Dark Meat: Surround sound

Freak-rock collective embodies the spirit of Athens

Of all the bands performing at this year's AthFest, none embodies the spirit of Athens' musical heritage and philosophies more than Friday night's headlining act, Dark Meat. The indigenous freak-rock collective looks more like a cult or a gathering of deranged hippies than a psychedelic/avant-garage band. At any given time the group expands to incorporate as many as 17 musicians, including a horn section dubbed "the Vomit Lazer Family."

With so many players coming together from Athens' closely knit pool of personnel to fill out Dark Meat's lineup, it's impossible not to encompass a vast chunk of the college town's recent musical history.

"Dark Meat wouldn't exist if it weren't for the attitude toward music that is implicit in Athens," says the group's vocalist, drummer and guitarist Jim McHugh. "Our band exists because people are in Athens to play and support music. They carry around a participatory attitude and they have their shit together."

The group's résumé boasts members of Elf Power, Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, Gnarls Barkley and dozens of other local bands of varying significance. Everyone who comes into the fold plays in at least one to four other bands around town, which makes Dark Meat the ultimate side project.

"Bryan Poole, for example, is a member of our band," McHugh says, "and he plays guitar for Of Montreal, which is arguably the most successful band based in Athens right now. He's a member of Dark Meat, but not full time, because Of Montreal eats up a lot of his calendar. But we'll be on the road and he'll say, 'I'll meet you guys in St. Louis,' and he'll come in and play with us for a week and leave. He's not only willing but itching to reach out of his comfort zone and come out on the road with us, and he's a prime example of the spirit and attitude of this town."

There's not a lot of pretense or tension that goes into the band's jam sessions, either. Songs hover between clusters of experimentation, improvisation and an all-out aural assault of busy-but-rousing blasts of eccentric rock fused with quasi-ethnic subtleties.

The group's symbiotic relationship makes Dark Meat the quintessential Athens band of 2008. It occupies the same geographic terrain the B-52's, R.E.M. and Pylon launched from before blazing a path to the rest of the world beginning in the late '70s, but Dark Meat ebbs closer to the realm of free jazz than college rock. The liner notes to the group's debut release, Universal Indians (Vice Records) dedicate the disc to Albert Ayler. The inscription is a humble shout-out to the real musical influence that shaped Dark Meat's sound. "I know we're essentially a shitty punk rock band, but our goals, as far as sonic annihilation, are in line with his," McHugh says. "He played such an important role in my musical development. And in my opinion it makes rock music of any variety seem paltry."

When Dark Meat headlines AthFest Friday night the members will take the stage, like they always have, and give something back to the town that fostered their development, while adding a little more substance to Athens rock in the here and now.

CL recommended AthFest shows:

Fri., June 20

Twin Tigers, Iron Hero, Snowden, Pegasuses-XL. 9 p.m. (40 Watt)

It's Elephants. 9:30 p.m. (Nuçi's Space)

Dark Meat. 9:10-10:15 p.m. (outdoor stage)

Elf Power. 1 a.m. (Georgia Theatre)

Sat., June 21

Abandon the Earth Mission feat. members of Macha. 8 p.m. (outdoor stage)

Modern Skirts. 9--10:15 p.m. (outdoor stage)

Dancer Vs. Politician. 10:50 p.m. (Georgia Theatre)

Hope For Agoldensummer. 11 p.m. (Melting Point)

Don Chambers + Goat. 1 a.m. (Georgia Theatre)

Sun., June 22

Dubconscious. 7-8:30 p.m. (outdoor stage)