Venetian Snares isn’t a breakcore artist.
Nor is he IDM. Or techno. Aaron Funk, the Winnipeg-based artist behind the moniker, simply expresses himself through music. He leaves unpacking any intent behind the sounds to those who deem such things worthy of their time. But chances are he thinks you’re a fool for bothering.
With a career spanning nearly half his life, the reclusive 40-year-old has seen it all and been left largely unimpressed. He makes music because he has to; the fact that other people get to hear it is a byproduct of his need to earn money.
When I put together an oral history of Planet Mu earlier this year, Funk, one of the label’s key artists, was unavailable – or maybe simply unwilling – to speak. So when the label recently got in touch to say he was available for interviews to promote his forthcoming record, Your Face, I said yes, largely out of curiosity. When Funk has given interviews in the past they’ve toed the line, and I quickly realised there wasn’t much to ask that hadn’t already been covered. What do you ask the artist who seems to want nothing but to be left alone? As it turns out, you just throw the questions out the window and try to have a good old fashioned conversation.
I was preparing the interview and I guess… well, you haven’t given many interviews.
Nah, I’m not really fond of them.
I understand. I was trying to think of an angle that could be less boring than the usual. Maybe it’ll suck though, we’ll see.
I’m glad you came into this with the idea of me not being bored, that sounds fun.
Considering we’re talking over Skype, perhaps the best place to start is with the internet. How connected are you to the world through the internet?
I mean, sort of… yeah, I use the internet. I use it to communicate with my friends. As an independent artist I’m in a position where I also have to engage with social media and all that shit, so yeah, I’m in there.
Do you make use of social media at all?
I use social media, yes. When I have to promote a record or something, I’m on it a bunch because that’s where people are looking these days, right at you. Not really magazines or other media sources like they have in the past. I guess straight to the source, that’s the best source of information.
Your Wikipedia page is quite interesting.
What does it say on there? Someone once edited it to just say Venetian Snares is in fact a lady or something, and that was all that was on it and I thought it was amazing.
That’s been taken out. The first thing it says is that you are known for making electronic music often in odd time signatures.
That’s valid I think. Imagine Wikipedia gets everything wrong? You realize one day, “oh shit, everything I read on Wikipedia is actually just totally false.”
I thought it was funny that your Wikipedia places the odd time signatures right at the top. It’s followed by a statement that you were very prolific until 2007. It’s an interesting way to summarise a career.
I think 2007 was the point when I became really at odds with releasing music.
What made you feel like that? You seem to have always been at odds with it.
Um… I don’t know, I love making music [but] it’s kinda hard for me to put it out, to be honest. The idea of it being heard by people who want to hear it fucks with my head, so… you know, [it’s] easier to choose to keep it to myself.
It’s an interesting position to have as an artist.
Of course. As soon as you release records, some person hearing it will think that this record is a product for them to enjoy, whereas that’s not my intent making it whatsoever, it’s for me while I’m creating it. I don’t know, people coming at you from that angle is kinda sickening, you know?
As soon as you create something and put it out there it’s no longer under your control.
No. It’s out in the world of fucking IMDB one-to-10s, it’s out there in the database of millions of people shooting off opinions at each other that they believe they’re formulating on their own.
You seem to be willing to admit to this reality more than most artists would publicly, yet you’ve somehow managed to have a prolific career, almost against your will.
Yeah. But whatever, could be worse. I guess that’s my job, putting out records. I don’t know. There’s parts of people’s jobs they don’t like at all, some people even don’t like any part of their job.
I was wondering if you’d ever see yourself exiting the industry but continuing to make music until you no longer wanted to do it, or could.
Oh yeah. I’ll make music till I die. If I happened to become a millionaire or something, I’ll fuck it all off. See you later, I’m just gonna live in my own world here, bye.
There’s an economic reality that keeps you in the job?
I guess so. Yeah, in order to make a living I have to allow people to hear my music and I have to go fucking clown show it for them at some fucking club or whatever. That’s pretty much the reality of it. But that’s great you know, and I shouldn’t complain about that. Because who wouldn’t want to do that? I’m not really an extroverted person, and I’m not really… I don’t know. I’m not really on my high horse about, “hey, my music is the best,you should choose this.” I just use it as my main means of expression, and as a result of that it’s my skill set in life.
“In order to make a living I have to allow people to hear my music and I have to go fucking clown show it for them at some fucking club or whatever.”
You mentioned being introverted, and I spoke to Mike Paradinas recently for an oral history of Planet Mu. Mike also strikes me as someone who’s introverted. Do you think that’s why you guys have had this dynamic over the years, a sort of reluctant collaboration?
Maybe. Perhaps we both recognise the fact that we’re both big weirdos. Mike’s an awkward guy.
He said the same about you. You’ve mentioned before that he would listen to your music while having a bath.
Holy shit, yeah! That’s when he was first trying to release my stuff. He’d call me up and said he was listening to it in a bathtub. It’s an interesting choice of music for the bathtub. It doesn’t seem very relaxing to have a bath to.
What would you listen to your music in?
I don’t know. I don’t really listen to my music. I was hanging out with friends the other night and they asked to play my new record and I was like, “nah.” What the fuck? That’s just weird. I don’t really hang around much tooting my own horn, once the music is done. I love listening to music but I don’t have a bunch of people over and get them to listen to my music, that’s just weird.
Do ever listen to your stuff to evaluate where you’re at creatively?
Yeah, sometimes I’ll throw on tunes I made ages ago and it brings me back to that time in my life when I made them. Sure, that happens sometimes. I don’t know… it’s funny, the new record I have coming, a lot of it is from five years ago. So listening to that brings me back to those times.
You’ve said before that you make music but let it sit before even discussing if it might come out.
I feel the need to be removed from it.
It makes sense also if you’re not trying to keep up with whatever is happening.
Fuck that whole game of what music is supposed to be right now. It’s so fucked up even listening to what sounds like people trying to get super good at a video game or something. It doesn’t even sound anything like self-expression, it’s like… I’m awesome within these predefined parameters that are presented to me. Which I guess most artists feel is what’s exciting about a genre. They see a few people doing a similar thing and then everyone just jumps on it and goes, “I’m this now!” It’s like if a bunch of people wore the same fucking outfit from the Gap, you know? What is the difference between that and being awesome at World of Warcraft or something? Not much. It’s almost the same thing if you think about it.
Self-expression seems to be the one thing that drives you, and it’s a hard one to discuss because it is ultimately about you.
Pretty much. And I’ve been doing this my whole life. If only that was how the world worked, people really expressing themselves. It feels quite alienating a lot of the time. Especially when I release something or I have to talk to someone like you and be self-aware that I’m presenting music out into the world, where it’s perceived more in the confines of what I was mentioning, everyone working within the same aesthetic and form as each other. I don’t know… it’s fucking weird, being represented within that sort of world. Wait… this is for FACT right?
Holy fuck, I was reading something about my new release on there and it’s completely ridiculous! The people writing those reviews are like… where do you find those people? Fucking insane. One imbecile slagging it off for being unfashionable. Why are you expected to be a poser these days? You realise that this idea of the new fashionable thing being the best thing is fed to you by big business, since the days of your grandparents? It’s a business model to sell you units. Or streams or whatever the fuck it is today. Your outlook, this outlook you believe you’ve chosen for yourself, is rooted in nothing more than a business plan. Way to go.
As a writer, my industry doesn’t always fill me with a lot of happy thoughts either.
I bet. That outlook which leaves you believing you’ve formed these ideas for yourself, it’s nothing more than a business plan. And then someone else in that review went on about my stuff being out of style. Someone said it gave them an anxiety spell. Boo hoo! Should music only evoke safe feelings within yourself? I hope your greatest fear is fire and you burn in fire. Fucking insane. And of course music is about more than the sounds contained within it. People are approaching it… they’re not listening to something for what it is, they’re listening to it for “how can this be compatible with my personal views?” They’re listening for what they want to hear rather than what’s being presented to them. I should critique reviews of my own music because that would be pretty funny.
I’ve done that with artists before, it’s super fun. We can do a few right now if you want.
Let’s do it, I’m googling this shit.
Here’s one from Resident Advisor. “This isn’t Funk’s greatest work but it’s not an off day either. It’s a novel concept undeniably well executed. Was it worth the wait? I’d have to say it was, so never fear fellow breakcore fans, the prodigal son has returned and he’s on fine form as ever. Now don’t all of our parents’ basements feel that little bit brighter?”
My god. Do people get like a $25 coupon to write that shit?
I don’t think most people get paid to write reviews to be honest.
I guess so. Are you getting paid to do this right now?
I noticed you can convey a thought, that’s impressive. Maybe that’s the state of music journalism, it’s just everyone… everyone wants everything for free, whatever it is, you can’t charge people to subscribe to FACT or something. But it’s interesting. I got a subscription to New Scientist magazine and it’s amazing, the writers on there are incredible.
“I love reviews where they just describe the sound in the tune. Why?! Just play the fucking song at that point.”
Well, if you can get writers enough money to do a good job… that’s the problem with music writing at the moment. So you end up with lazy comparisons in reviews.
I love reviews where they just describe the sound in the tune. Why?! Just play the fucking song at that point. It’s ridiculous. It contains these sounds. Who cares? Congratulations for hearing!
That review I’ve got in front of me of My Love Is A Bulldozer mentions strings, jazzy breaks and a Shirley Bassey-esque vocal. So there you go.
How does it make them feel? What did it evoke? We get it, you can hear the sounds that are in it, but who cares? I found the FACT Singles Club. This is ridiculous. Oh my god. “I don’t know what to think about this…” See, no one’s told this person what to think about this! He doesn’t know. Oh my god, it feels like he ordered the wrong pizza. “These bits are not what I ordered, I wanted it to only be the parts I like.” Whoo hoo. Oh man. “It came on while I was giving someone a back massage.” That’s the best one. A fuckin’ back massage. It’s not compatible with massages!? No shit! I’d like to give them a back massage with a belt sander. God. I’d like to get into a time machine and drown their parents. This is the state of modern critique?! Holy shit. I don’t know.
I always felt the word critic is a bit of a weird one.
The approach these people have to listening to something and critiquing it is the point I’m trying to make, in those reviews you have people listening to a piece of music for what they want rather than what it represents. They’re listening for how it can be compatible with their lives, their idea of how something should be instead of hearing what it is. Everything is for you, huh? Everything must be designed and delivered specifically for you. Music must adhere to your idea of what is should be, not the artist right?
It’s funny, it super mirrors what we did for the promo of that new record. We got a bunch of 78-year-olds to listen to it and just wrote down what they said. And those old people actually approached it in a much purer way. I don’t know. I think it’s a result of, like, people shopping for their opinions instead of formulating them on their own. You’ll think about picking a movie and then you look on IMDB and it’s a five. Maybe half the people gave it a 10, the other half a 1. So maybe you won’t bother. But if you watch it you might not agree with that rating. It’s weird. This whole approach has sunk into so many aspects of life. The way we rate things just skews how they’re perceived. Maybe I shouldn’t watch this film because it’s a five.
That’s the kind of behaviour that promotes conservatism. It reinforces things that are safe.
It really does. It’s a mistake to approach almost anything in that way as far as I’m concerned. I’m sorry, I’m ranting like a crazy person.
I’m enjoying it. I know your history has kinda been covered before so I didn’t really want to go there again.
We’re having a conversation, it’s fun. You wouldn’t believe the things… some people approach you and basically want you to write about yourself for them. It’s absurd. Make a list of your 10 whatever things. That’s nonsense. I don’t give a shit about that. It disgusts me.
You’ve spoken before about enjoying being on your own. You’re based in Winnipeg, which is isolated from the music hubs of the world, and within that you’re further isolated by this approach. I was wondering if perhaps that imparts a further quality to your music, in that it facilitates that self-expression you hold dear.
It’s a hard thing to answer. I haven’t tried living in New York or Paris… I’m sure a person would be just as capable of isolating themselves in those places.
You spent some time in Eastern Europe right?
I did, I lived in Budapest for a while.
Did you find your relationship with your music changed while you were there?
Umm… yeah. It was interesting being there, I was working out of a studio because everyone lives on top of each other in their apartments, so you can’t really be that noisy. I rented a studio space but I never really spent much time there, it felt like going to a job so I ended up at the kitchen table making music in headphones with a laptop and a couple synths. It was weird. But yeah it showed me that if you go to a separate place for the sole purpose of doing music that’s what a job feels like.
What does a Venetian Snares live show feel like from your perspective?
It’s pretty much never the same twice because I don’t use Ableton or anything like that. There’s no pre-ordered set, more like old school style DJing. I’m always… throwing different tracks in there. After I’ve been on the road playing for a week or so and if I have more ahead of me I’ll sort of find ways to make it less like work and entertain myself. I’d rather be making music than doing that, generally. I feel at odds with everything, in life, not just on stage. I feel separate from the world.
I’d imagine it takes a certain kind of alienation to have the balls to go, ‘this is me, like it or not, fuck you.’
I guess… I don’t know, I’m always questioning myself. Whether or not I’m a good person, a bad person, or just an angry person…
It’s hard to make sense of it all, for everyone. Everything is about opinion, clicking on endless social media feeds, surface shit. It’s weird.
The potential for every person to be so led, it’s ginormous. And it’s like they’re oblivious to it. Scary, I’m fucking scared.
Actually, taking it back to a semi-serious subject, how did the David Lynch remix come about?
I don’t know, it was funny. I was asked to choose three tracks. They sent me the record before it was out and said they wanted a remix for the B-side of a single. They said to choose three tunes to remix. I didn’t choose the title track because I thought they’d have asked other people for remixes too and they’d all have chosen it. But then they came back and asked me to do it. So that was it. I actually did really want to remix the title track, so it turned out pretty cool. I wanted it to sound like a giant hovering boulder on fire. I don’t know why they asked me though. His music was cool, I really enjoyed his album.
How do you approach the artwork for your releases? There’s some interesting ideas in there.
I generally have an idea of the artist that would suit that particular record. Or it’s a piece of art I know of already that I feel represents the music. Sometimes it’s an image in my head that has to be created. For the Cubist Reggae record I wanted a black cue ball with four double sided photocopies of Picasso’s ‘The Guitarist’ crumpled into balls the same size as the cue ball. Whatever feels like a good road to go down. What I find appealing in visual art is when someone can convey their own unique vision. That’s amazing to me. I really enjoy it. Matthieu Bordel who created the sleeve for Your Face is one of those artists, he’s really got his own vision.
What was it that originally attracted you to using trackers?
I got an Amiga 500 around 1991 or so… I got it for dirt cheap and the music software you could run on it was a tracker, this thing called OctaMED. Because that was what I had, it’s how I learnt to make music. It must have wired my brain to work in that way. That’s where I’m comfortable doing music on a computer. But then for the last few years I’ve not used a computer and moved more to using a modular setup, that’s been really fun for me. The new release is from five years ago so that’s more tracker stuff, but there’s one tune on there that’s more recent. Another track is from like three years ago or something. I don’t know, sometimes my records are secret until Mike bugs me into releasing them. That’s what that release is, it’s one of those. He wanted to throw in a couple other junglist tunes but I didn’t want to put them on there.
Would it be fair to say that when you have these conversations with Mike it’s a little like those scenes in movies where an angel and a demon pop up on someone’s shoulders telling them to do stuff?
Yeah, he’s definitely the demon. I don’t know! It’s funny to put it like that. His intentions are always good. But I guess it’s true that in my world, in my mind, I’m just like, “oh fuck, no I don’t want to.” He’s really funny though, he’ll have a bunch of tunes of mine, put them together and then tell me, “here, this is a great album, we want to release this.” And I’m like, “these things have nothing to do with each other, what are you talking about?” So bizarre. I think he really likes to compile albums or something. I think that’s his favourite format, a compilation album.
Are your releases on other labels more you taking charge of what the album is?
Yeah, I don’t generally release music and let someone else compile it. It’s more so… here’s something as an album that I’ve presented as such.
It’s just Mike that gets to do that with your stuff?
Occasionally, yes. He tries all the time to do that. I don’t always let him. I think he’s like a dude hitting on a girl in a bar who doesn’t get the message. Or something. Sometimes.
Oh man. That image of Mike relentlessly hitting on a girl in a bar. That’s hilarious.