It’s 4 a.m. on a cold, deserted North London lane. The streetlight reflects in Luca Venezia’s pointed patent brogues as he dances down the middle of the street, stabbing his gentleman’s umbrella at the air in front of him, his knees and elbows cutting sharp angles against the sky. He turns to me and fires off a maniacal cackle, the moonlight glinting off his gold tooth. I realize I’m watching a mad magician. He’s drunk all the laudanum, huffed all the ether, and is fully possessed by the powers of the night.
You can hear this voodoo dance in the music Venezia makes as Drop The Lime. It’s followed him from frantic, romantic early breakcore releases on Ambush and Broklyn Beats through his mid-2000s Tigerbeat6 albums, This Means Forever and We Never Sleep, and the wobble ’n’ skurk of his current crop of singles, which pitch-shift and skank their way through a genre-bending array of bass-driven styles. For such a young artist–he just turned 27–Venezia already has a signature sound: chopped-up breaks making hairpin turns, breakdowns coming out of nowhere, a foundation of wobbling goblin bass often cut in with tropical, clacking snares. While his constant stream of remixes (of Moby, Blaqstarr, Midnight Juggernauts, Boy 8-Bit) kept him on many a DJ’s radar in 2008, his solo work shows the real soul of Drop The Lime, particularly when he’s delivering enigmatic lyrics in his singularly scratchy, bluesy notes.
This Charming Man
“I like what happens when you enter darkness and just let go of the daylight,” says Venezia. “Darkness, in a sense not only of nighttime and the night life, but as something that’s so big and contains a million possibilities. There is no limit to darkness, you can make anything happen. You can reach any obstacles, you don’t know what’s ahead of you, and I like that idea of mystery.”
By the time he’s saying this, we’re not in London anymore, and it’s anything but dark outside. Since tequila is DTL’s favorite vice (that’s how he got his name), this interview is being conducted over late-afternoon margaritas in New York’s East Village. And this isn’t the first time we’ve danced with Patron. I first met Venezia in 2004, at one of the Bangers & Mash grime parties he was throwing with Team Shadetek. (Full disclosure: We now DJ together in a crew called Trouble & Bass.) Back then, on the cusp of 2006’s transitional album We Never Sleep, he was a rave punk with a cowlicked mohawk and an all-over-print hoodie (silk-screened himself). Sitting before me now, he’s a sort of rockabilly warlock: all skinny jeans, dagger tattoo, and pomaded pompadour. The look alludes to a childhood love of doo-wop and ’60s soul, its Frank Sinatra-gone-goth overtones suggesting both his smooth-talking Sicilian background and the fashion tips picked up from touring (under the alias Curses!) with the stylish Frenchmen of the Institubes label.
Venezia is addicted to change–to the exacerbation of some friends and fans–but his morphing isn’t without meaning, and he pays just as much attention to the visual aesthetic of Drop The Lime as he does the music. “I definitely always had an image attached to Drop The Lime,” Venezia explains. “I made all of the artwork for even my Ambush release ’cause I was so excited to have that first 12-inch out. I had my mom take press photos with me thugged out, but with my own twist to it, like tight jeans and a gold chain, flashing my gold tooth–and my head was chopped off in the press pictures. I did it all myself in Photoshop and made myself a logo. I had the whole idea of romantic but still pretty violent imagery–ornamental guns and knives, birds being shot and bleeding with flowers coming out of them.”
Born to Rock
To hear Venezia tell it, he’s always thirsted for the limelight. “I saw the movie La Bamba when I was seven, and I all of a sudden I wanted to be a rock star,” he recalls. His parents got him guitar lessons and a drum machine, and by the age of 12, he was making up fake bands, complete with recorded songs, album covers, and videos. By the time he was enrolled at NYC’s Professional Performing Arts high school he had a goofy public-access show called Where’s Willis Jones? and his own clothing label called Alien Poser (a raver-pants-making parody of skatewear company Alien Workshop).
Venezia’s sense of self and creative freedom can partially be chalked up to a wild, charmed childhood spent between Manhattan and Italy. Growing up around artists–his father is abstract painter Michael Venezia; his mother, Carol, is a photographer; family friends include minimalist masterminds Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin–made it seem normal to make a living doing what you love. “There was always this process of creation in the apartment,” he recalls. “My parents were always like, ‘What new song did you do?’ or ‘Look at this photograph I took, what do you think? or ‘Look at this painting I’m working on.’ It wasn’t until I went to college that I really appreciated that support and the fact that the way I grew up was unique. But I used to just take it for granted. If I got mad at my dad I’d fling broccoli at his painting.”
Experiments in Sound
Attending college at Bard was really where Venezia had time to develop his music, and get his mind blown in the process. While he was already making computer music (Ed Rush & Optical-inspired drum & bass, to be exact), faculty members Bob Bielecki and Richard Teitelbaum introduced him to Max/MSP software, granular synthesis, and found-sound sampling. “We would be sitting in class and all of a sudden we would hear a chair squeaking, and I’d look up and Teitelbaum would be playing the chair as his instrument, recording it scraping on the floor,” he remembers. “It was incredibly inspiring, like a big smack to the brain, and it really changed the way I thought about music.”
Listening to experimental electronic artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, Venezia pushed deeper into distortion, and you can definitely hear these influences on 2005’s This Means Forever, a compilation of ideas sprouted from Venezia’s devil-may-care attitude. “It was like, ‘Hey, what’s up guys. I’m Drop The Lime and I don’t give a shit about nothing. Try to dance to this,” he explains. Its manic breaks, messed-with samples, and ear-piercing distortion topped with insane screamed lyrics about soundbwoys found favor in the breakcore scene, and he began playing underground gigs with the likes of Venetian Snares, Hearts of Darknesses, and Kid 606.
“My first show overseas was in Ghent, Belgium,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to play on the stage. I played on the floor. I’m singing, running around, cutting myself; it was my first time overseas and I wanted to give it my all. There was silence for what felt like five minutes after my set, but then the crowd went into a roaring rage. I knew right then that I was doing the right thing.”
Fast-forward three years and Drop The Lime’s work sounds far from his breakcore roots; as recent singles like “Hear Me” and “What I Need” attest, Drop The Lime’s mission these days is to rough-up more floor-friendly genres like dubstep, electro, and house.
“Singing more and having more of a dance sound to my music is where I felt more comfortable,” he says, shrugging. “I always wanted that but I thought that it was more bad-ass and punk to be like, ‘Fuck you four-to-the-floor, you guys are a bunch of sell-outs.’ Until I moved to Berlin for six months. I realized I don’t need to make fucked-up music; I don’t need to be a dickhead. I want to dance. It’s cool for people to dance.”
That’s not to say that Venezia’s lost his attitude. “When I was doing breakcore, I was making music that was impossible to dance to in order to fuck with people. And that’s still there. I’ll make a dance tune where all of a sudden it will switch up into a swing beat and you will be like, ‘What the fuck just happened?’”
“I like risk,” says Venezia animatedly. “I like the adventure of experimenting with new sounds, new people. I think people are being too safe, honestly… What’s exciting to me about electronic music is you have the capability of pushing the envelope that far; you can do stuff that a guitarist, a drummer, and a bass player can’t do. You can really hit frequencies that those instruments can’t.”
Talk of frequencies is something you hear a lot in conjunction with Drop The Lime’s name, particularly in reference to the brand of snarling, wobbly bass that is his trademark. People seldom mention that he sings, though it’s his lyrics that reveal the romantic, pensive side that you may never get to see in a club. On We Never Sleep, he pines for New York, singing about summer Ecstasy trips on the swings and late nights. “Coal Oven Furnaces,” for instance, was about “having a really hard time living in Berlin and wanting to leave and go back home... and having a coal furnace in the apartment.” While the titles of his club singles (“I Love NY,” “New York City Massacre”) often pay homage to the city that made him, his album tracks are full of the kind of lyrics that can only happen after the afterparty is over, when you’re home alone sorting out your wild emotions. Recent number “I Need To Feel,” with its lyrics “It’s hard to love forever when the fights they last all night… I need to feel alive,” is a perfect example.
“That came about because I had just broken up with a girl I was with for a long time and it really pushed things into focusing on what makes me feel happy and really following my vision,” he says.
“I’ll be walking down the street just singing songs in my head,” offers Venezia when asked about his writing process. “That’s when I come up with the most creative things. I will sing melodies into my phone and then I’ll come home and work it out into a song. I sometimes sing in Italian mixed with gibberish and then go back and translate what it sounds like–it’s almost like speaking in tongues. It’s really my true inner-self coming out. There’s no mask or being afraid of, like, facing the harsh reality of the situation; you just go and sing whatever, and then you realize later what it means.”
Drop The Lime is currently at work on a new album, due in summer 2009, featuring many guest vocalists; he’s also rehearsing to perform his music with a live band. Though this next step in his fast-paced evolution could sound wildly different, Venezia points out that his philosophy remains more or less the same.
“For me, it’s all about giving the music a punk and soulful attitude but also playing with the suspense and release of a song and working a crowd so that you build this emotional relationship within one song. That’s what I was trying to do in breakcore, and that’s what I’m trying to do now. Even though the bpm is different, it’s still the same attack.
“I feel like I’ve always had the same romantic energy in my music. It’s always had a sexy edge to it. It’s really important to me to have this human touch and the most intense human touch would be something romantic, something sexual. I always want to indulge in everything that is the extreme. Indulging in the extreme of human sexuality and mixing that with the extreme of the musical experience–that's what I crave.”