As a critic, one has to remember not to let the artist set the parameters of what you’re allowed to say about their work, but still, some artists can get inside your head with a few choice retorts. In a 2015 interview for FACT, Aaron Funk (a.k.a. Venetian Snares) rails against how people write and define his work. Funk says, “I love reviews where they just describe the sound in the tune. Why?! Just play the fucking song at that point.” Later on, he adds, “They’re listening for how it can be compatible with their lives…Everything must be designed and delivered specifically for you. Music must adhere to your idea of what it should be, not the artist, right?”
These are common critiques of the music review, but what makes Funk’s comments interesting is his status as a wholly unique figure bound to be remembered in conjunction with subgenre movements, IDM/Planet Mu oral histories, and Aphex Twin comparisons. The noted recluse has to be part of a bigger picture because it’s convenient for us to label artists alongside known entities. It can admittedly grow tiresome for musicians, especially for someone like Funk, who prides himself on working in a vacuum and who started naturally making frenzied “electronic music” by banging on garbage bins for recordings on his boombox.
The 20th-anniversary reissue of Venetian Snares’ first vinyl release Greg Hates Car Culture is an opportunity to focus on Funk’s artistic approach, though the narrative surrounding the 12″ EP is probably the main reason for its professional reissue treatment. Greg Hates Car Culture made the rounds through a label in Minneapolis – about a seven-hour car trip from Funk’s home in Winnipeg. Mike Paradinas (AKA μ-Ziq, founder of Planet Mu) heard the record and signed him to the growing experimental electronic label. From there, Venetian Snares’ prolific output helped define the Planet Mu aesthetic and was a defining figure in IDM’s embrace of jungle and frantic drum patterns. According to Discogs, the original vinyl of Greg Hates Car Culture – supposedly only 500 copies were made – has sold for as high as $90 with a median of $65.72.
At Greg Hates Car Culture‘s best, the price for an original copy is more than justified. The opener “Personal Discourse” begins with a phone call Funk made to a dominatrix, immediately settling you into the comical depravity and underground nature of these recordings. When the drums kick in, though, they still manage to shock through their abrasive complexity. A menacing synth line runs through much of the track, maybe to help the listener focus amidst the chaos.
“Fuck a Stranger in the Ass” is the most notable song here as it features a sample from The Big Lebowski, which came out just a year before. That was certainly an early sign that the movie was connecting with people on a different plane than many critics and box office analysts could predict. Funk warps John Goodman’s gruff yell into an industrial, alien-like call-to-arms and drops it in periodically as a disruptive palate cleanser. The most thrilling aspects of this record are the small moments of intention within the seemingly-random kinetic energy of Funk performing these mostly live. The only track here that lacks a vocal snippet (“Like Tooth Decay”) suffers because of it.
To supplement the reissue, three bonus tracks are added, which were made around the same time of Greg Hates Car Culture. Two came from a 1998 cassette Spells, and the almost nine-minute “Milk” has never seen an official release. The latter is the most exciting, coming as close to a 4/4 hard dance track you’ll hear from Venetian Snares. You can almost feel Funk trying to break out of these restrictions he’s imposed on his blitzkrieg approach. But the moments he submits to it – especially around the three-minute mark with the “milk” sample repetition – are when he reaches a simple euphoria he so often avoids.
Greg Hates Car Culture ultimately stands out for more than being Venetian Snares’ first vinyl release; it’s the sound of a vital artist throwing ideas on a wall and seeing what stuck. His most acclaimed albums (Songs About My Cats, Rossz Csillag Allat Született) were bound to an overarching vision and were rightfully celebrated for it. While this release does suffer in that regard, it was never meant to be compared to those releases. It was just a small vinyl print from someone who has said that he finds himself at odds with sharing music with the world. The music industry has justifiably bogged him down, and through this reissue, Funk can maybe reclaim a bit of that thrill in letting us hear what he’s working on. Maybe.