Drop the Lime Brings Together Dance Music and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Drop the Lime, AKA Luca Venezia, first made his name as a bass producer and DJ, then as founder of the label Trouble & Bass. After being a staple on the dance music circuit for years, he’s finally released a full-length album, Enter The Night (Ultra Records) that sees him seamlessly blending mid-century influences with electronic music. True to its name, it’s a love letter to living in the moment while referencing the past. His lyrics detail dark-hearted nocturnal wanderings, set to slinking, pulsing electronic productions with a rockabilly edge. It’s a sound that’s haunting, sexy, and undeniably Venezia’s own. The native New Yorker has also carved out a unique look for himself, with slicked-back hair, a gold tooth, and an all-black wardrobe that frequently features shiny wingtips and harness suspenders.

Toward the end of CMJ 2011, I saw Venezia deliver a storming set with his then-new live band that started at 2am, which proved that he is capable of reanimating the dead. It also made it a little strange to meet him in the daylight earlier this week, out back at Roberta’s pizzeria in Brooklyn. I talked to Venezia (and his drummer, Patrick Dery) about Enter The Night, retro style, and the mainstreaming of dance music.

You’ve started touring with the full band more recently, right?
Yeah, I’ve been switching back and forth between DJing and doing the live show. Both of those performances are key to what Drop the Lime is. It’s about dance music, but it’s also about rock ‘n’ roll. Having those two together is important.

Is there one you want to do more than the other at this point?
No, not at all. I am a DJ, I am very passionate about it and love it, but I’m also in love with playing guitar. They go hand in hand, basically.

When did you start pushing the full show more?
Once this whole album got wrapped up. The entire record is very live oriented, mixed with electronics, so it only made sense to have a live band and bring that human element to a synthetic genre like dance music. I always think it’s important to have that punk, DIY energy and attitude, mixed with club music.

When did you record the album?
This year, really. Some of the songs are older songs that were redone, that have evolved and transformed. One, for example, is "Devil’s Eyes." I released that three years ago, but the version on the album is softer, kind of like a hip-hoppier version, a little dirtier. I recorded a lot of it here in Brooklyn, at the Trouble & Bass clubhouse, then I recorded a lot of it in New Orleans, and wrote a lot of it in New Orleans as well. I went down to New Orleans, turned my phone off, and just went alone, got crazy, listened to amazing music, and experienced weird voodoo and cemetery haunts. It was wild.

Since dance music has such a culture of singles and EPs, what made you decide that it was time to put out a full album?
I’ve always been inspired by albums. Artists like Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen or completely different ones like Björk and Radiohead. They always put out albums, and albums that have had a huge impact on me, creatively and emotionally. I wanted to do the same thing. It was only only natural for me to approach making an album versus putting out a various number of singles. The record that I made is not a DJ record, it’s something you can listen to. If you want, you can DJ it, but it’s beyond the club.

Let’s talk about the title, Enter The Night.
The whole record’s basically a story, and it’s about the mystery that darkness provokes, the mystery that the night invites. You meet new people and you get into these situations that can be dangerous, and they can be sexy and passionate. They can happen with strangers, and they can happen with best friends. These things only happen within the nighttime, and the nighttime is always this turning hour where it brings the darker and more romantic side out of people. My album’s about that. It’s about jumping into the night. Enter the night, lose all your inhibitions, be romantic, and don’t limit yourself to anything.

When you say it’s a story, would you say you’ve developed yourself and your experiences into a sort of character?
The line is so blurred now with who I am and what Drop The Lime is, I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if I’m Dracula or if I’m Luca, I don’t know if I’m Drop The Lime or if I’m Luca.

Everything’s about nighttime, darkness. A lot of the songs, like "Stay Up Late" and "Darkness."

Is that why "Hot as Hell" didn’t make the cut?
"Hot As Hell" is older. We released it as a single with Ministry of Sound and Ultra. It was a good progression for me to explain why I’m making the music I am now with my album, leaving clubbier songs like "Sex Sax" and the older singles and bringing more of a rockabilly vibe into my sound.

Can you talk a little more about your trip to New Orleans?
I had to go alone. I had been on tour for a very long time and constantly around people and constantly in clubs. I needed to hear new music, I needed to be inspired by instruments. I also needed to be inspired by strangers. I wanted to meet new people and have adventures that I would experience alone. It was the same as someone going off into the desert and taking peyote, basically. I went out there and I drank moonshine and I went to random houses and went to the bayou and ate oysters and heard bluegrass and heard jazz on Frenchmen Street, it was very inspirational.

Which songs were most directly influenced by that environment?
The opening track, "Not The Only One" is directly about New Orleans and my experience down there. It talks about how I’ll go down there and I was inspired, but a lot of other people as well are inspired by the energy of that city. "Bandit Blues" is like a torrid love affair that I have with New York City, but also comparing it with the eeriness and heavy influence that New Orleans had on the album as well.

Was there a sense of culture shock?
Yeah, it was crazy. When I went down there, it wasn’t packed with tourists at the time. I had a lot of friends who recommended me to other friends down there, so I was going to these places that were insane to me. In the bayou, swampy houses, it’s huge culture shock [from] growing up in Manhattan.

And then you’ve also spent some time in Germany and Italy?
Yeah, I used to go to Italy every summer until I was about 18. My family’s Italian, and I can speak Italian. I tour there a lot, too, I DJ there a lot. In 2005, I moved to Berlin. At the time, I was making very experimental electronic music, kind of noisy, punk, live, crazy [stuff]. Some people called it breakcore, some people called it noise, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), whatever you want to call it. Moving to Berlin, I got exposed to all the minimal techno, and I was going to clubs like Weekend and Bar25 and all these spots were insane to me. And I realized, "Oh, techno is amazing." Artists like DJ T and Tiefschwarz and Booka Shade, all of these guys had a huge impact on me. I started to grow a stronger love and appreciation of incorporating techno and house into my music.

Where are your favorite places to go on tour?
Australia is insane. Sydney, unbelievable. I absolutely love Paris, I love Partanna in Sicily, great scene. Amazing scene in Belgium, in Brussels. Europe’s more open-minded and they’re always ahead of us, in America. I love playing the States, Los Angeles is always a great place to play. But Europe and the UK, they’re always ready for what’s new, while in America, we like to be familiar with what’s current.

And there’s so much more of a dance culture in Europe.
Yeah, we’re a more hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll culture, while in Europe, it’s dance music.

Would you say you get a better response over there?
It’s different. I get an amazing response here, but it’s different. I’ll maybe play more rock ‘n’ roll in my sets in America, and say, if I’m in Belgium, I’ll play more techno in a set. That’s what I love about DJing, I can jump around with genres, it doesn’t matter. Even playing live, it’s a very dance-y affair. It’s like a rock ‘n’ roll rave.

You’ve said that the only way to really enjoy New York is through music. Can you expand on that?
I feel like there’s so much music in the city, whether it’s out of cars, in stores, right now, in a restaurant, in bars, music is everywhere in the city. You have to embrace that there’s such a diversity and not judge it, just love it and bring all the genres together and let them inspire you. That’s the way I see New York City breathe. That’s how it thrives, through music.

So what are some things going on in New York that you’re excited about?
I love the party Night People at Le Bain, I love the Let’s Play House events. My whole crew, Trouble & Bass, we just started our whole month again. We went back to the whole punk, DIY approach, throwing a party. We were doing big parties for thousands of people at LPR and Webster Hall, and we decided to take it way left and do more of a warehouse-y vibe. So we’re doing 200, 300-capacity venues now and making sure that whoever’s there is there for new music and there to hear music, not just some party people going, "We want to hear all the songs on the radio!" We’re going to play songs you’ve never heard before, and that crowd is there to enjoy that, and I want to inspire them. [When] young DJs and producers come to our party, I hope that they leave that party and go straight to their laptops and start making a song.

There’s a cover of "State Trooper" on your record. Is that your favorite Springsteen song?
It’s weird, I was never a real Springsteen fan at all. I don’t remember who told me to listen to Nebraska, but somehow, I got my hands on Nebraska. It’s different, because it’s him on acoustic guitar, and it’s a little darker. "State Trooper" just really got me, it has a vibe that, in a way, is very club-oriented. It’s got this chugging, lost-on-a-highway attitude that I was immediately drawn to putting a beat over.

What do you think Springsteen’s current role and legacy in music is?
It’s crazy, my manager recently showed me a picture of him crowdsurfing with his guitar on, and he’s what, in his 60s? Amazing. He’s the Boss, he’ll always be the Boss. He’s very American, rock ‘n’ roll staple, and that will never change. You ask anybody, "Who’s American and who’s rock ‘n’ roll and alive?" People may think Elvis, Johnny Cash, but Springsteen’s strong and kicking. That’s his role.

Do you think a lot about what being American means in music and that sort of identity?
No, everything I do is very universal. I think about everything internationally, constantly. That’s because I’m influenced internationally, and our country right now is a little bit of a mess. The America of the 1950s was iconic. It was a very romantic period that we’ve kind of forgotten and lost. Actually, only recently, I think we’ve started to embrace it a little more from shows like Mad Men or something like all of the craft cocktail bars that have popped up and the love for ‘40s jazz. I feel like because our country is in such turmoil and political mess and such a financial crisis, we’re turning to these romantic periods and being influenced by them and appropriating it in our own way to now. It puts a mask over the negative aspects of our country and lets us enjoy it.

There’s also an ‘80s thing going on, but the ‘80s were also tied to the ‘50s in their own way.
It’s always weird to me how, since the ‘90s, from ’99 on, we’ve never created our own new footprint, culturally or stylistically. We’ve constantly looked back at what worked and pulled from it. The 1950s didn’t pull from the ‘20s, the 1960s didn’t pull from the ‘50s, the ‘70s didn’t pull from the ‘50s. They always were something brand new and fresh. But we’ve always pulled from the past.

Imagery seems to be very important to you. Has it been that way since the beginning?
Yes. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was raised by an abstract painter and a fine art photographer. Everything was always very artistic and visual for me. I don’t know why, but since day one, I was combing my hair at six years old, trying to look like Elvis, black jean jackets and Roger Rabbit t-shirts. I was trying to be cool. I was just always attracted to standing out, stylistically, just because that little attention to detail causes you to pay attention to every detail in life. It makes you happier and it causes you to be motivated and more productive.

So this is basically the culmination of a lifelong obsession?
Yeah, when I got my first guitar, it was Christmas, I was seven years old, and the first thing I did was have my mom take a Polaroid of me holding the guitar, put sunglasses on, and then splash water all over me to look like it was fake sweat. So yes, I was always thinking about the visual aspect, artistically.

How has your set of references evolved over the years? It seems like you’ve been into this look for a long time.
I’ll always have staples that will stick with me forever, and then I’ll always evolve and adapt over time. I’m always drawn to whatever’s new, whatever’s exciting, but I love to combine it with what’s inspired me from day one. Like the 1950s, I’ll forever be inspired by it, visually. Artists like Elvis, Johnny Burnette, or Johnny Cash forever inspire me. But then I’ll also be inspired by Rick Owens. Musically, I’ll be inspired by someone like Clams Casino. It changes, but I’ll always have it mixed with my early root [influences].

How would you describe your style currently?
(laughs) My style currently is a mess. I think I’m becoming more and more Johnny Cash-influenced. You open my closet, and it’s all black. Have you ever seen The Great Silence?

No, what is that?
It’s an old western film: Il Grande Silenzio. It’s Italian. Sergio Leone, it’s a Kinski film. He plays a villain in it. This western takes place in snow. It’s amazing, unlike any other Western. It’s in like Utah, there’s snow everywhere, and he wears all black. Head to toe, black spurs, black mask, so badass. That’s where I’m at right now.

Cool. So, you’re not afraid to apply the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) label to yourself when a lot of other producers want to distance themselves from it. Why is it?
Am I not afraid? (laughs)

You used it in the track-by-track guide to your album.
Here’s what’s funny. We have to remember, if you do your research, EDM was a term that’s been around forever. [It was] around ten years ago. But it just happens to be that journalists hyped it up more [now]. It’s been around for a very long time. The same way IDM has been around. I make electronic music, and I love electronic music, and I’ll never stop making electronic music. So if what I make wants to be labeled EDM now, fine, sure. Label me with it. People are so quick to be like, "Fuck that, that’s popular? No! I don’t make that! I don’t make electro, I don’t make dubstep." Whatever. I make music, and you can all put me in whatever category you want to put me. As long as you are supporting me and like the music, I don’t care. You can call me trance, if you think I’m trance. For real, if you think I’m trance, then fine. You still like my music, then fine, I don’t give a shit.

I guess it’s more like saying this isn’t a trend, it’s been around for years.
I think that people get afraid that they’re a flash in the pan. It’s quick to get attention, and if you’re part of a huge hype…I wouldn’t say that I’m part of the EDM explosion at all. But artists that are more dubstep-heavy and electro-house heavy definitely are part of the EDM craze. I just happen to be cruising in the same lane.

Now anyone who turns up at the Miami Winter Conference, it’s turned into this huge thing.
It’s crazy, though. Because right now, we’re all hyped about this, but it’s not new. Like the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Crystal Method, Underworld, this shit already happened. It’s a cycle, it’s natural. And what’s going to happen again soon is the same cycle that happened after the Prodigy and Chemical Brothers, the resurgence of rock ‘n’ roll, where you have the Strokes, and you have the Hives, and you have the Vines. It’s about to happen again. Which is why I want to embrace both sides, that’s why I’m drawn to that.

Yeah, because everything right now’s about "Is guitar music over?"
Yeah, of course. But that’s what happened. Think about when the Strokes [arrived]. "Guitar music’s over," and the next thing you know, you’ve got the new Frank Sinatra.

So you think it’s going to come back around within the next couple of years?
It will always come back around. The reason why the saying is "Rock ‘n’ roll will never die" is [because] rock ‘n’ roll will never die. It’s part of a universal culture, and I couldn’t explain why. For example, when I play a festival, it could be in Amsterdam, I could be playing a DJ set, and halfway through my set, I’ll do rockabilly songs, and I’ll do edits. You could see 10,000 people jumping up and down, and they’ll all switch to swing dancing. They could be like 16 years old, there’s no reason why they know what swing dancing is. But for some reason, even these Dutch people have this rock ‘n’ roll embedded in their culture, and it’s embedded in every culture, universally. It will never go away. It’s an attitude, it’s a drive. It’s weird, I couldn’t tell you why.

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