Respect the Cock
Welcome to the World of Jason Forrest, Where Donna Summer Meets Foreigner at 300 Beats Per Minute
“I think at first people wanted it to be ironic,” Jason Forrest says over the phone from Berlin. “They wanted to say, ‘Well, obviously he’s this big, dumb, idiot fat guy sampling Foreigner, so it must be a joke.’ In no way, at any point during my career, did I ever sample something as sort of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge gesture. So now the questions are, ‘So, you really love this stuff? How can you love it?’ Whereas I’m like, How can you not?”
A good question. One listen to the riotous records Forrest makes, first as Donna Summer and now under his own name, and it’s obvious that he’s head-over-heels for music itself. His songs seem desperate to pack as many sounds into their fleeting running times as possible, often at speeds that would make thrash-metal bands blush. Certain words keep cropping up in his discography: shameless, unrelenting. And yes, many of his tracks are built on whizzing chunks of Foreigner, Styx, Yes, and other butt-rocking favorites. But on Forrest’s 2005 Shamelessly Exciting (Sonig), he also titled one track “My 36 Favorite Punk Rock Songs,” which is exactly what it says it is. It lasts two minutes and 22 seconds.
It’s called breakcore, and it takes the splintering drums, heartstopping tempos, and general madness hatched in squat raves from London to Rotterdam and injects a healthy dollop of googly-eyed silliness, upping the speed, noise, and rock posturing. “I guess the closest link is that it makes it more punk—to make it a bit more ecstatic in general, to make you lose control,” he says of his (and his contemporaries’) ever-rising beats per minute. “Most people [in the scene] do it through the fast stuff, but the problem is that a lot of people have gotten stuck using the same beats, the same programs, the same sample sounds, the same ideas.
“Is Shamelessly Exciting a breakcore record?” he continues. “There’s a few loud drums, but I don’t think so. The CD experience is going to go a lot of different places, and doesn’t necessarily have to be so hard. Hopefully it can be quite beautiful and dynamic.” Those different places include “Nightclothes and Headphones,” a comedown ballad featuring alt-country singer Laura Cantrell, the kind of beauty-and-the-beats mix the Chemical Brothers made a cottage industry out of.
Now in his mid-30s, Forrest grew up listening to “just rock music, really,” before discovering Public Enemy, branching out into noise and experimental music, and finally electronic dance records by the late ’90s. Starting out as a visual artist, he began making his first sample-heavy tracks around the turn of the millennium. He also hosted Advanced D&D, a radio show on New Jersey’s WFMU where you were as likely to hear DMX as Devendra Banhart as a breakcore single called “The Skinhead Broke My Phone.” For both the show and his early records, he went by the ultra-cheeky “Donna Summer,” an art-school prank gone horribly awry.
“Knowing all the things I knew about the [seriousness of the experimental electronica] scene, and having all this art-school damage, I came up with the idea of sampling someone’s name,” Forrest says of his stolen moniker. “But it was just supposed to be a temporary thing, a joke. Everyone will always call me Donna Summer. I’m going to be a 65-year-old man, and people are going to be coming up asking me if I’m Donna Summer.”
Like seemingly every other electronic musician in the 21st century, he moved to Berlin from New York, “almost two years ago now. It’s crazy cheap, man. It’s probably cheaper than Baltimore. It’s a really, really good, open, and collaborative environment here, even if it’s just to talk about music.”
And Forrest likes to talk about music. When the interview tape runs out, he spends close to an hour discussing Baltimore club, the avant-garde credentials of the Ying Yang Twins, and near-mythical Atlanta urban radio megamixes featuring Radiohead and Dark Side of the Moon.
Five years ago Forrest formed his label, Cock Rock Disco, which captures his aesthetic about as well as three words can. “I always wanted the label to be a real open platform,” he says. “And so in January we released a band called Next Life, which is a Game Boy death-metal band from Oslo. And we’re not talking novelty music here. They take it extremely seriously, and you can hear the fetishism within the music. The point of the label is that it’s not really music that fits in anywhere.”
Forrest has also released a series called “White Cock” of more straightforward breakcore singles on Cock Rock Disco—“real party shit,” in his words—including “Respect the Cock,” the label’s anthem. The label’s web site features grinning moustache farmers and flaxen-haired gamines clipped from the glowing pages of ’70s porn. Forrest’s music, iconography, burly build, party-hard attitude, and even song titles have little to do with your preconceptions about electronic music and its ergonomic sounds, wire-frame graphics, and bony practitioners. Especially live, he couldn’t be more different from the showroom dummies behind their humming iBooks.
“The reality is that it’s me and a laptop and a microphone,” he says when asked what the unsuspecting should expect from his live show, which belly-flops onto Baltimore this week. “But it’s more like an Iggy Pop show. Really freaking out, crazy dancing, running around, causing a scene, a ruckus. Random bursts of spontaneous nudity always tell you the audience is into it. There was a while there where I was soliciting it, like, ‘C’mon, people, let’s get naked tonight!’ And you’d be shocked. The biggest nudefest we had was in New York, at the Knitting Factory, which is a place where I don’t think too much nudity happens. We had three 100 percent naked men and two women with their tops off. And that’s fine. That’s really fine.”
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