a case in point.
Adams agrees the album was influenced by television: "There's not much else you can do when you're on the dole except watch Rainbow", he asserts. "We had to watch it for three years to get that particular sample, we recorded every episode until that good bit came along. You never know what's going to sound good on the finished product, like I recorded my sneaker squeaking on the floor, sampled it, slowed it down so it sounded really stupid. But it could have sounded good."
Samples are collected on a Casio DA1 DAT machine before being transferred to the S1000 - "here it is now", says Adams, spotting an advertisement for the same model in a copy of MT - at a lower price than they had paid for it. This, too, is rock 'n' roll.
Another sample of TV-sourced material on the Storm the Studio album is a newscaster saying "a spokesman at the Health Ministry said that to talk repeatedly about AIDS would cause the public to panic, tourism will certainly be affected".
"We sometimes get a track ready on the sampler so that we can sync that with the timecode, then the sampler is cued in so that when you play a record or tune in the television and as the track is running on we can make samples which immediately go in time with the track. That way you can come up with things like that news broadcast, then edit it until it goes in time with the track."
The way in which Dangers and Adams generate samples incorporates a random element - this makes it stranger still that the samples seem so carefully chosen.
"What happened with the news item was that it was a 'random edit'. We kept it because it sounded like they were more concerned with tourism than peoples' lives. It was something that would make you think, rather than the 'DJ get on down' stuff."
Adams pursues the theme of originality' in samples.
"The sample stealers are unimaginative from the point of view of why they're doing it. They do it because it's hip - because Public Enemy do it. When we do it we take things off a record because it's a magpie thing - it's like pop art. The pop artists used to take other peoples' work and make it into their own, and we see sampling as doing that, we don't see it as 'we'll use that because it's a hip sound at the moment'. The Lyn Collins drum loop has been used just to sell records, it's been used so many times. Rob Bass originally did it but it's been so hacked to death that it's killed the original record. It's not his fault that everyone else has done it, but because it's become credible it's turned into a money thing. If we take things from records it's because it's got something in the song, not because it's a hip thing to do - that's why we take things from Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.
"The idea is to use things as textures rather than lumps of peoples' songs. Frank Zappa took all his songwriting from composers - Stravinsky and people like that. David Bowie was taking chord structures like 'Starman' - the chorus is from is from 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', the string part of 'Starman' is from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. There are only so many notes on a keyboard, so many chords to a structure..."
Having spoken to Meat Beat Manifesto, the one thing I'm sure of is that they won't be cashing in by adapting to commercial trends. In the words of Jack Dangers "Don't you tell me what to do / I'll break your fucking back in two".
Finally, there's the issue of pornography - it's not a subject likely to endear Meat Beat Manifesto to many enlightened people. Yet Dangers, Adams and Stevens are obviously intellectually active people, exploring the avenues opened to them by the arts. So why subject their audience to hard-core pornography?
"It was a pure experiment", explains Adams. "When we first started out, we just wanted to see what people were interested in seeing, so we put on a very active 3D show with slide projections, dancers, sets and costumes, then at the back we projected some hardcore porn - to see what people would watch. We'd give them a good piece of art and a bit of dirty porn. Ahh; interesting!
"We got slagged off for ages over that", he recalls. "We were labelled as 'porn kings'. It's the press again, they love 'shock/horror' - it sells papers."
As many artists have found in the past, the lines between art, good taste and exploitation are finely drawn. Then there's the issue of art and censorship: it could be the next item on the Manifesto's manifesto. It could be the next item on yours.
Interview by Steve Cogan
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