Doing this blog, I’m constantly amazed at how many talented musicians and producers out there release their stuff anonymously, with virtually no promotion or online presence beyond a Bandcamp account or Facebook page. Such is the case with Buttress O’Kneel, a mysterious Australian creator of what she calls “plunderphonic intellectronica” and “excruciating postcore compop.” According to the folks at the equally mysterious InterWebMegaLink, who introduced us to Ms. O’Kneel and her sample-heavy sonic experiments, she’s been cranking out this stuff since 1998 or so — but virtually no information on her exists online anywhere. No photos, no bio, no interviews. I’m totally taking InterWebMegaLink’s word for it that she is, in fact, a woman from Australia and not some aging ex-raver dude from, say, Bristol or Pittsburgh or some other hub for this sort of musical cut-and-paste geekery.
O’Kneel — or BOK, for short — has produced everything from “audio documentaries” on the history of fossil fuels and racism in Australia to compilations of damaged CDs skipping. But she seems to especially enjoy chopping, distorting, stretching and otherwise mangling popular music in clever, unexpected ways. Here, for example, is her take on Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” called “Tentacles for Troy,” an anagram of the original song title. (“i get deep into anagrams as titles because it feels like a microcosmic reference to what i’m doing to the music – complete memetic rearrangement, from ostensibly recognisable shiz,” she explained in a recent Facebook post.) Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the Madonna sample in the intro.
Many of BOK’s sonic experiments will be familiar to anyone who’s explored the worlds of mashups and plunderphonics. She’s dabbled in time-stretching, for example, taking familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and slowing them down until they’re transformed into ominous, oceanic exercises in abstract minimalism. But what makes BOK stand out, I think, is that she always takes these more familiar techniques one step further. In the case of time-stretching, she decided to see what would happen if she instead compressed a familiar song down to just a few seconds, then stretched it back to its original length. She calls the results “pop smears” and they’re kind of amazing:
More recently, she’s been experimenting with MP3-to-MIDI converters, which she discovered introduce weird atonal harmonics into the vocal melodies and make most of the rest track’s elements sound like an old-timey player piano having a seizure. (“It’s a godawful mess of misplayed piano garbage,” reads the Bandcamp description. “Either that, or it’s brilliant conceptual sound art! You decide!”) The process makes a familiar pop song like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” sound vaguely terrifying, but when applied just to an isolated vocal track from Metallica’s James Hetfield, there’s something kind of hilarious about it. It’s like Bartok on meth.
Speaking of Bartok: Even classical music is not safe from BOK’s undying love of warping the familiar beyond recognition. Here’s part of “The Four Four Seasons,” a relatively simple (by BOK’s convoluted standards) exercise in organized chaos that takes four different versions of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and lays them on top of each other:
I’m tempted to just go on inserting Bandcamp links ad infinitum, because nearly everything Buttress O’Kneel does is interesting on some level. There’s “This Sick Beat,” which combines Taylor Swift with recordings of “pathological” heartbeats (a very plunderphonic-y response to Swift’s trademarking of the phrase “This Sick Beat”). There’s her field recording experiments with another mysterious producer named Panthera Leo, a project called The Fruiting Body that was allegedly recorded back around 2001 but was only just released earlier this year. There are albums on her Bandcamp page (so many albums) with intriguingly apt titles like Post-remix Retrostep, Shitcore and Hard Dadapop. It’s all great, and worth diving deep into if you have a day or two to kill and want to imagine a world in which Venetian Snares got on the mashup train back when that was a trendy thing.
But I’ll leave you with just two pieces of music that I think sum up, as much as it’s possible to sum up, the full spectrum of BOK’s brilliance. The first, “Merzbowie,” is exactly what it sounds like: a mashup of David Bowie and influential Japanese noise artist Merzbow, mixed live and then run through AudioMulch, an “interactive modular” software suite that is apparently one of Buttress’ favorite tools. The results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect and sort of mesmerizing, although it’s probably not coincidence that one my cats puked three times while I was playing it.
Contrast that with “Breaking Windows,” an ambient electronic track that uses nothing but default Windows sounds to build something unexpectedly beautiful. The accompanying video is pretty fun, too.
So who is Buttress O’Kneel? I still have no idea, but I hope more people discover her endlessly inventive music.
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.
Back in late June, we got to interview our current No. 1 Weirdest (One-Man) Band in the World, Dr. Reecard Farché, better known to his penis-loving minions as Anklepants. Reecard—or, more accurately, the man behind Reecard/Anklepants, [name redacted]—chatted with us for over an hour from his home in Berlin about everything from how he got interested in animatronics to why the Berlin music scene kinda sucks right now.
The interview was originally conducted as part of an article I wrote about breakcore for Insomniac.com, an electronic music site run by the folks behind such massive EDM festivals as Electric Daisy Carnival. But only a few Anklepants quotes made it into that piece, so I decided to transcribe the whole thing (well, most of it, anyway—an hour-long interview adds up to a LOT of words) and post it here so you weirdos could learn more about the man behind the mask.
We began by talking about what was, back in June, still the hottest Anklepants-related topic of conversation: his mind-blowing live set for the Boiler Room DJ video series.
WB: So let’s talk about that Boiler Room set. It got quite the response when it first came out.
A: Yeah, man, it’s completely nuts. In that first period, it was just ridiculous. I was getting emails every five seconds…it was just streaming in. It’s been less ridiculous since then, which is good. It’s hilarious to see what people write now that it’s getting more mainstream coverage.
My voice was completely fucked at that gig. That was my seventh show in a row, and I blew it out like three nights before that. I really fucked it up. And then I smoked a cigarette. I don’t smoke often, but sometimes when I drink, I smoke. I smoked one cigarette and my voice was fucked. I couldn’t even really talk before that gig—so that’s how much I was straining my voice.
WB: When you booked the Boiler Room show, did you have any inkling that it was going to be such a big deal?
A: No, I knew that would happen. It’s got the biggest captive audience for something of that nature, with people who are completely sedated by the DJ standing there playing tracks. That’s the thing it’s brought to my attention: I didn’t really realize how many people have been born into the world where DJing is the normal for music. People still think I’m DJing. I’m not DJing. People still don’t understand what I’m doing. You’ve never seen bands? People manipulating machines? Some of the haters’ comments are just so stupid: “I’ve never seen someone doing that on the decks.” There’s no fucking decks. There’s nothing like that. And they think that I’m just singing over the track for the hell of it or something. They don’t realize that it’s my music.
So I’m definitely not DJing. I don’t know if there’s a name for it, really. With the equipment that I use, there’s definitely no name for it, because it doesn’t exist [outside of my shows].
WB: Do you think that’s why people at the Boiler Room set were kind of just standing around? Because they didn’t really understand what they were seeing? Or they were afraid of the mask, maybe?
A: Usually when I play it’s completely fucking rammed and people aren’t afraid of it. Probably since the Arte thing, that interview…
WB: Oh yeah, the German TV show. [Note: We were thinking of this show. But he’s actually talking about this one.]
A: Yeah, it’s Germany and France. I don’t know if you know of this thing, but it’s the biggest arts show in Europe, really. It’s on mainstream, pay TV. So after that, my next few shows sold out straight up—in Germany, in Switzerland. They were fucking packed.
I can cum with the mask now. And at lots of gigs I’ve got guys and girls just lining up for me to cum on them. I’m not exaggerating. This happens all the fucking time. This Boiler Room gig is the first gig where you would see people standing like this in over a year. It’s usually people jumping up trying to grab me.
WB: So wait, the mask shoots liquid now?
A: Yeah, yeah, it has for quite a long time. It’s hard to see. There’s some photos where you can see when it’s fluoro coming out, because I put like glowstick fluid in there. It’s a button on the microphone I can just press at any time. There’s a small pump and a small tank. But anyway, this is the thing: People go crazy normally. This is why it kind of annoyed me. I was like, “Fuck, come on.” It was just a shame that when it finally gets a lot of coverage, it looks like people are scared. I think a lot of people thought that was the first gig, or normally I do something else. But it’s been happening for five years.
WB: Was the jester outfit new?
A: I’ve worn it on and off for awhile. But I wore it that whole tour. The black one is really, really hot. It kills me. It’s so nasty. I see stars easily five times a show when I wear that. I mean, I do anyway most of the time, because it’s so hot.
WB: In the mask?
A: Yeah. When I have the black [costume] on, the only thing exposed to the air is my eyes and my hands and my mouth. It does up really tight around my neck. Which I could loosen up, but I like that suit because you can’t see any skin. So the illusion of the head being my head looks a bit better from a distance. But it gets so hot. The pants come up to my armpits and it’s all wool. So when the jacket’s on, there’s two layers of wool around my chest. So yeah, I’m completely drenched and the suit is completely wet by the end. It takes days for it to dry out.
WB: Did the music for Anklepants come first, and then you designed the mask? Or did it start with the mask?
A: Well, the mask was originally an idea for this stupid porn film me and my friend came up with. It was these two characters driving around space in a beat-up old spaceship, beaming girls up from different places and seducing them on the spaceship and having weird orgy parties. I mean, we still might make this film. But this is where the character came from. And at the time, I was making a lot of music with a friend. I was in bands with him and also making lots of electronic music with him. And I was like, “Hang on, maybe we should use this as a character for a music project.” ‘Cause I was already using the bear. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this teddy bear that I used to use? There’s videos of it around.
WB: No, I don’t think so.
A: The first animatronic thing I ever used at a gig was an animatronic teddy bear, which straps around my upper torso—and that goes with a whole different music. There are some Anklepants releases that are called Le Bear, but eventually it will be a separate thing. It was a pretty shit animatronic, but the new one is gonna be crazy. So yeah, that was the first one, and then I was like, “Well, there’s this penis character, maybe we should use this.” And at the time, we were making a lot of really slow, strange techno. There’s a handful of tracks that are from that but I don’t ever really play them. But it was like 110 BPM and really slow, and I dunno, I don’t even know how to explain it.
WB: Just slowed down techno?
A: Yeah, but this really kinda wonky thing with these really sleazy-sounding vocals, all pitched down. Just stupid, weird, joke kind of tracks. And I was like, “Well, that character would fit perfectly. The dicks would be moving in time.” Because at first, there was two of them.
WB: That’s right, I’ve seen some of those where you have a dancer in a mask, as well.
A: No, that’s a different one. The very first gig was two of us singing and two of us operating machines. So there were two animatronic cocks like in time, doing all different moves like synchronized. It just looks hilarious when they’re moving together. That was the first gig, but after that, he never wanted to play again. I don’t know what it was—he never said. He was kind of my best friend but he’s pretty weird with communication. I haven’t spoken to him in like a year now. Though I haven’t been back to Australia in five years, mind you. I’m going back soon and I’ll see him. But anyway, it was definitely a different idea at first and then—I mean, the music existed way before the cock face.
When I first worked on films and saw animatronics being built and started to learn a bit about the control systems and realized I already knew a bit about the electronics already, because I was really into radio-controlled cars and shit like that. I used to race them. So I was like, “Hang on, I can kind of understand this.” And I always wanted to do animatronics. I used to ask the electronic engineers questions. And then I found out a lot of the old animatronics were MIDI sequenced and I was like, OK.
The systems I use are far superior to [film work animatronics] now, as well. It’s kind of overtaken what I was first trying to emulate. Because you can’t manipulate audio when you’re programming for films. You can’t slow it down very easily with the systems they use. And they’re so expensive. What they pay a hundred grand for I can build for like 200 Euros.
WB: Would you ever want to get back into doing animatronics for film?
A: Oh, I still do. I’m doing two film jobs at the moment. But it’s not the same as if I was in Australia working for the same people—or being in the U.K. When I was in the U.K., it was just non-stop. But in Germany, it’s not as often and it’s not as much money.
WB: But it sounds like you’re too busy now with Anklepants anyway.
A: But it’s been like this. I’ve been gigging most weekends since I’ve been in Europe, since 2010. There haven’t been many months I haven’t played at least one gig in another country. This is the thing that’s hard to notice from the outside. I mean, yeah, it’s getting more popular in Europe, but at the same time, I think most of the coverage at the moment is from America and Australia. In Europe, I’ve played in most places multiple, multiple times.
A lot of the traffic I’m getting at the moment is from America. I think it’s the biggest surprise for America. I dunno—it’s not that strange. Fucking weird shit goes on in Europe all the time. I mean, yeah, it’s a robot dick face. But the music is not that weird. I could go out right now and 100 meters from my house, I bet you there’s something more obscure going on.
WB: How would you describe your music these days?
A: The newest stuff, the next Anklepants music is going into different microtonal ideas and more ethnic scales, different tunings, and more acoustic instruments, custom-built things. Really different. But I dunno, it’s parodying different things, critiquing things. A lot of different people might like different bits of it, and then maybe realize that they shouldn’t be so concerned about what’s good or bad about it.
I don’t think anything I do is that strange at all. And nothing is new. Animatronics is from the fucking ‘60s. Everything I use is old. Even the technology—it might be new combinations of things, but the sensors and stuff have been around for fucking ages. So it’s just mixing all different things together.
WB: As a writer, I find “breakcore” useful to describe your music. But it’s also a bit arbitrary. I’ve heard Otto Von Schirach’s music described as breakcore, Venetian Snares, your stuff. But really, if you put all three of you side by side, your music is pretty different.
A: Yeah, if it’s got breakbeats in it that are sped up and chopped up—I mean, I do have some songs that have this.
WB: Yeah, like “Ilikeyourfaceheadshoesanddick”…
A: Yeah, of course, but this is about the generic breakcore scene in Sydney. I was involved in this scene a bit when I first started Anklepants. I did listen to [breakcore] but I was really just fascinated with the technicality of it. I was never into chopping up pop tracks and speeding them up. That infuriates me, to be honest. Not many things infuriate me, but when people just get a Britney Spears song and speed it up and put a distorted gabber kick under it…this just infuriates me. It’s literally just turning a knob.
This is where society’s getting so fucking lazy. I’ve met people who do this stuff and some of the attitudes are just unbelievable. They think they’re crazy and wild. But I’ve had quite a few of them tell me what I should change. It’s pretty weird. They’re supposed to be rebels that don’t care about what anyone else does. But then—this is when I [came up with] this stupid thing, the übergrunde, a direct inversion of the mainstream. All they’re doing is the exact same thing. They have their own clique. They’re the same. So this kind of breakcore—I just think it’s stupid.
WB: So when you do a track like “Ilikeyourfaceheadshoesanddick,” it’s a parody of that scene?
A: Yeah, the lyrics are, “When I come to the bowels of the party, I really like to look at your dick at the party.” It’s just saying, when I go to the shittiest party—and it’s all guys, mind you—we just look at each other’s dicks. That’s what the lyrics are. They’re so stupid, but I just made them one day when I was so pissed off after I played one those gigs, with these assholes who pride themselves on being so completely open, and then you play their gig and they just give you a bunch of attitude and tell you what you should change in your music.
WB: What have they said you should change?
A: “It’s good but after you see it’s a dick, it’s like, whatever.” People just always try and put shit on it, because usually, what the problem is, if I play a gig with them, no one fucking watches them, they watch me. This is obviously the problem. It’s a weird thing with Anklepants, because obviously some people might not want to look at it, or they want to see the funny side. But a lot of the time, all people want to talk about is the dick face. They forget there’s even music there. And if they talk about the music, they just say it’s horrible.
But then there’s the other kind of breakcore I got interested in because of different kinds of software. For me, when it comes to anything you might call breakcore—this fast, heavily programmed music—it’s just the technical side I’m interested in, really. There’s just so many techniques trying to create contrast between different hits, different notes. The more contrast there is, the more your brain is being triggered that it’s a new thing that it’s hearing. This part of it I’m really interested in: tricking the brain, so when you’re listening to it, your brain feels like it’s constantly being shown something new. I like hearing all the techniques and people using all different hardware and software all mixed together. It’s still kind of exciting. And it’s like a challenge as well, because you have to use a lot of tricks with production to make all the sounds come through in the mix. It’s kind of like a weird jigsaw puzzle, and it’s kind of like a game, and it’s kind of problem solving.
WB: I think that’s what interests me about it, as well. Just the production skills involved with something like what Igorrr does, for example, taking classical and metal and breakbeats and stitching it all together….
A: I mean, Otto and Venetian Snares, those guys, they’ve been doing it way longer than me. I was playing in bands and stuff for a long time. I’ve played guitar since I was nine. Jazz theory and all kinds of stuff. I was doing that and I suppose they were making electronic music. I’ve been making electronic music for probably 15 years, but Anklepants is only since 2008. I was into all kinds of music, but a lot of metal when I was younger. I really only ever got into electronic music to add it to a band. Anklepants will be a band eventually. Not this new thing—Clock_yange is like a one-off thing. Anklepants will be a full band that’s got all these crazy instruments and all kinds of things going on.
WB: Is that the goal with something like the face-tar?
A: Yeah, and as soon as I start getting big enough bookings, where I can afford to have other people…the first person I want to bring in is a drummer. I’ve always wanted to use this guy in Australia who I’ve played in two bands with. And he’ll be using a mixture of conventional rock drums, but also triggered and strange electronic percussion, weird instruments that are electronic and acoustic and moving, as well. And he’ll have some character. But yeah, the main focus is to get the guitar built. Although that instrument is based on a guitar, it’s gonna have a lot of sensors and things.
I used to manipulate the music a lot more, especially arrangement-wise, before I had the wireless microphone. When I built that microphone, it started to be more about the microphone vocal manipulation. When the guitar comes, the music will be as manipulated as the voice. When it joins together, everything’s just gonna be way more free.
Some artists are just too weird for any one genre to contain. After getting pigeonholed in the breakcore and chiptune scenes while working under the name Nero’s Day at Disneyland, Sacramento-based producer Lauren Bousfield dropped that moniker and began making even stranger music under his her own name. As great as Nero’s Day was—and some of it was pretty flippin’ fantastic—Bousfield’s first solo album, Avalon Vales, is even better, because it refuses to stay in one place, skipping across genres like a rock across a pond. It still owes a debt to more experimental breakcore producers like Venetian Snares, but it’s on its own trip. No wonder one of his genre tags on Bandcamp is just “____.”
You can stream the whole towering, beautiful mess that is Avalon Vales on Bandcamp. Meanwhile, for a little taste, check out this video for the aptly named “Cracknight,” and remember, if you ever have Bousfield over for dinner, don’t let him her anywhere near the electrical tape.
We’d like to wrap up another awesome week here at Weird Band HQ with an oldie but goodie from digital hardcore legends Atari Teenage Riot. Back when I worked in a cube farm, I prayed every week that something like this would happen right around 5 p.m. on Friday. Well, except for the part where everyone’s faces turn to digital soup. No, on second thought, even that would have been preferable to the mind-numbing drudgery of corporate life.
I’m still spending way too much of my time at the bottom of the breakcore rabbit hole these days, but man is there some crazy shit down there. Here’s my latest find: Munter S. Thomson, the breakcore/”cockrockdisco” (his term) alter ego of an Australian producer who normally goes by the name of Nam Shub of Enki.
Mr. Shub himself seems to not be a big fan of Munter’s output: The notes for the Munter S. Thomson album Waste read: “Wasted a year on this. Here are the fruits of thinking this music was a good idea—it quite frankly wasn’t.” We beg to differ. Waste sounds like ’80s electro-funk and booty bass run through a paper shredder and then tossed like confetti and leaky glowsticks over a party for meth-addled robots. And if that doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, you’ve come to the wrong blog.
You can hear the rest of Waste in all its trashy glory on Bandcamp.