Donna Summer II makes breakcore from hell at the tempo of a g-spot tornado, chopping up everything from from prog to disco - from ELO to EWF and back - along the way. Or does he? At his Pukkelpop gig (2003-08-28), he looked more like that Microsoft CEO shouting "I love this company", and yet it perspires that he goes to museums. Hell, he even avows to having been, like, sérious a couple of years ago! Hey who is this Jason Forrest cockrockin' crazy party guy dude anyway? Questions by (pv), answers received 2003-09-03. -

U: What were you doing before you took the DS pseudonym? +

DS: I was a visual artist making primarily photography, video and sculpture. I also worked as an art critic, but that didn't go very well in the end. -

U: How did you evolve into making this kind of breakcore music? +

DS: Well, I guess I would say that I evolved out of doing video art and into making music. I had been really interested in breakcore/hardcore for a while, but have also been into other things as well. When I finally became good enough at making the beats, I would naturally start to inject it with all sorts of other ideas, like rock and disco and electro-acoustics. -

U: Did Giorgio Moroder have anything to do with your taste for electronic music, or was the sampler more important? +

DS: Probably my main influence is Public Enemy, so maybe you call it the act of sampling then. I absolutely love all the early Moroder stuff, though, that's one of the reasons I chose the name Donna Summer. -

U: What is your set-up, please? Are there any pieces of equipment you're longing to have, or are sad you no longer have? Why is that? +

DS: Right now I long to have a laptop that really works! HA! I don't have any equipment at all. All I have is a standard Mac desktop, and a broken Mac laptop. I don't really think that gear is very important at all. I'd rather make good music than collect equipment. -

U: Some people might say your music is typical for its time, if only for its information overload. Are you trying to express something about the time that you're alive in, or is that not really an issue? +

DS: Yeah, I think that the general insanity is there in our lives, but I guess if I had an agenda to promote, it's ultimately one of diversity. I guess the real kick for me is to make my music about being open to all sorts of different music and concepts, and ultimately those ideas translate into people being diverse and openminded to the sheer quantity of information available to them. -

U: For instance, is your music more about energy or angriness? A lust for what? +

DS: I'm not very angry at all. I think that music that is fast and energetic is often read as being angry, but I think it's just about being fun and energetic! I want fun, and excitement, and I want to give that to listeners as well! I want life! -

U: How important is political thought to you? +

DS: Not very. -

U: You've told Ed Fils you've been strongly influenced by the photographer Andreas Gursky... Might it be that you have a fascination for minute detail? +

DS: Yes totally. I'm obsessed with it actually. Gursky rules! -

U: Which are your favorite Gursky pictures? +

DS: So many of them... Gosh, there's one picture of a skiing race, and really it's this picture of this massive mountain, then you see this line of tiny little skiers stretching back into the distance to infinity. I also really like the picture of the 99 cent store in Los Angeles. Oh and the portrait of all the athletic shoes is fantastic as well. I almost cried when I saw it for the first time. -

U: Just like Akufen, you make use of microsamples - very short soundbits which still have a high expression value (just like the ones at the intro of Flanger's "Music to begin with"). +

DS: Well the term micro-samples is just a trendy way of saying that he cuts his samples up. He samples just like anyone else really. If anything I think he's not really being very partial to what he samples, it seems like just about anything would do for him. I guess I want my use of sampling to be more directed and focused to try to make something 'new' with them. -

U: You've also named Glen Brown, Haim Steinbach, Jeff Koons, Ashley Bickerton and Jeff Wall. Would you care to comment those artists in a few lines, please, stating what they mean to you and what your favorite work by them is? +

DS: Well I think they ultimately make work based on various notions of appropriation. They have each been doing works whose major subject is the art of organizing and reevaluating our multifaceted cultural experience. Everything from art history to personal taste is subject to consideration. Of them all, the paintings of Glen Brown were probably the most inspirational. His work is only really made up of re-painted versions of other people's works. But along the way he will make these alterations, many times that will be quite unusual and esoteric. It really began me thinking about the issues of association and context and how that might apply to music. Haim Steinbach sort of continues the thread because his work is largely about comparing two or three things to yield this sort of intangible other based on their sum. Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton are just fucking genius at selecting ideas and images from pop culture to illustrate these complex issues that are both strange and hyper personal. Jeff Wall is probably the theorist of the group. I imagine him thinking way too much about everything - his artwork, his history, art history, everything really - but he's ultimately got this gift at pulling it all back together to make these fascinating and loaded images. -

U: Wasn't Tex Avery important too, by any chance? Which 'hidden' mainstream influences do you reckon were important in the forming of your character? +

DS: No, Tex Avery hasn't been particularly influential at all. Maybe you are just seeing the humor in my work? I definitely like absurd humor and think it's really important to have it in the work. -

U: Are you very systematic at developing your taste, or do you allow things to happen more haphazardly? For instance, do you regularly go to libraries or search the internet? +

DS: Humm... Good question. Not sure really, I guess I'm open to chance things happening, but then I try to dig up info on them and can get quite obsessed... Stevie Wonder is a good example. I bought this album of his "The Secret Life Of Plants" for a dollar a few months ago, and have been listening to it obsessively. I then went and read all these internet articles and opinions on it, etc. etc. -

U: Among a lot of people today, there seems to be this incredible hunger to widen one's horizons and discover all kinds of artists in all kinds of genres and disciplines. Why might that be, do you reckon? +

DS: Because it's a great time to be alive and to share that with other people. -

U: Where did you grow up, please, and where do you live now? Still in NYC? +

DS: I grew up in South Carolina, and lived in Atlanta (also a southern city) until about 3 years ago, when my wife and I moved to NYC. -

U: Apparently, you have been studying art or have been a visual artist before moving into the field of music? +

DS: Yes. I was VERY serious. Was represented by a gallery, have shown in a few museums, etc. There's a website for my art. [See our list of links below - ed.] It's been a while since I updated it, but then again, I haven't really made too many other pieces since then. -

U: Do you still have time for your love for other arts beyond music? +

DS: Totally. -

U: You equally run a radio show on WFMU; do you do that on your own? Do you get a lot of response? What's the big buzz in doing that please? Mixing or broadcasting, or...? +

DS: The response to the show has been tremendous! It's streamed live via internet, and is also archived on the radio's website. [See our list of links below - ed.] So I have been fortunately enough to build up this fairly massive listenership... Lots and lots of people e-mail me either live on the show or afterward; you should too! -

U: Apparently, you're quite into progressive rock of the seventies too? (That's just like NYC-immigrant artist Vincent Gallo, incidentally. Did you see his "Buffalo 66"?) What's the beauty of that music to you, please? Some sort of freedom, or an epic fantasy, or...? The technicality of the playing, the complexity of the compositions, the classical influence in the music, the mythological aspects of some of its compositions' lyrics, the way it breathes a Zeitgeist, the way it can be preposterously bombastic, and hence very funny, or...? +

DS: Yes all those things really. But maybe the one thing that gets me the most about prog music, and the reason why it's been so massively influential to me, is because so many of those artists were really pushing the limits of song structure.

That's why many of my songs have lots of little parts that hopefully add up to this bigger unit. -

U: How big a part does the psychedelic aspect play? Are you into psychedelic experiences at all? Which might be your favorite ones? +

DS: I'm not into drugs at all. I simply just missed out on that phase of my life and now am just too old to start. But yes, the psychedelic aspects of music are really important to me, especially now. I've been working and thinking about psychedelia a lot recently and have been trying to make songs that have something in common with, say, Jefferson Airplane. We'll see in a few months if people think I've accomplished something or not! HA! -

U: For a lot of people, progressive rock is very uncool. Do you think that's going to change? For instance in electro & breakcore circles? +

DS: Well, I think that music fans like prog rock a lot. But the fact is bands like Yes are still massively uncool. I hope to change that. I hope to help people to open up to that option. If they choose not to, that's okay as well, but at least I tried. -

U: Which progressive artists would you gladly try to sell to today's unknowing hipster, and why? +

DS: Amon Düül, Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc. Because they all fucking rule - are great musicians - made great songs. -

U: Which record or band has influenced you the most? +

DS: Public Enemy, His Name is Alive, Yes, Squarepusher. -

U: Which is your favorite record to fall asleep with? +

DS: ?? -

U: Which is a brilliant record to wake up to on an active, sunny morning? +

DS: Something light like Supertramp, or ELO, or maybe some old ragtime stuff like Count Basie. -

U: Which is a brilliant record to wake up to on a hazy Sunday afternoon? +

DS: My Bloody Valentine. -

U: Suppose you've got 800 km of road ahead and you're going to be stuck with only one cd or tape in the car... which one had it better be? +

DS: Maybe This Mortal Coil? Maybe this UK band called Moonshake, maybe one of the late Swans records like "Soundtracks For The Blind". -

U: What are other instances of superior driving music? +

DS: Missy Elliot, Pink Floyd, Squarepusher, early Talking Heads, ELO... -

U: Suppose the same thing happens to you on a desert island: which album would you want to study forever? +

DS: "The Wall"? "Fear Of A black Planet"? [By Pink Floyd / Public Enemy - ed.] -

U: Which one comes as a close second? +

DS: "Camofleur" by Gastr del Sol. -

U: And which movie (dvd or video - never mind) please? +

DS: The Kubrick Collection... -

U: The horror, the horror: what if it'd be the other way around... which album would be unbearable to be stuck with? +

DS: Nu metal. -

U: Which other bands would be sheer terror to be forced to listen to? +

DS: Most people on MTV... -

U: Which record (or track) gave you the biggest kick ever? (Is it a 'play loud' track?) +

DS: Humm... Swans "Cop"? Early Meat Beat manifesto? PE? All big, big kicks... -

U: What's the biggest laugh (i.e. the funniest thing) you've heard on record? +

DS: I'm really into this American guy form the '30-40's named Spike Jones. He made music with guns and dogs barking, and various noises, but also with a huge 'wacky' orchestra. Great stuff... [See also U9904 for a review of a Spike Jones box set - ed.] -

U: What's the most important to you, music or laughter? +

DS: Both; maybe laughter in the end. -

U: Whatever happened to all the fun in the world? +

DS: It's still there! -

U: Hahaa! Now I see it! Thanks a zillion! +

DS: Thanks! - JF


Donna Summer Interview in Uzine (Antwerp, Belgium)