Labels We Love: Safer at Night

Curses, Cranks and Total Fitness head up an imprint devoted to dark-hued rhythms.
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Luca Venezia has a thing for the dark hours. As he puts it, "I’ve always been obsessed with nighttime—the magic, the mystery, how everybody become somebody new once the sun goes down." That goes a long way in explaining the twilight sound of NYC's Safer at Night, the label founded by the DJ-producer better known as Curses just over a year ago. Run by the core team of Venezia, Alex "Cranks" Seamens and Lawrence "Total Fitness" Lee, Safer at Night's sound is rooted in house and techno—but it's the kind of house and techno that goes down best in those late, late hours, when the sky is at its darkest and the mood is at its most wicked. So far, besides records from Curses, Cranks and Total Fitness, the label has released tunes from Walker & Royce, J. Phlip, Eli Escobar, DKDS, Jorge Balarezo and others—and now, the crew has just put out its first compilation, Nyctophilia, featuring contributions from Monochroma, BAILE, Pentamon, Baltra, Specialivery and many more.

Curses and Cranks Photo: Razberry Photography

Curses and CranksPhoto: Razberry Photography

Lovers of the low end might know Venezia from his other persona, Drop the Lime, a cofounder of the long-running (and, sadly, now defunct) Trouble & Bass crew. "The Drop the Lime sound was ever-changing," he says. "It went from breakcore to bass music to rockabilly…it was basically an outlet for expressing myself, but I think I just stopped being so ADD about it, basically. I had started to get more attracted to, and more excited about, the new house and techno that was coming out—and I incorporating more and more of that into my Drop the Lime sets. But it didn’t really make sense; it was kind of confusing." He made the decision to rejuvenate his Curses moniker, which he had previously used, in the late ’00s, for releases on Institubes and T&B's in-house label. "And that led to solely playing as Curses—and falling in love with that."

Seamens, who got his start as a hip-hop spinner in Richmond, Virginia, met Venezia in 2009; Lee, another hip-hop head early in his career, hooked up with the label founder at a decidedly non–Safer at Night–like affair. "That was at a Red Bull party that we were both deejaying at," Lee recalls. "It was a real motley crew at that one: Cam’ron, Brenmar, me, Luca and Riff Raff." ("With an open bar—it was a really messy one," Venezia adds.) It wasn't too long after that Safer at Night began to take shape. "I had started playing strictly as Curses," Venezia says. "I wanted to connect with people who were more into that vibe, and that led to hanging out with these two a lot more. It actually started out with us doing a party called Safer at Night, and then we did a mix series revolving around that. Meanwhile, we had this music that was in what became the Safer at Night vibe, but it was the classic scenario: We stuff to all these labels, and none of them wanted to put it out; they all said “Well, it’s not quite what we release.” So finally we just said, “Why don’t we make just make Safer at Night a label, too?”

Besides the dark-hued four-to-the-floor material that defines Safer at Night's sounds, there's this: Almost all of the label's releases include an ambient track as the second cut on the b-side. "We thought that creating a formula like that would allow artists to become a little more experimental than they might usually allow themselves to be—and we wanted to challenge artists to create music that was specifically for the label," Venezia says. Seamens believes that artists enjoy the challenge. "I think producers kind of like the fact that they have to follow a bit of a formula," he says. "I know I do. I like that when I produce for Safer at Night, it’s got to have this kind of dark vibe; I like to know that I have to produce an ambient track. A lot of people get excited by that—they’ll say something like, 'Wait till you hear this music I’m making just for you.'"

Total Fitness

Total Fitness

Lee recalls the first ambient track he ever made—which happened to be the first Total Fitness EP to appear on Safer at Night. "The requirement for the ambient track hadn’t really been set until the night I had to turn my three tracks in," he says. "I got to the studio—we were just going to mix it a little bit and send it to mastering. But when I got there, Luca said, 'We just came up with this formula—we need an ambient tune for the third track.' I had to come up with one on the spot! But it worked out." And it's been working ever since. "The original idea was actually a little selfish on my end, because I had been making a lot of ambient tunes, and I wanted people to hear them.," Venezia says. "My management at the time was totally against it: 'These are weird; we can’t do anything with these; they’re not DJ-friendly.'" But the gamble paid off. "As it turns out," Seamens says, "a lot of DJs do play them!"

And they'll undoubtedly continue to do so, just as they'll keep playing the label's (slightly) more traditional late-night house and techno. With Nyctophilia comp in the shops, we figure it was a good time to ask Team Safer at Night for five of the label's seminal tunes. And here they are, ready for your next excursion into the wee hours.

Curses "Slow Lights"
This was the first track to establish our release formula of three-rack EPs, with the third always being ambient. Artists like Gorgon City, Digweed, and Heidi have all taken a liking to in their sets.

Cranks "Steel City"
Only his second EP for the label, but a staple in all of our sets. Its a great way to leverage a DJ set into a tougher techno sound, and still has driving melodies.

Total Fitness "Moments Us"
This brooding, cinematic song truly captures the spirit of Safer at Night, and has recently been remixed by rising techno star Dubspeeka for our first remix EP.

Walker & Royce featuring Steven Klavier "Tell Me"
These guys are all close friends and all have such great energy. The vocals of Klavier in this ambient version is one of our favorites of his. The man has pipes of silk.

Specialivery "ANKH"
The mysterious Italian-Swiss techno maverick comes with one of his deepest tracks to date for our Nyctophilia comp. Such a perfect track for opening or closing a heavy night.