A mural in Winnipeg
Seven/eight is his favorite time-signature, and perhaps that is why Aaron Funk’s music comes across as total anarchy when you first hear it. But if you give a little time for your eardrums to settle and start to count to seven instead of the conventional four you are used to, a gateway opens up into Funk’s distorted tongue-in-cheek world of breakcore. For the uninitiated, breakcore is an experimental sub-genre of electronic dance music that incorporates aspects of techno and industrial music at destructively high tempos.
“Winnipeg is a Frozen Sh*thole” is the title track from Venetian Snares’, a.k.a. Aaron Funk’s, 2005 offering by the same name. This entire album is essentially inclined towards ripping his home-town of Winnipeg, in the prairie province Manitoba, Canada, to shreds. “Things will be much better for me once I move to Vancouver," he says. “Everyone born here in Winnipeg is born with these words ready to launch out off their tongues, from the first -50°C school recess they get that very tongue stuck to the zipper of their parka. This is my tribute to those people!”
Nearly all the song titles on Winnipeg
mention the city in some disparaging way: “Winnipeg is a Dogsh*t Dildo," “Winnipeg is F*cking Over," and “Die Winnipeg Die Die F*ckers Die." Funk’s mixture of humour and aggression is totally in line with breakcore’s chaotic aesthetic, and his unconventional rhythmic structures and assaulting range of harsh glitch sounds carry the message through to us: Funk hates Winnipeg. You can almost taste the angst. (You can certainly hear it.)
“Winnipeg is a Frozen Sh*thole” is the pinnacle of irreverent violence in Funk’s work. Vocal samples by various Winnipeg-centred celebrities appear on the album, stating all sorts of messages riddled with unhappiness. In the title track a voice says “If you are sad, and you like beer, I’m your lady." Later, a newscaster reports that “Winnipeg has been chosen four years in a row by the London Times as the world-capital of sorrow.” In the breakcore genre, samples are often used to carry the underlying message of the piece home to the listener. These samples are taken from the Canadian movie-musical The Saddest Music in the World
, released in 2003 and directed by Guy Maddin, in which he fictionally relates the story of a music contest set in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The darkly comedic and tragic tale, involving prosthetic legs filled with beer among other oddities, was originally conceived by Booker prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro. Funk’s allusions to grandeur, to some deeper meaning in his seemingly random acts of musical espionage, hint at a deeper emotional and musical aesthetic only made visible later that year in his 2005 album, Rossz Csillg Alatt Szuletett
(translated from Hungarian as “Born under a bad star”). This album continues on a similar theme of sadness, including a breakbeat-dominated remix of Hungarian composer Seress’ famous “suicide song” ("Öngyilkos vasárnap") sung by Billie Holiday, as well as a reinterpretation of Elgar’s tearful cello concerto in the track entitled “Számar Mádar.” But, unlike Winnipeg
, much of the violence is gone and only the sadness remains.
Although Funk would seemingly disagree, Winnipeg, as a city, is actually not all that bad. It has a large population and a diverse cultural milieu including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and a thriving music scene with yearly festivals. Neil Young lived there for a spell as an adolescent, and he turned out just fine. Although, to give Funk the benefit of the doubt, if his description of Winnipeg is true, this may explain the streak of wistful melancholy that runs through Young’s music.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon