Last Step is an alias used by Aaron Funk, whom you may know as the very prolific, Planet Mu signed, Venetian Snares. Guy has over 22 albums to his name which is a pretty bountiful treasure chest of sounds. His new adventure is called Sleep and—as the title suggests—it's a collection of compositions that Funk recorded quite literally as he was falling asleep. Driving the concept home, Funk even titled the tracks with the theme in mind: "Xyrem," a narcolepsy treatment; "Cimicdae," a name for the bedbug family. Don't expect Funk's signature abrasive recordings, Sleep taps into slower, woozy tempos and soporific atmospheres realized through his arsenal of analogue synths and sequencers. "For awhile, when I was really tired and ready to go to bed instead of going to sleep I would make a tune. Get some stuff going on my sequencers, drum machines, patch up my modular and just jam it. Would fall asleep alot listening to the sequences, few seconds of sleep or a few minutes, wake up in it. This is what I sound like in my sleep," says Funk about the process.
You can pick up Sleep now via Planet Mu. We caught up with the very elusive artist for a chat about his new adventure. Enjoy...
Imagine if we could be tourists in each other’s consciousness? We would all accept and understand each other far better than we do now. Might get boring though, I say we just keep murdering each other for no good reason.
The concepts covered in your music are unique to say the least, from making an album dedicated to samples of you and your then girlfriend having sex, to making a record solely dedicated to cats to your most recent project that was conceived while you were falling asleep, do you think having a concept is an integral part of a good album?
It's not completely necessary in an album. Sometimes a concept or theme will reveal itself within a set of tracks. Seems to me every album has a concept or something that holds it together, whether it's a conscious direction you've taken or not. My So-Called Life, my last album, had no real shared concept other than they were all tracks that really captured a specific moment to me. Like diary entries, tracks that brought me back to that day. Maybe that record has a spirit rather than a concept, but that in itself becomes its concept after the fact. I have no set way of doing things. It is nice when something begins as a strong concept and you see that through to the end. It sometimes feels sad once I’ve finished with it because I have to let go of that feeling I had exploring it. There have been times when I've had to abandon a concept because it fucks with my head too hard to continue on with it. Some places I can put myself within music can really tear me down as a functional person if I stay in there too long.
Can you describe your creative process when starting on a new project, do ideas come spontaneously and naturally to you, or do you observe the world around you and try and do things that haven’t been done before?
Ideas come and I expand and build from there. Don't pay much attention to what's going on and try to top that, stray or connect with that. Don't really know what's out there these days, it's not really something that's considered. Almost always begins as personal moment, it's mood, it's feeling and grows into something fed off that feeling. Letting you in on my creative process is a bit difficult to explain in a few words here. You would need to live with me and I would need to make an effort to think out loud at all times. Seems like more trouble than it's worth. Imagine if we could be tourists in each other’s consciousness? We would all accept and understand each other far better than we do now. Might get boring though, I say we just keep murdering each other for no good reason.
Its nice to approach something solely on being pleasing to the ear, rather than adhering to what is supposedly theoretically pleasing or complimentary in terms of harmony.
Did you actively want to make a record under an altered state of consciousness or did you literally just fall asleep while making a tune and the concept developed from there?
I really fell into it by accident; there were a couple of days when I was working more in the box on more meticulous tracks. You know, more composed, multi tracked and edited stuff. I can go like that for 16 hours or so before I start to fade. I never really want to let go, but at the same time, working on something more frenetic, I don't want to put that kind of energy into it. So I really just fell into doing the Sleep tracks instead of going to bed. Had done a couple in that state to wind down after working on something else when I realized I'd tapped into something I was really enjoying.
I'm in some half-awake state, dialing in melodies on my sequencers, something else that plays nicely against it and building like that. Falling asleep a lot for a few minutes and waking up to something beautiful playing. Flowing with it in and out consciousness, like the music was between consciousness and unconsciousness somehow. They seem like they were created outside of reality to me, as though they weren't meant to exist in this world but somehow I pulled them into it. I feel really at ease listening to them. Easy listening haha! WTF have I done? No, it's not really like that. They capture a vibe I don't tap into in any other state. It's not really ambient music either, but it's slower and prettier than things I'm doing normally. Nice flow between my energy and the machines, fluidity. Playing off what's latching onto that flow, something beautiful shining out, building, adding and taking away, melting and resurrecting. Feels spiritual—that state—like flowers blooming from your skin.
To me it really fits with the sound of the record, old books, much like old music gear holds some special magic inside them.
The feel of the latest album Sleep is very Nineties, what kind of gear did you use for it and why did you choose the said gear?
Analog gear. I used a lot of gear that goes back more to the ‘70s and ‘80s, old analog synths, sequencers and drum machines. Also used my modular synth which is a more modern thing but much of the circuitry is based on really old designs. I like the idea of creating something now with these old machines that could well have been created then if somebody had thought of it. The immediacy of those old machines is so inspiring to me. I can get really far away from traditional tuning and harmony, sounds so beautiful to me. A few of the sequencers I use just have knobs for the pitch, which can be set anywhere between 2 notes. So instead of say C and C# you can have a pitch anywhere between those 2 notes. Creates a new relationship between consecutive notes. New intervals. It's nice to approach something solely on being pleasing to the ear, rather than adhering to what is supposedly theoretically pleasing or complimentary in terms of harmony. I guess it’s dissonance really, but beyond that. Dissonance is more something that creates harmony using non-complimentary intervals whereas what I'm doing with those sequencers is using notes that can't really be notated in the traditional sense. I like this idea of being between things; it's very much like that state between being asleep and being awake. Maybe that's why it sounded so good to me at the time. I imagine it might just sound like some out of tune bullshit to some people, but who gives a fuck about them anyways.
What made you pay homage to Penguin publishing in the design of Sleeps album cover?
I like to create an object for a sleeve on many of my releases. Mike and I were discussing it and he said maybe we should do a book. We talked about the look of the old Penguin books and went from there. I've come across a lot of old Penguin books throughout my life. As a kid I'd always find boxes of books people would leave out with the trash. Always picked them up, loads of Penguin books! Always thought it was lame of people to just toss out books with the trash. To me it really fits with the sound of the record, old books, much like old music gear holds some special magic inside them.
Sometimes it kind of sucks when youve recorded a wicked track in a dream then you wake up and of course it doesnt exist. I can try and recreate it in this world but its not quite the same.
How do you know when a project is “finished” do you have an initial vision that you follow through until it’s completion, or do you stop when it just feels right?
Can be either. With Sleep, the tracks were all from same period. The idea has continued on but I feel like it's nice to have the initial tracks recorded like that together. Becomes a more honest work or a clearer window into them presented this way.
For the most part doing acoustic music involves working with a bunch of other people and I really dont care about doing that. Rather just do my loner shit than map things out for other musicians to play.
Are there any other states of consciousness you wish to explore in future musical projects, more sensory deprivation perhaps?
Yeah, I mean I still do music in that sleepy state. Certain states of consciousness can be difficult to create music in. I'd love to make music straight up sleeping, and I do, but it only happens in my dreams. When I wake up nothing's there. Sometimes it kind of sucks when you've recorded a wicked track in a dream then you wake up and of course it doesn't exist. Can try and recreate it in this world but it's not quite the same. Often does lead somewhere good anyways. Could be like cover songs of songs from a dream world. Where music that only exists there is covered here. They don't have the Rolling Stones there, but they have The Nervous Swallowers and I've covered their track “My Youngest Son is a Fire Engine,” but my version is Italo disco.
I listen to music for what it is, to see what it wants to show me, rather than what I would like it to be or what I would have done.
Could you make music as savage and edgy as you do outside of the electronica environment, or is there only so much you can do with a trumpet and piano?
Sure I could, would just have a different aesthetic. I've got the inside of a piano in my house. No keys, just all the strings. Thing must weigh 1000 Lbs., was a fucking mission to drag it in here. Had been sitting outside for a good 2 or 3 years in the rain and snow. It can sound really violent playing it with various implements, bashing it and scraping it. Sounds like a horror movie. Can't get a sound from my trumpet anymore. Don't know what I did to it. Need to find someone with more trumpet expertise than me to have a look at it. For the most part doing acoustic music involves working with a bunch of other people and I really don't care about doing that. Rather just do my loner shit than map things out for other musicians to play.
I dont hold a meeting and play it for a bunch of dickheads to vote on which they prefer. Great thing about doing music alone is it can always be your sole vision, nobody there interfering with that.
Some people find your earlier breakcore to be very hard to listen to, do you think they should approach the music with a different mindset to appreciate it, or is it simply not to everyone’s taste?
The thing is, a lot of music, you really need to approach it with a certain openness. Expectation of familiarity or comfort can really get in the way of experiencing something new. People may not want to be challenged. It's likely they don't consciously believe that whatsoever, but somewhere in them they want something compatible with their idea of music. That's fine, but limiting. The intention behind my music is not for everyone to embrace and love it. Someone even hearing it is something that's going to happen way after the fact. I feel like people that are into my music and stay with it are really keen on coming along for the ride with me, seeing where it will take them. For me at least, I listen to music for what it is, to see what it wants to show me, rather than what I would like it to be or what I would have done.
After all, that's what my own music is for. Maybe it's different for people who don't create music. Maybe musicians are the best listeners. Same goes for Sleep; if someone approaches it expecting something violent and menacing they will be disappointed. If they listen and allow it to tell its story, it will be ultimately more satisfying and enlightening for them. That is the real flaw in music criticism, you like something or you don't, fine, but projecting onto music what you want it to be is a mistake. It's not the same as ordering a sandwich. Create as an artist, listen as a listener.
The amount of material you release every year is pretty prolific, I mean Planet Mu even gave you your own label, Timesig. Does it come down to a hard work ethic or do you just naturally make music all the time, how do you choose what gets released and what gets canned?
I haven't really released as much music as I used to in the past 5 years or so. I think people got that impression when I first started putting out music and it really stuck. Thing is, I had been doing music for years before anyone asked to release any of it. So once labels started asking, I had so much kicking around, I would say yes to everything! It was pretty exciting to me at the time to have loads of music coming out on vinyl. I do naturally make music all the time, I feel wrong when I go without it. As far as what's released and what's tossed, I just choose the tracks I like the most. I don't hold a meeting and play it for a bunch of dickheads to vote on which they prefer. Great thing about doing music alone is it can always be your sole vision, nobody there interfering with that.
What stops you from making music in a more conventional format? Would you ever make a club banger?
I really can't, just not capable of it. For some reason, I cannot resist fucking with it. I have tried, but it feels like I'm trying and I'm super not into that. Guess I've got no restraint, wanna mess with everything. Feel like I'm holding back otherwise. I don't give a shit about that anyways, like making the soundtrack for people trying to get laid. Could go even further with that and create the soundtrack to doing coke in the toilets. Do all the final mixes in a toilet with the speakers in another room! Toilet banger.
Apart from sensory deprivation what’s your favorite drug for making music on?
Well, it's been a few different things throughout the years. These days it's coffee and cigarettes. Trying to recreate that feeling of being in an old diner when I make tunes. I used to drink a lot, but not so much these days, something about drinking alone I'm not into. I'm that creep sitting off in the corner at the truck stop.