One of breakcore's leading artists draws inspiration from a crumbling New York City.
In a way, Jason Forrest's latest album, Fear City, ferries us back to that New York via the late '60s and '70s source material—samples of funk, classic rock and psychedelic rock—that features prominently on about half of the LP. The other half quivers with the dark anxieties and tensions of today. Forrest, a New York-based musician and DJ, has made a name for himself as a "weird prog-rock" musician. In truth, no genre-based descriptors have ever contained him. His label, Cock Rock Disco, is a pretty glaring statement about the kinds of music he's made since the early '00s, under his own name and his ravier alias, DJ Donna Summer, but classic rock and disco are just a fraction of the myriad styles he has plundered over the years.
Fear City exemplifies Forrest's multilayered and multi-referential approach to complex songwriting. He wants you to query his music, to seek out its many nuances. You could sit with the LP for months or years trying to unpack and learn its secrets. But it's also instantly gratifying. Forrest is a skilled and entertaining sampler, which often translates into breakcore's most euphoric music. "Breakcore has always been an expression of joy," Forrest has said, "and I think you can hear that in the music." Take "Subdivsion." Its frenetic, exuberant disco-house lead was pieced together from a multitude of micro-samples from the Daft Punk labels Crydamoure and Roulé. The accompanying video brings out its colourful silliness.
However, Fear City excels in the darker, harder moments, which hint at a rarely seen sombre side. "New Age Asshole" is a cataclysmic mix of explosions, arcade gun fire and shells dropping to the floor amid angsty rave stabs and staccato glitches. Yes, it is cartoonishly melodramatic, but leaves an impression nevertheless, not unlike the Fear City pamphlet. "Real HcCx" is bombastic, cranky breakcore at its best, while "Uncertainty," among the LP's finest tracks, is a romp of mercurial beats and hypercolour blasts of melody that's noisy and carnivalesque in a quintessentially Forrest way.
Fear City isn't Forrest's most avant-garde album (that would be The Unrelenting Songs Of The 1979 Post Disco Crash) or his most refined (The Everything), but it is a lot of fun. Forrest makes serious music, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. Behind the jester facade is a highly skilled and knowledgeable musician with a passion for all things kitsch, outlandish and obscure. (Just listen to his Advanced D & D radio shows on WFMU.) As mainstream dance music increasingly becomes a monoculture, we need more inspiring risk-takers like Forrest and weirdo outliers like Cock Rock Disco. We need more breakcore, too—club music that isn't afraid to kick against the rules.