December 20th, 2005


Ironic vikings

It's amazing how the career of my friend and fellow Berlin expat Jason Forrest (formerly known as Donna Summer, although clearly not the Donna Summer, since he's a male white American) seems to be mimicking the career of Bill Drummond, Julian Cope's old manager who became a Justified Ancient of Mu Mu and then masterminded novelty pop band The KLF. Then again, it's not terribly surprising. Bill Drummond, a man with a storm in his brain, seems to have brainstormed many styles in his time. When we were on Creation together (I think I was dating the woman Bill ended up marrying, the Sallie of my song "A Monkey For Sallie") he made a record called "The Man" which anticipated the Freak Folk scene of the noughts. He also made one of the first (and least sane) "plunderphonic" records, "1987, What The Fuck's Going On?", which married "The Lonely Goatherd" with Run DMC beats. After a series of novelty hits in the UK (a cover of the Dr Who theme tune, and some self-advertising Snap-type rap records using a fellow called Ricardo Da Force, not to mention a manual on how to have hits in the UK), Drummond attempted to break America with his concept of "stadium house". (Of course, Run DMC and Aerosmith could claim to have started the whole stadium-rap house party.) It was considered necessary to insert lots of ironic rock guitar into the recipe to please the Americans (who considered dance music inherently gay), and as I recall the video for "3AM Eternal (America, What Time Is Love?)" featured vikings. Lots of them. In black and white, playing guitars and gurning ferociously.

Well, those ironic vikings are back, this time in the amusing animated video for Jason Forrest's "War Photographer" track. The film, directed by Joel Trussell, shows a martial encounter between two viking ships, conducted entirely by means of stadium rock. Although it diverges into P-Funk and Godzilla, it could be seen as a bit of a comment on Teutonic culture, since "martial" rock (full sonic spectrum dominance), beer swilling, leather and rocking out seem to lead, inevitably, to Vikings, Valhalla, and all sorts of Nordic nonsense. And Jason does, after all, live in Berlin.

By the way, did I ever tell you how I made a record once with Lemmy's son? He plays the completely incongruous solo in "Murderers, the Hope of Women". He was a cute, skinny version of Lemmy, and the idea of cute baby versions of fearsome Nordic warriors is also appropriate to this video; fear is, after all, a matter of scale; what would be terrifying and murderous behaviour in a lion is cute in a kitten, and what would deafen us in a stadium tickles our ears coming out of the tiny built-in speakers on our laptops. As with scale, so with context: despite the fact that Jason is an American, "War Photographer" is very Berlin. It fits a template Ex-Berliner music journalist David Strauss has called "playback music", which includes Berlin-based artists like Chicks on Speed and Kevin Blechdom. Possibly even me. The playback artists (and they're often also visual artists, just as Bill Drummond was when he launched his K Foundation and burned a million pounds in a forest) perform a sort of pomo cabaret music, sampling and playing back selected music from the past, recombining it like curators. They're, inevitably, taking the piss, and never more so than when they feature their ultimate object of veneration, delectation and derision, the phallic electric guitar. That's why I call them chicks with dicks. They have ironic dicks firmly in their cheeks. Jason, aka Donna, is one of them, one of us. He calls it Cock Rock Disco, but it's the same difference, really. We don't play guitars! Yes, we do! But ironic ones!

All pop music is parody to some degree, but some are clever enough to disguise it and can therefore tap into the inherent fascism of rock audiences. Because, make no mistake about it, rock music is fascist. Anybody addressing a stadium is basically reliving the Nuremberg rally. But because Jason is a nice, intelligent, cultivated man, and because that's pretty apparent—come on, look at those cute vikings, the tasteful references to 1960s Czech animation!—I suspect his recontextualised rock riffs will strike American adolescent Nordic Supremacist ears—should they ever strike them at all—as gay. Because "gay" is the word the not-so-bright use instead of "ironic". Jason isn't gay, of course, but the dicks he's waving are ironic ones. His cute vikings, should they wish to conquer America, are bound to meet the same fate that befell the KLF's. Those vikings, voyaging through the distant mists of the early 90s, all perished just West of Iceland. Their ironic longships went down with all hands when a particularly heavy brainstorm lashed the Sea of Irony.