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Meat Beat Manifesto and Josh Wink unite in deja vu

By Franklin Soults

NOVEMBER 9, 1998:  The more things change, the more clichés like plus ça change become annoyingly unavoidable. Take synthesizer-based club music -- the whole thump, buzz, and drone of it, from booming house and blistering techno to hazy trip-hop and woozy drum 'n' bass. The genre may not enjoy the broad appeal that post-alternative 'zines from Option to Spin pretended it did when they blazoned the arrival of "electronica," whatever they thought that was, but that's partly because the form's constituent styles have mutated and multiplied far faster than popular culture can keep up with them. And yet with all this breakneck change, it's somehow unsurprising that a revered techno veteran like Jack Dangers -- the writer, singer, producer, and sole permanent member of Meat Beat Manifesto -- gets a restless twinge of déjà vu from many of the latest electronic permutations.

"A lot of our music 10 years ago would have been in the industrial bracket -- in America, not in Europe, but in America," says the English-born Dangers by phone from his home in San Francisco. "Now, a lot of this dance music, to me it sounds like all this industrial effort from 10 years ago, but no one would dare admit that. Like the Aphex Twin and some of the Big Beat stuff, it sounds to me like the stuff that was coming out at the turn of the '80s going into the '90s. It's basically just a different name now, and a different crowd, people are dressing differently, but who cares. You know, you'd wish they'd just get on with it."

Dangers himself is getting on with it by promoting Meat Beat Manifesto's sixth album, Actual Sounds and Voices (Nothing/Play It Again Sam), in a tour with Philadelphia DJ Josh Wink, an up-and-coming electro-whiz-kid who released his own major-label debut earlier this year, Herehear (Columbia/Ruffhouse/Ovum). On the surface, this double bill, which comes to Axis on Saturday, is a perfect example of how much techno has grown in the past decade. Dangers always sought to create "a stream of consciousness" in his amalgam of warped beat loops and weird samples, yet on Herehear Wink demonstrates the mastery of a new generation of techno heads, young men and women with the skill to channel the stream into unexplored terrain through subtle feats of engineering. In one track on Meat Beat's new one, "The Thumb," Dangers leaves techno behind in an extended tribute to '70s fusion that jams with some of the original members of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. Like the rest of Actual Sounds, it's fresh, arresting, anti-insular, accomplished. By contrast, Herehear offers "Hard-Hit," a stunning synthesis of both jazz blowing and techno droning that builds a carefully modulated climax between free-form caterwaul and rigid rhythms like no fusion musician ever dreamed of.

Wink's album also shows how club beats have developed a complex contradiction over the years by moving from the really fast industrial whack of the late '80s into the really, really fast drum 'n'  bass patter of the late '90s. Although the land speed record regularly broken by these new rapid-fire textures achieves biorhythmic alienation as effectively as MBM's jackhammer blitz of old, the music itself is far warmer, creating a brave new world where lovely cyborgs gently rush about at the speed of sound. As in Huxley's madhouse, politics and history are swamped by sheer hedonism. Whereas Dangers always wore his vegan politics on his sleeve, Wink has kept his drug-free vegetarianism largely out of the mix while becoming the toast at E-popping European raves.

For all these differences, however, it's still plus ça change -- Wink isn't even as new school as he seems. "I've actually known him off and on for about eight years," says Dangers about the former Josh Winkleman, a well-to-do Jewish boy who remade himself through years of club hopping, DJing, and hair growth. "We'd be playing Philadelphia and he'd always be there. You'd notice his dreads from a mile off. We've done some shows together in the past anyway, so it seemed pretty normal to get in touch with him to see if he wanted to do this."

Normal is right. The pair's shared taste for leafy greens, the leavening effects of their deep eclecticism, even their connection to Trent Reznor (Meat Beat record for Reznor's label and he collaborated with Wink on Herehear's toughest track) -- all of it makes them obvious comrades in arms, more alike than not, no matter what their preferred BPM settings. Working together in a club, they may well make the whole shebang of thump, drone, and buzz sound timeless. Or at least, as Dangers put it, "This tour should be really interesting." A cliché to the rescue again.

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