In an age where producers pick out new monikers as easily as they change outfits, it takes courage to release music under your birth name. Or maybe, as our mixtape guest says, it just takes some “honesty”.
Luca Venezia is one of those producers that always seems to be changing his identity. At Huoliquankai, we’ve known Luca for more than a decade, having heard his sound develop alongside his aliases. The world knew him first as Drop the Lime (DTL) when he was just starting out in New York City. Born of an Italian family and forged by ME America’s largest metropolis, the DTL sound was all about angles, rough edges and raw energy – a digital punk spirit in the budding breakcore scene from the first half of the ‘00s.
Then came the Trouble and Bass collective – co-founded with long-time Huoliquankai friend Vivian Host/Star Eyes, among others. The T&B sound was a tiny bit smoother than DTL, but no less energetic. The crew ran the NYC bass party circuit in the late ‘00s, working their way up from a small weekly in Williamsburg to competing, twice, in RBMA’s Soundclash events, as well as hosting all the big names in the bass music scene that passed through New York. All on top of releasing over 50 tracks on their label of the same name.
Throughout all this, Luca developed a new production alias – Curses. This is his darkly romantic take on techno, house and bass – The Man In Black crossed with 2 Bad Mice. He’s toured the world under that name, even picking up a residency in Vegas for a time, and while he’s known for bombastic shows he’s also a drifter, the dark stranger always on the next flight out of town in the morning.
“The tracks range from new and old ambient and classical composers mixed with various Sicilian folk music, a nod to my Italian heritage.”
So when we asked him for a mixtape for Huoliquankai, we weren’t quite expecting the ambient opus he turned in – more Vangelis than Van Helden. And furthermore, when he told us to put it out under his real name, not one of his aliases, we raised our collective eyebrows. When we asked him about his current musical direction, he had this to say:
“While the majority of my nights are spent immersed in House and Techno, ambient and cinematic music is the soundtrack to my days and evenings at home. This is a mix of music that has a personal connection to me, one that steps away from the club driven sounds my DJ aliases carry. The tracks range from new and old ambient and classical composers mixed with various Sicilian folk music, a nod to my Italian heritage.”
Huoliquankai Mixtape #96 - Luca Venezia
Luca Venezia – Flights
Golden Ratio Syrup – Floristan
John Roberts – Untitled IV
Rainer Veil – Slow Beaming
PTA – Choirtronic
Cranks – The Verdict
La Baronessa Di Cariini – Nu Fazzu Cchiu Lu Carriteri
Harmonia – Gollum
Miles – Rejoice
Shut Up & Dance – Fuck Off And Die
Tommy De Chirico – Flower Into The Factory
Luca Venezia – Light Becomes Dark (Last Defender OST)
Steve Moore – Protomorphosis
Circle Children – Indonesia (Acapella)
Curses – Hongdae
Drop The Lime – Tonight
Luca’s a smart man. Now that he lives in Berlin not far from Huoliquankai, we asked him to drop by ME for a conversation to fill us in on his creative process. He also brought along some of the objects that decorate his studio, using them to guide us through this special mix.
Let’s start with that deck of cards – what is it?
These are my Oblique Strategies deck. Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. These are made in the ’70s but obviously this is a reissue. If you’re stuck when producing music, the idea is you just kind of flip through the deck and find a card. Things like “Make it more sensual.” “Retrace your steps.” Some of these are a little hilarious like “You don’t have to be ashamed of using your own ideas.”
Are they just for fun?
No, I actually really do use them when I’m stuck, or when I make something and think to myself “This is sick, this is really good,” and you’ve been working on it for eight hours. And then you listen the next day and no, you’re wrong, it’s not good. And then I’ll look again and get something like, “Repetition is a form of change.”
So that’s for the production environment – what about when you perform?
For that I have Palo Santo, which is from Peru. It’s a tree that falls naturally in the forest, and has a smell similar to cedar wood. I actually tour with it – use it to clear the room. I don’t do it publicly, but under the decks before I play – unless the person that played before me had great energy [laughs].
You must have had some crazy experiences with other performers before you. What was the worst?
[Laughs] I don’t know if I should go on record about it…
Can you abstractify it?
Sure. It was an old school rave legend, who now makes more EDM-style music. At the time he was having his comeback and return, and we were playing a few gigs together. He did a great job, crowd was going wild, and he decided to be a rock star and pick up the CDJs. And he smashes them, right before I went on… which resulted in me not being able to perform.
What did you do?
There was nothing I could do! I couldn’t perform – everyone just packed up and left. The sound guys were furious.
Your roots and your family have always been important to you – that relates to the next object, yes?
Right. So I recently went to Italy to visit my family, and I hadn’t been there in eight years besides playing shows. Most are in Trevi now, a small town in Umbria. There was this shop there that I used to go to and buy my school notebooks and other stuff when I was a kid. The store was going out of business, it was the final sale. Everything from the basement, stuff that must have been there since from the ’60s and ’70s. The overstock. Like this. A clothes pin and a pen that’s actually 24 carat plated.
I think maybe it’s actually supposed to be a paperweight. But it’s so amazing as an object, I was drawn to it more as a piece of minimalist art. Both my dad and Godfather were/are visual artists in that field – and with my godfather being Sol LeWit, I grew up all around that. Clean, sharp, ‘50s and ‘60s design.
Does that aesthetic show up in the mix?
Sure. When I’m making mixes, and in particular this mix, which was more cinematic, ambient-type music, I definitely approach creation with a visual in mind. How do the songs work together visually? For example, if a sound has water in it, and another sound has air in it, how do those two blend together, visually and musically? For me it’s all audio and visual selections. Putting maybe a little piano piece from one song over the synth pads from another track. Then an acapella on top of those two. I have even sampled a lot of old Sicilian folk songs.
And those appear throughout.
Yup. So I’ve had this double vinyl, La Baronessa Di Carini, for fifteen years, since I was a teenager. I’ve sampled it here and there, but never finished anything with it. It has this amazing Arabic influence in it – because Sicily’s so close to Northern Africa. There’s this crazy vocal technique of singing, sounding Arabic even though they’re singing in Italian, and I love that. It’s really mystical and romantic.
And that’s the classic musician’s notebook?
Yes but you know what? I think I grabbed the wrong notebook – because this one’s mostly blank! But there’s one good page – this is the drawing for Curses, my most recent House/Techno project. We were going to do a new photo shoot, but since then I’ve gotten rid of the hat and such. Curses is something strictly for the club, but now I’m definitely pushing into new territories that are less dance-floor oriented – releasing music under my own name.
Right – which is how you’ve done this mix for us. Why the change? What’s that about?
It’s somewhat about this new direction. A mixture of very ambient, melodic, romantic music, but honest, really honest. Singing, playing with my voice, returning to using a lot of Max/MSP, weird sound structures, and really just honest. Because when I make music as Curses or Drop the Lime, I’m always thinking of the DJ or the dance-floor. The music I make under my own name [Laughs] to be fair, is a little bit selfish, because it’s what pleases me the most.
Which plays into doing it under my own name as well. I sometimes see an alias as a safety net, where you can be whatever you want to be. If you pretend to be something, you can create a whole background, a whole story – you can be someone else that you would never be.
But just going straight with your name, you get rid of the net, and you take that risk. It’s similar to the reason why I moved back to Berlin as well. I felt too comfortable in New York city, too safe, uninspired at that moment and needed something new.
Have you paired with anybody where you were working from the ground up, so it’s not just about matching, it’s collaborating?
I haven’t, but I would love to. The way Badalamenti and David Lynch did Twin Peaks together is magical.
And these days you’re starting to do more music for film?
Yeah. Cinematic things, working with short films, stuff with my friend, Lawrence Lee (Total Fitness), who runs Safer at Night with me and Cranks. Lawrence also shares a similar love for cinematic sounds and such. And from the music point of view, it’s exciting because you’re not thinking about the club, which is refreshing. You have to match someone else’s creative vision – then add your own interpretation of what you think they might be trying to convey.