Although it may seem strange now, looking back through the mist of popular culture, there was a period in the early nineties where it felt that every band who weren’t manufacturing some Stock Aitken and Waterman style pop were informing their music with righteous anger. Politicized music is nothing new of course, running as it does from the folk and protest songs of past eras and a dozen other sources, but it felt new and important in a time that was still mostly having the stuffing knocked out of it by Thatcher, Reagan and their successors.
From Public Enemy and other politically aware rap acts, through to the likes of Consolidated and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy (both of whom MBM worked with) and onto other, far more commercial acts like Manic Street Preachers (well, they were certainly angry about something. Who knows what?) and Rage Against the Machine (slogans to fit on a T-shirt. The Revolution will be as commercial as all hell) and onwards to the likes of Back To The Planet, the music insustry and popular culture seemed thick with musicians speaking out about scores of subjects. Did it make any difference? It would be nice to think so, but difficult to quantify, and gradually the taste for agit-pop faded. By 1996 the storm had all but cleared. In Britain, the socially conscious were slowly replaced by the consciously social, and Britpop slid onto its throne, wrapping a core of Dad Rock with a slavishly post punk twang.
Electronic music never really got onboard. The few real moments of scene and community wide activism revolved around the Criminal Justice Act, part of which took sanctions against unlicensed raves and ‘Repetitive Beats’, which while worthy wasn’t exactly altruistic. There were individuals, yes, but as a whole, it remained politically ambivalent. Acts like Detroit’s Underground Resistance are the exceptions that prove the rule
Satyricon, Meat Beat Manifesto’s third album wasn’t house or techno, but self-styled ‘Industrial Hiphop’. What is interesting,, listening to it nowadays, is that it sounds far more ahead of the curve than it did at the time. Although Hip Hop is the obvious base frequency of the record, it is in the glorious mash-up of other styles, of electro and industrial, of the smattering of acidic touches and the bloom of ambient soundscaping that provided much of the band’s sound.
Meat Beat Manifesto’s use of samples also stands out these days. Although there may not be anything revolutionary in their use, it’s the counterpoint they provide to the music and the lyrics that provides their strength. Through Satyricon are the brief fragments of early 60’s American advertising, less selling individual products than consolidating the shared and consensual vision of a comfortable post war nuclear age; a capitalist utopia. Warm and welcoming at first, perhaps even funny, they soon lose their saccharine charm against the abrasiveness of the band’s outpourings and become empty day-go spectres of a world that never was. It’s not just these particular samples; many others shape the music with both anxiousness and fervor.
Edge of No Control is one of a number of great cuts from Satyricon, albeit the version here is a slightly different form from the album version (I think,) and I could have chosen several other tunes instead. And yet, there is something prescient about the lyrics here – particularly the refrain of ‘If you ask no questions then beware of lies’, a potent prophecy given the layers of bullshit each of us have to shovel away from the countless sources telling us conflicting rubbish about nothing, while the facts are carefully stored away from public gaze. While there is something saddening about the fact that this tune makes even more sense today than it did in 1992, it’s reassuring to know that there are others – perhaps many others – who are outraged at the things they see. An angry, unquiet ghost of a more aware past, perhaps – but one that we need more than ever.