Listgeeks Feature #5 – Jason Forrest

Jason Forrest is a Berlin-based American electronic musician who also runs two record labels (Nightshifters and Cock Rock Disco) and recently launched a fantastic Web-based television network called, appropriately, Network Awesome.  His new album, “The Everything,” representing a bold move into increasingly less sample-based/mash-up territory from that on his previous full-lengths (including his most recent, “Shamelessly Exciting,” in 2005), was released in Europe on April 15th (Staatsakt), and comes out the first week of May everywhere else. Be sure to check out Jason’s Listgeeks lists after you’ve read the below interview.

Listgeeks: Let’s start with your most recent non-music action: How did Network Awesome come about?  

Jason Forrest: Network Awesome began as a way for me to “get involved with TV.”  I researched and conceived it over a 8 month period last year.  I connected with my partner Greg Sadetsky in late November and 10 days later we had a working version.  Two weeks later we launched the site – that was on Jan 1, 2011.  In many ways Network Awesome is a way to enjoy watching TV again!  So much mainstream media has corroded over time and yet there is so much amazing content that the mainstream seems uninterested in.  Everyday we work our hardest to share what we think is amazing stuff to watch and – oh yeah – Network Awesome is free and you can watch it everywhere in the world.

LG: Which three or four shows/films that you’ve featured so far best embody the concept of the network, from your perspective?

: Last week we had an AMAZING live blues show from West German TV in the mid-60s. The producers placed incredible blues musicians in a train-station-as-stage-set surrounded by a few thousand mod Germans having the time of their lives. Super incredible stuff.  Earlier in that week we had Pete Dev/Null collect this great and very fun collection of early 90s Rave videos.  And we are deeply, deeply obsessed with The Prisoner.  Easily the weirdest TV series ever on air, it set the bar higher than shows like “Lost” could ever get to. It’s totally mod, incredibly well written and just captivating on so many levels.

LG: A recent Pitchfork review (of the Utopia EP) suggested that, on the musical front, you might be moving towards, “something resembling maturity.” Do you think the new album (listen to a stream here) reflects a shift along these lines?

JF: Yeah, I think that Utopia review was actually amazing because the writer really got where I was coming from. “The Everything” is most definitely a more mature version of what I did in the past, but that said, it’s still fun! It took me about 6 years to finally pull it together, and in the process I was inspired by a lot of different things like Morricone and Noise Rock. You can kind of hear a 50s vibe in some of the tracks too. It goes all over the place but still holds together, somehow.

LG: It feels like “Raunchy” kinda meshes your past obsessions with something a little darker, sonically.  How much of the composition of your recent stuff is sampled Vs. self-generated?

JF: Yeah, that’s a great question. Basically I use samples a ton still but the sample size has shrunk over the years. Now, instead of sampling a whole hook or few bars I just sample one note.  It’s allowed me to compose the songs more freely and they shed a bit of context in the process. It’s pretty much just all “me” at this point.

LG: You’re one of those rare people who seems to be able to juggle 4,000 things at the same time: running two record labels, making your own music, playing shows, collaborating on videos, promoting art/music, and now working on your network.  How do you find the time to do so many things so well at once?  Do you think living in Berlin helps to make it all possible?

JF: Yeah, I’m a busy guy for sure!  What I’ve developed over the past two years is more confidence in doing something the first time directly.  For example, I do the design work and a lot of the commercials for Network Awesome, and most of the time I do them very quickly and rely on my gut. I think it’s actually made the work more creative.  I do think Berlin helps in an abstract way. It’s relatively inexpensive and the quality of life here supports creative types in a way that NYC never did. That said, they are just really, really different places.

LG: What are you most excited about in terms of technological development?  Which tools/apps created in the last few years have most inspired your work?

JF: Two years ago I actually made an innovative iPhone music app, which I am still proud of, but I actually have become a bit skeptical of the iOS lately. I think touchscreens are the way to go but the existing iOS and app structure has become too large and restrictive of late.  I’m not that excited by hand-held devices, in fact I use my iPhone less and less. To me content has taken more precedence than technology this past year.  If anything, what I am the MOST excited about is the amazing generosity of people as it relates to technology.  I mean, every second you have millions of people sharing their videos, images, and music online for people to enjoy. While “The Internet” has become many horrible things, it also has become a very giving place, too.

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Listgeeks Feature #3 – Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is a man of intensely varied passions and wide-ranging interests – interests that have morphed and broadened over the course of a distinguished, innovation-obsessed career.  Kevin played an instrumental role in launching Wired Magazine in 1993 (serving as its Executive Editor until January 1999), having worked as the publisher and editor of Whole Earth Review (a “journal of unorthodox technical news” years before countless blogs would claim a similar mission) prior to his time at Wired, from 1984 to 1990.  Often tagged with the “futurist” label, Kevin has authored three groundbreaking books, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Economic and Social Systems (1994), New Rules for the New Economy, (1998) and, most recently, What Technology Wants (2010). Each of these books has increased our understanding of the implications and consequences of technological development in new and different ways.  Among his numerous other areas of interest (a complete bio is posted here) Kevin spends his time on the All Species Foundation (which he co-founded) and the Long Now Foundation (of which he’s a board member) when he’s not curating films (check out, a website which chronicles his interest in “documentary films, educational programs and non-fiction cinema”) or giving a talk, or hanging out with his wife and kids, or losing himself on a long walk in the woods.  Be sure to check out Kevin’s Listgeeks lists, “Favorite Walk-Intensive Destinations,” “Favorite Documentaries,” and “Things I Always Have with Me” after you read our below discussion with him about his latest book, What Technology Wants.

Derick/Listgeeks:  First, allow me to say that I found the book incredibly inspiring – I love the way you managed to merge the story of technology with the story of evolution, and then point out how they’ve always essentially been interwoven parts of the same whole.  I haven’t been able to interact with the countless gadgets/technologies around me in the same way since I put the book down, which I consider a good thing.

Kevin Kelly:  Thank you for your kind words and encouragement.

LG:  One of my favorite sentences in the book is on page 215, where you write, “We willingly choose technology, with its great defects and obvious detriments, because we unconsciously calculate its virtues.”  There are obvious (and not-so-obvious) downsides to adopting new technologies, but I certainly feel the “unconscious calculations” you describe when selecting a new technology.  I’m curious about how this plays out with your own process of selecting technologies – are some decisions easier than others? Do you fret over certain choices while others happen almost thoughtlessly/intuitively?

KK:  I generally don’t fret much; that is simply my temperament. There are always costs, and downsides, to our choices. Of course with technological choices the downsides may not yet be visible to us collectively, so we need to keep our eyes open. I am a possibilian. I think if we adopt new possibilities — new technologies — while maintaining as many of the old as we can then we will distribute the risks and keep it easy to modify our behavior if needed. So if kids play video games but still play outside, or read the Kindle and read paper, that’s good. These expanded horizons can only benefit them. Same goes for adults. I think there is something immensely powerful about my ability to video conference from my kitchen and then immediately go hiking in the woods. It is true that sometimes, or maybe even often, a technology we are trying out does not live up to its promise, or solicits more harms than we like. But I have not found it that difficult to abandon technology when this happens. The main thing is to have no regrets about abandoning stuff in our own lives. It is not a moral choice, not a matter of good and evil. It is a compromise. The hardest part is articulating to ourselves what we are trying to optimize our lives for. If we can determine that, then I think we can make the calculated trade offs in the tools we use.

LG:  From my perspective, one of the most fascinating sections of the book is “Mutualism” in the chapter “Technology’s Trajectories.”  You claim (on page 314), that, “For the next 10 to 20 years, the socializing aspects of the technium will be one of its major traits and a major event for our culture.”  As fascinating as the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms has been (especially at the moment, in light of the very recent political developments in Africa and the Middle East), it does feel like we’re literally at the very beginning of realizing the potential of real time, transparent collaboration online.  What types of potential innovations and developments in this area do you find most compelling at the moment?

KK:  I think the potential for mutalism exists in almost everything we can think of. One could take any institution, any device, any process, any verb today, and ask, what would happen if we had 5 brand new ways to do this collectively? For example, I’ve been thinking about reading lately. Reading is mostly done alone by individuals. But what if we shared the texts as we read? We might share the passages we spent the most attention on. Or share our comments and marginalia. What if we coordinated our reading in synchrony, like a real-time book club? What if we could share our underlined (highlighted on the Kindle) passages to particular friends? At particular times, say when they get around to reading it? What if the text of what I am reading is “polished” by others reading it before me, in the way Wikipedia is? What if every book accumulates annotations from every reader, hidden until you ask for them? The possibilities go on and on. We are just at the start of socializing everything.

LG:  You cite health care, throughout the book, as one of the areas most continuously altered by technology as it develops.  Generally speaking, we’ve seen a gradual transition – as a result of improved technologies – from doctors/experts collecting and reporting health-related information to us as individuals to individuals themselves having the ability to monitor their own health, and make their own decisions about what they find.  I wonder if we’ll reach a point where technology will essentially be able to “guarantee” a certain degree of longevity. What’s your take on this typing of thinking?

KK: I do think there is a long-term movement towards decentralized and personalized health care. But I think the complexities of longevity are so huge that I am not expecting technology will ever be able to guarantee it. Whenever life is involved, no guarantees can be made.  If we could make life predictable, farming would be a matter of pushing buttons.

View Kevin’s Listgeeks Profile
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Listgeeks Feature #2: Russell Leetch from Editors (

Editors formed in Birmingham, England, in 2002, and have seen their profile increase dramatically with each of their three successive album releases.  Their most recent album, “In This Light and on This Evening,” (2009) topped the UK album chart (as did its predecessor, “An End Has A Start”), even as the band transformed its sound from layered, guitar-driven indie rock to a more synth-based/industrial sound.  Listgeeks caught up with the band’s principle listgeek, bassist Russell Leetch, as the band head back into the studio with Mark “Flood” Ellis to start working on the material for their fourth album.  After you check out the below interview, be sure to have a look at Russell’s lists: Favourite 80s Bands, Favourite 90s Bands, and Favourite Meals of 2010.

Listgeeks: Sonically, it seems like the band made a pretty big transition from “An End Has a Start” to “In This Light and on This Evening.” Is a similar kind of revisiting the sound of the band happening with the fourth album?

Russell Leetch: Whenever listening back to our previous albums there are always annoyances or things that we may have not liked or wanted to have improved on. It is only with hindsight that you can look at these and move forward. Once we have completed a record we usually tour for an extensive period of time and the songs change again . . . so it is after this period when we start thinking of making a new record that suggestions of who we are going to use and what we may want it to sound like come into play. When we were making “An End Has A Start” we were going for a more polished, fuller sound, which we achieved but maybe pushed a bit too far for a second record. With the third we really wanted to move away from having 30 guitar tracks on a song and for people to hear the band playing in a room again. With the latest record we are rehearsing the songs so they are ready to record when we go into the studio. Studio time can be expensive and it is usually best to have the songs fully rehearsed and ready to go before getting into the studio and changing them in there. At the moment  things are sounding heavier than ever. When the band plays in a room there is always a dynamic to having strong individual parts and usually at volume – this is really prominent at the moment. We are pushing all elements that Editors consist of and that’s the best way of making a record.

LG: Has working with Flood (Depeche Mode, U2, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails), both on the current project and the third album, pushed the band to develop new ways of incorporating synthetic sounds or different types of technology into the making of the music?

RL: Absolutely. Flood is well known for his work with bands incorporating synthesizers, and is very good at triggering the mode of a song by using a synth to create a rhythmical force or something as a drone for building a song around. When we made the first record it was a straight forward “rock” set up – guitars, bass drums and a micro korg! Now we use Logic running a variety of different things, whether it’s a drum pattern to free up Ed or having a synth keep the chords. We all have individual keyboard set ups and Ed tends to play the majority of his parts using an electronic kit – this really can shape the songs in different directions, especially when rehearsing. Modern bands have so many opportunities now to create such great music for not many pennies!

LG: Do you think an awareness of your audience plays a role in how you approach making albums? When you’re working on new material, is there a sense of what might work better sonically in larger venues and festival environments?

RL: I think to an extent you know what’s going to really work when you rehearse it, you feel the energy as a band first and this is what will be passed on to the audience. I don’t think we are ever far off what’s going to really excite the audience. Whenever you’re recording you try and make what’s best for a record but there is always going to be a thought about what happens live.

LG: Finally, the bass plays a prominent role in the sound of Editors, with songs often reliant on what you do with the bass as a melodic force.  Is it difficult to know when to bring a more melodic/upfront approach to your playing on a track, rather than approaching things in a slightly more traditional/supportive way? Does it just sort of come intuitively? Peter Hook (former New Order) and Carlos D (former Interpol) both come to mind as players who have also straddled this divide with style in the past . . . whose work do you admire when it comes to the bass guitar these days?

RL: I think myself and Chris take turns in supplying extra melodies to a lot of our songs. Prior to the start of the band I wasn’t a bass player and more of a piano player/guitarist. I think this has often led to there being more melody rather than root notes and basic rhythm from the bass guitar. Bass can play such a vital part to some songs without people even noticing it, and it’s taken me ages to realize this. I really enjoy Hooky’s bass playing – he really carries a lot of Joy Division’s work.  Pretty much all the riffs come from him and I like that. I have always liked Carlos from Interpol as there are lots of intricacies in his playing – more than I would ever play but I do admire how strong personalities approach their instruments, it’s what makes great bands. My favorite contemporary rhythm sections are Radiohead, The National and Elbow.

Listgeeks Feature #1: Craig Robinson (

Craig Robinson, originally from Lincoln, England, is a Mexico-City-based artist and illustrator. Craig’s been making (mostly pixel-based) pictures and animations on computers since 1998, and has recently done great things for clients as diverse as Kidrobot, Bloomberg Businessweek (see his November, 2010 cover here), and the Observer Music Magazine. A self-professed listgeek, lover of baseball, and Beach Boys fan, we’re pleased to have Craig as our first featured contributor. Check out his Favourite Aerosmith Songs, Favorite MLB Team Caps, Top 10 Favourite Ways to Get Drunk, Ten Favourite Cities in the Americas, and – perhaps most importantly – Ten Things That Keep Me Awake at Night. Craig’s new book, “Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure” (Bloomsbury) is out in July, 2011, and the accompanying Website is here. He blogs with singular wit and enormous honesty here.

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