In 1918, Edward Elgar underwent a highly dangerous operation for a 61-year old man in those times – the removal of an infected tonsil. Recovering consciousness after sedation, he asked for a paper and pencil, and composed the melody that would be the first theme for his Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85.
He conducted a disastrous premiere for the concerto on October 27, 1919. By then unwell and out of fashion, he was slighted by composer Albert Coates, who overran his rehearsal into Elgar’s slot. Lady Elgar, his wife, later wrote: “[That]...selfish ill-mannered bounder ... that brute Coates went on rehearsing.”
At XOYO last month Venetian Snares’ rendition of that ward-composed cello theme was just as fraught, but for better reasons. The crowd were not seated, but moved like grey rapids in the Shoreditch venue; the elegiac theme was not evolved by an orchestra, but interrupted by grated snare drums and a honky tonk piano; the piece was not an instrumental, but accompanied by an extreme vocal sample that would have had Elgar kicked out of the orchestra pit and into the Regents’ Park nick.
Venetian Snares is a prolific electronica artist from Winnipeg who has pioneered the genre of breakcore. His defining work, Rossz csillag alatt született [Hungarian for Born Under a Bad Star] combines jungle percussion and extended sampling of Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Bartók. In it he creates an acrid transcendence into beauty and melancholia through the juxtaposition of extreme orchestral splices and frenetic drum patterns.
This combination is not new, as a contemporary review pointed out, having been used by Aphex Twin in 1995, yet his un-ironic, disturbing take is indeed unique. His extreme emotive intent is perhaps underlined by his use of one Hungarian pianist and composer [Rezs? Seress] whose music, rumour has it, drove 17 people to suicide.
The crowd at XOYO were a slightly older lot than the classic electronica punters, some perhaps students at Mayfair’s ad hoc Temporary School of Thought – or at least the northern Portuguese couple who were smoking a chillum in the outdoor area were.
He assembled a packed house for the show, unusual for a Wednesday night – and his latest album [My So-Called Life] was showcased in full during his set. CCUK, about CCTV, samples female reggae vocals ‘You forget about your liberty’ meshed with a trenchant Chris Morris-style sample ‘We need to be watched by more sophisticated and better cameras’.
Soon after came the disorientating gabba-manic drums underlain by organ tissue-texture synths and dream washes which echo the sound of his Cavalcade of Glee...album, followed by a Marcellus Wallace Pulp Fiction-sampling track Cadaverous.
In Eliot Britton’s excellent analysis of Szerencsétlen, one of Venetian Snares’ tunes, he makes the point that jazz, and elements of classical, were originally dismissed as ‘dance music’. “The climb from a popular musical style to acceptance as an elevated form of artistic expression is steep” he notes. One of Venetian Snares’ closest peers was added to the bill at the Sacrum Profanum modern classical music festival recently – times are changing. Perhaps we can hope for more cohesion between these worlds soon.