I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes, but the former Winnipeg homeboy known as Venetian Snares is both indisputably insane and certifiably genius. Most that happen to run across him through the random chance of destiny think he’s merely insane, but slowly the hip world is coming around to the latter opinion. Aaron Funk is a hard man to get a read on from careful study funded by government grants, let alone from a scant wayward glance in a distracted post-modern life. He’s constantly releasing full-lengths and EPs at an impossible rate under several different names, on many different labels, and rarely in the same style. One cannot be blamed for feeling at least a tad overwhelmed by it all. Nonetheless, like a Miles Davis or Frank Zappa, the only way to get in is to pick a work and dive in headfirst, then collect your bearings and see if you like where you end up. There is no shallow end.
Including his early self-released tapes and a couple of collaborations, Detrimentalist is his 20th-odd full-length in the last ten years, with as many original EPs and 7-inches to boot. Not even Aphex Twin has that level of creative drive. Though Snares mostly uses tracker programs (which involve a lot of cutting and pasting), he never assembles his tracks and albums in the same way, or even at the same time signature, most often working in 7/4 if he can settle on one. He has made works of metallic downtempo, acid house, symphonic breakcore, psychedelic jungle, ejacutronic rave horn, and all manner of glitch electronic balls in between. Songs About My Cats reconstituted sounds produced by his many feline chums to his ballistic end, while the Nymphomatriarch collaboration with Hecate, the leading female in breakcore, was formed entirely out of samples made while Snares and Hecate engaged in intercourse during a tour of eastern Europe. Once you’re into him, it becomes easier to take each release as it comes and leave those that only rub the senses raw. For the uninitiated, it’s much like being thrown in a blender: you either hit the ground running and catch up to pace damn quick, or you get pulverized.
Detrimentalist is an album that will draw many an unknowing junglist into the breakcore fray. The whole thing is practically an homage to the many phases drum and bass has gone through since it was given a name, yet without ever sounding any less than the cutting edge of modern. The opening “Gentleman” makes use of the canonized mid-’90s hip-hop “wooh” and “yeah” (also used by Kid606 on Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You a few years previous, among hundreds of other examples) as well as a little rapping, the instantly recognizable drum and bass squeal, and a taste of cheesy horror synth reminiscent of early Bizzy B. It generally focuses on the tone and sound of the genre’s formative years. “Koonut-Kaliffee” follows that with something more in line with the late ’90s feel cultivated by Klute or Teebee, joining a consistently moody synth line, the amen breaks, and a sci-fi/horror vocal sample.
Hints of raga jungle pop up occasionally too, like the poor man’s Perry organ in the prominently acid squeaker “Kyokushin”, but it is heaviest on “Eurocore MVP”. That cut kicks off with a couple bars of straight sampled reggae, which returns after a few “this muthafucka wanna see my dogs die” cycles. The early ’90s hip-hop “wooh” makes another appearance as well, and there’s a half-speed breakdown for about a bar in there, but an overlay of waka guitar and an organ parodying a bass rhythm lifted from 2003’s Chocolate Wheelchair Album has far more weight in the track. To my mind, “Circle Pit” touches on the more popular jungle trends of the early naughties. The cheesy synths lend an Acen vibe to it early on, but the vocal samples and horror organs that start up a minute in take it to a more Pendulum-like place.
Closing the record is the nine-minute epic “Miss Balaton”, which received an early release as a single, and it’s easy to hear why. The cut begins with a good minute of ambient pads echoing in space ’til a 303 bloops in, followed in short order by violins from My Downfall and his Hungarian album. Sounds build up to the breaking point and it busts out breakcore for half a bar, then retreats back to the violin base. The wait is much shorter after that, though, rushing into choice IDM territory that suspends and teases intensity throughout the latter half of the track before returning to ambient in the final minute. This must be the future he’s leading us to.
Though the bulk of Detrimentalist is dedicated to a nanosecond cross-section distillation of drum and bass history, it’s the deliciously square peg “Miss Balaton” that makes the album something truly special in the context of Venetian Snares’ own work. It’s easily one of Aaron Funk’s most moving and remarkable pieces, adding a unique dimension to one of his most accessible and party-friendly records. She’s a peach through and through, and as easy an access point to the Funk vortex as you’re likely to find. As Hunter Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”