We’re big fans of breakcore here at TWBITW. Whether it’s the tongue-in-cheek, piss-take version favored by Anklepants, the booty bass hybrid pioneered by Otto von Schirach or the “baroquecore” classical-meets-glitch mayhem of early Igorrr, breakcore is just inexhaustibly weird. So I’m not sure how we managed to avoid adding genre godfather Venetian Snares to The Weird List, but we’ll fix that right now.
Snares, as he’s known to fans, was born Aaron Funk in Winnipeg, Manitoba — a Canadian city where there’s so little to do (one Venetian Snares album is actually called Winnipeg Is a Frozen Shithole) that young Aaron used to entertain himself by riding his bike around looking for objects to bang on, recording the sounds on a boom box, then playing those sounds back into another boom box to layer them on top of each other. “Then I would do cut-ups or pause-ups of those tapes to create a more startling rhythmic effect,” he told Trebuchet magazine in 2004. “A strange ritual in retrospect.” No kidding.
From those early cut-up experiments, Funk graduated to using OctaMED and Cubase to produce the increasingly intricate, assaultive drum programming for which he’s still best-know. Venetian Snares never met a 4/4 tempo he couldn’t twist into something that sounds like a drum machine having a seizure. Here’s an aptly titled taste of his early work, from 1999.
You can hear some Aphex Twin influences in there, as well as other mid-’90s acts later associated with the breakcore tag like Alec Empire and Nasenbluten. But even at this early stage, Venetian Snares (he came up with the name because his densely cascading snare rolls sounded, as he put it, “like running a pencil down Venetian blinds“) was clearly on some other shit.
From there, Snares’ sound mutated from album to album almost as unpredictably as his drum breaks. He chopped up jazz and pop samples on Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1976-2002 and The Chocolate Wheelchair Album; played chicken with orchestral music on 2005’s mind-blowing Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (Hungarian for Born Under a Bad Sign); and collaborated with Austrian producer Rachael Kozak, best-known under her alias Hecate, on an album called Nymphomatriarch made up entirely of sampled sounds of them having sex. (Surprisingly, despite its highly unusual genesis, Nymphomatriarch is actually one of the least bizarre-sounding things in Aaron Funk’s discography. Less surprisingly, Kozak’s role in co-producing the album has often been met with sexist condescension in the media, prompting her to write a lengthy blog post in 2016 defending herself.)
More recently, Funk has undertaken what may be his most unlikely collaboration yet: teaming up fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois, best-known as U2’s co-producer (with Brian Eno) and creator of his own starkly beautiful ambient music, featuring lots of pedal steel guitar. Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois, which just came out this month, takes that steel guitar and juxtaposes it against Snares’ fractured breakbeats to often startling effect. It’s not the first time glitchy electronic music has been combined with pedal steel — that honor, to the best of my knowledge, goes to Luke Vibert, aka Wagon Christ, who did an album called Stop the Panic with British steel guitarist B.J. Cole in 2000. But where that album went for a jaunty, tropical vibe, Lanois and Snares come up with something way more eerie, experimental and unexpected. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far, weird or otherwise.
But if that’s not odd enough for you, I’ll leave you with the title track from Snares’ 2014 album, My Love Is a Bulldozer. Just when you thought Aaron Funk’s music couldn’t get any more off the rails, he starts singing about his dick.