By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
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By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
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Why does everything have to be Forbes magazine?" scoffs Aaron Funk, the electronic music madman who performs as Venetian Snares. Speaking with New Times by phone from his native Winnipeg, Canada, he's 30 minutes into his first U.S. interview in two years, and on a rant of sorts. "I see your chain of hamburger discos is taking off. It's always about, 'Let's talk about this accomplishment of yours, or this one.' It just feels lame. Like, who gives a fuck? The what of everything is totally uninteresting. The why is where it's at!"
Funk himself does have an interesting why: He was hipped to both classical music and Kraftwerk by his guitarist grandfather, while his punk rock mom played him Suicide records. And his output of what is staggering: Since Venetian Snares' debut album in 1999, Greg Hates Car Culture, Funk has released 37 records, including 15 full-length albums. Funk's output runs the gamut of the electronic music spectrum. There's the head-throttling drill 'n' bass and gabber found in much of his earlier work. Then there's the mellow, classical-inspired music featuring moody, minor-chord strings and gothic keyboards found on his critically acclaimed 2005 album, Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (Hungarian for "born under a bad star") and last year's My Downfall (Original Soundtrack). Along the way, Funk has also written a concept record about his cats (Songs About My Cats in 2002) and built a sonic landscape around sex with his (now-ex) girlfriend (Nymphomatriarch in 2003). And experimented with acid jazz (Higgen's Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1972-2006 in, um, 2002). And with happy hardcore (Cavalcade of Glee and Happy Hardcore Pom Poms in 2006).
"I don't always make three albums [or more] a year. A lot of that is stuff I made before I was releasing records," Funk says. "Winnipeg is a frozen shithole, and that definitely helps. It keeps you indoors and in the studio. I've found that a lot of stuff I've made in Winnipeg comes out a bit melancholy, whereas stuff I've made in other places comes out a lot happier. I just lived in Hungary for a year, which is known to be kind of a depressing place, but I really liked it and made loads of happy shit. Guess that says a lot about Winnipeg. But I think a lot of people think you need to suffer for your art. I don't want to suffer, though; who wants to suffer just to make a record? That's fucking lame."
Strange words for someone whose latest record is titled My Downfall. "I was super bummed out when I made that record," Funk admits. "I can get into these really bad cycles where I feel really down. I figure I can tough it out. It's better to approach the music as therapeutic, but I can get lost in it and [the music] winds up feeding the demons. I made that right before I went to Hungary. It was a good thing I went there after I made that record; otherwise, things would have continued like that."
Upon his move to Hungary, Funk began the lifestyle common to North American ex-pat electronic musicians — writing music during the week, and prolific fly-in touring on the weekends. "I love playing; I just don't like the rest of it," Funk says. "The rest is just a bunch of waiting, sitting in an airport or a plane or a hotel. It wears on you after a while. You get to go to all these wicked places but barely see any of it. I prefer shit where I can just do one gig and stay at a place for a while, soak it in, see what it is actually like there.... It's just no fun for me to play if I having nothing new to perform. That's one of the main reasons I came back to Winnipeg."
The commonality in most of Funk's music is his use of snare drums as a lead instrument. The name Venetian Snares itself is a reference to the sound a pencil makes when it runs down Venetian blinds — akin to the rapid-fire "amen break" beat used by DJs worldwide to shake dance floors in the late Eighties and early Nineties. "As cliché as it is, I love the amen break," Funk says. "When I hear that break, I get the same rush I did the first time I heard jungle. It's a nostalgia thing for me, the same as a guitarist wanting the sound of an old [Fender] Jaguar [guitar] or a spring reverb because it gives them goose bumps."
While some critics have referred to the amen break as Funk's crutch, he is quick to point out otherwise. "You don't have to play the same beat with the amen," he insists. "It's just a sound — a color to paint whatever you choose with. It's taking something familiar and fucking with it. I think there's no surrealism if you don't get a peek at something real as well. But I don't wanna feel like I am defending my use of a breakbeat. I love it. If you don't, that's fine."