Q&A: Drop The Lime On Growing Up With New York's Dance Underground, Bringing Punk To Le Bain, And The "Devil's Music"
Dracula is the image most frequently equated with Trouble and Bass founder and DJ Drop the Lime. "It's because I'm a night owl, always showing up everywhere," says Luca Veneziaand he's a New York night owl at that. Born and raised downtown to artist parents, Venezia has lived through three decades of the city's growing dance community: hardcore and punk shows and warehouse raves in the nineties, his own drum-n-bass and breakcore experimentations in the early aughts, and the early days of the now-massive DIY bass and electro scenes in Brooklyn via the Trouble and Bass collective.
While electro, club, grime, and bass influences have always been the most prominent in his better-known dance productions, Venezia has always had a slightly odd rocker undertone to his live performances: He identifies as much with rockabilly as he does with dance, and credits Elvis Presley as one of his idols as a performer. With last week's release of his new album Enter The Night (Ultra), Venezia brings his rocker edge to the forefront with a sultry, downtempo collection of songwriting that rely on techno minimalism and more subtly knocking synths to back it up. The result sounds something like a score for an an old-timey Western directed by David Lynch.
SOTC talked to Drop the Lime a few days before Enter The Night's release about the growth of the New York dance underground, how rockabilly and electro aren't all that different, why sex and music are inseparable, and the motivation behind his new album.
You're born and raised in downtown Manhattan, right? How did that affect what you were listening to growing up?
I'm an only child raised by an abstract painter and a fine arts photographer. My dad is Brooklyn raised; he bought a loft in the '70s in Tribeca. He and my mother always played music in the house. Like, constantly. He was more classical and opera while my mother was more rockabilly, blues, and jazz. Bob Dylan and stuff like that. But she also had a keen ear; I heard Björk for the first time through my mom. Talking Heads and Radiohead too. It was weird. So at a really early age I wanted to play guitar. And then I saw the Ritchie Valens [biopic] La Bamba. Seeing all the screaming girls, the showmanship, while being passionate about an art and making a living while inspiring other people, I wanted to be that.
I was seven years old then and my parents were supportive and bought me a guitar. I took guitar lessons and immediately got into it; I was making love songs and tapes and recording on a straight-up tape recorder. I would make tapes for girls in my class and, I don't know, I was trying to live this rockstar lifestyle at young age. This was the late '80s, early '90s. I had a girlfriend at eight and would get in trouble at school for putting my arm around her in class and stuff. I had no idea what I was doing. [Laughs.]
When did you start getting into dance music?
Probably the mid or late '90s. The time felt so raw. I was hanging out with people who were older than me so my first real musical outing down in Tribeca was going to hardcore shows at Wetlands. I lived on North Moore street, right across from the [firehouse] in Ghostbusters. When you're growing up in New York, you end up go to a lot of house parties and hang out on stoops. As a teenager, it's a very mixed group of people. I went to public school, Professional Performing Arts school, so I hung out with a mixed group of people; people who liked the Cramps and then people who loved Wu-Tang.
Around 15 I was dating a girl who brought me to my first rave. At the time I was in a hardcore band and was really into Minor Threat, Fugazi, Helmet, Quicksand, and Jesus Lizard. But I reluctantly went to this rave, Chemical Brothers were playing, and this big promoter Scotto from [club night] NASA days put it on. It changed my life. I was like, what is this?! I didn't understand; there was this one guy up there and thousand of people are dancing. You could feel the music more than you could at a punk show because of the all of the bass and so on. So, yeah, it immediately became my lifestyle.
You became a raver?
A straight-up raver. Immediately. From a punk guy and skateboarding guy to a raver. I was still into playing guitar but, yeah. I think that happened to a lot of people though.
Going to see dance music while living in New York during the mid-'90s house era must have been great.
I was not into house music at all. I was drum-n-bass through and through. Hardcore into drum-n-bass. I thought house was commercial and boring and couldn't find anything interesting about it.
It's interesting that you thought house was super commercial when you were going to see chart-ranked acts like the Chemical Brothers.
I know, right? It must have been the people I was hanging out with. What happened was that I was hanging out with these guys Burner Brothers, DJ Pish-Posh, DJ Scene. DJ Scene, Al, really taught me about DJing and beat-matching. I bought my first turntables and they weren't Technics, they were, like, American DJ Pro or something. I got this old Akai sampler, an S-20, it's not even an MPC. I was so clueless at the time that I even thought jungle and drum-n-bass records were made with drum machines. I didn't realize they used samples. I would try to make that "Amen Break" by compressing sounds and distorting sounds. It finally just killed me one day. I called up Breakbeat Science, where I got all my records and was like, "How the hell do you make this sound" and then played him a DJ Hype record over the phone. He was like, "Uhhhh, it's a sample."
As an outsider looking back at that time, '90s New York always seemed very DIY to me. With the punk-rock, dance...
Even in hip-hop. RZA's productions were very punk. Very DIY, very gritty. He didn't give a fuck.
Drop The Lime, "Hot As Hell"
I was going to say that your DJ collective and label Trouble & Bass felt very much like a DIY dance collective when you started out in... 2004, was it?
Yeah, it's kinda crazy. Trouble & Bass is what I wanted my DJ name to be. I thought it added a funny comic thing to a sometimes serious genre, you know? Dance DJs took themselves so seriously. I let it go and followed it up with Drop the Lime.
Where did that come from?
"Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash. For a while that was my alias. I played a festival at Pianos called Audio Star with Girl Talk back in 2004. They messed up when they called the festival and said "Drop the Lime" in the Voice, I think, and then it happened again. My friends would jokingly call me Drop the Lime and then it stuck.
I swear I heard you give a different explanation of your name to someone else. Something about it being the translation of an old Italian saying?
I might be fucking with you right now.
Or I might have been fucking with her. Who knows, really?
How did Trouble & Bass start? Where did you all meet?
I used to go to Italy every summer and I spent my first summer, finally, in New York as an adult. I used to throw this party called Bangers & Mash and used to bring all these grime dudes over for it. We'd book Jammer and D Double E and Plastician. Vivian [Star Eyes] was in Syrup Girls and working at XLR8R and was like, "Whoa I love you guys. I wanna play your party." So they played our party and we immediately hit it off and ended up doing a mixtape together on Tigerbeat6 called Shotgun Wedding.
Then I went to the Cut NYC party one night. I was with my crew when I see these two dudes [Shark and The Captain], and we were like "Oh god, look at those fucking hipsters. What fucking hipster punks." Shark had this all-over print vintage Gucci ladies coat on with plugs. The Captain had, like, a Louis Vuitton hat on with tattoos everywhere and plugs. I was like, "Seriously, what fucking hipsters!" Then Captain came up to me and was like, "Hey you're Drop the Lime, we should get you to play my party sometime." So I thought they must not be so bad.
I ended up playing their party with Larry Tee, which was funny in itself because I used to go to Luxe to all of his electroclash nights. Anyways, I really found myself in the right company in New York for the first time. I felt like I had found people who were hungry for something new and were very passionate about NY nightlife and music. We all had punk backgrounds but we all had a different take on what we loved: Vivian was more Miami Bass and ghettotech, I had grime and dubstep, Zak Shadetek, who was part of the crew then, had an electro side. Mixing that together meant us playing any genre no matter what it was.
As long as it had the same attitude or energy, basically as punk, then we would play it. I think that people were waiting for something dangerous and different to come. Even garage rock, like the Strokes, they had a different sort of vibe about them but their shows were all so clean and staged and pretty. We were rocking a shitty room under the Williamsburg Bridge back when no one would even go to Williamsburg. We'd max out the speakers mid-party and have to play off of one. Or someone would knock a turntable and we'd go on playing on one because the whole party was freaking out to some song they never heard before.
It seems like the shared punk background has played a big role in T&B's music and visual aesthetic too. The T&B brand has a dark rockabilly thing to it that's very Cry-Baby.
I obviously love Cry-Baby. The reason I was drawn to combine rockabilly and dance music is that they both shared this kind of rebellious attitude. Rockabilly, when it was a thing that existed in the '50s, came about because kids were going out and sneaking out from their parents' house to go dance to music and hook up with people and get wild and cause trouble. They'd go out and race hot rods against each other and be bad, you know? Rock and roll in general is that. If you listen to interviews with Carl Perkins, you get these amazing responses of like, "Rock and roll is the devil's music. It provokes sex and is bad for our youth." And of course, Elvis shaking his hips and the cameras not showing that, that whole side of sex is the same in dance music.
Yeah, you can see and hear that '50s Elvis vibe on your live act. Tell us about Drop the Lime's transition from being a DJ/producer to a live act with vocals and a band.
Drop the Lime actually started as a live act with me on Ableton on controllers singing and sampling myself. But it was more of a punk edge to electronic dance music. Some people called it breakcore or hardcore or IDM at the time. It's evolved to this state where I've incorporated more and more of my rock and roll influence. In a weird way I've come full circle back to where I began. I saw that people would get down to it in the same way that they would at a punk or a live show, which I thought was crucial to maintain in music with this synthetic sound.
I really only started to DJ more when I did my Curses project on Institubes and was on tour with Para One and Surkin. No one knew me on those tours and I knew that I would have to start DJing if I was going to keep up with them live.
Drop The Lime, "Curses! DJ Mix 2012"
Let's talk about the concept behind Enter The Night. It's surprising to hear you make an album that's made up of songs instead of straight dance music.
I love electronic music, I love rockabilly, I love blues, I love Western music, I love hip-hop. I just love music. For me personally, it's my natural instinct to constantly evolve and pull from different influences in my immediate life. I've been going to a lot of shows and concerts and it made me pick up my guitar again.
Enter the Night is a torrid love affair with the city. I fucking love New York City. It is my city and I can't live anywhere else, I've tried. I tried living in Berlin and came back. At the same time, it's such a frustrating city. But it's also a very giving city. It's something that you have to embrace. The last song of the album, "Leaving," is really about me allowing myself to not worry about what anyone else thinks or critiques. It's about making music that makes me happy. If other people happen to enjoy it, that's amazing. As cheesy as it sounds, I make my music because it keeps me going. If people don't like it, then fuck 'em. If they like it, God bless 'em.
You're not worried that your fans may be confused by it? I mean, because it's not the club-friendly Drop the Lime that they'd might expect.
I would never want to alienate those fans that love the party-rocking Drop the Lime. We're doing a "night versions" of the album that comes out on October 30, the night before Halloween. They're all remixes I've done. When I'm going on tour and playing DJ sets, I'll be playing the night versions of the album. I love to get down and go crazy and party, so it's important to me that I put this album out first so that people really soak in the songs and understand the music and where I'm at emotionally. But then still going to bring it to the night club madness. That's for sure.
Yeah, you can still definitely hear the minimal techno vibes or the synth-electro undercurrents on the album.
Exactly. That's all still there, I just wanted to make an album that people could just sit and listen to. An album that maybe would grow on people and wouldn't be just a throwaway DJ banger after banger type thing. But the night versions is all bangers and bringing my DJ influences to the album. It was really fun to go in and just tear my own songs up.
"No Sleep for the Wicked" immediately reminded me of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Games." It's not even that the two songs sound a whole lot alike as much as they both ooze sexuality.
Yeah! It's happened my entire life. It's really something I can't separate is sex and music.
You're not one of those people who puts on music to have sex, to are you?
Not to my own music. When I was seventeen I was probably having sex to Björk or Radiohead. And you know what? I can't really listen to some of those songs anymore because of that. But, yeah, definitely sex to music. They both go hand in hand to me. It's funny that you bring up "No Sleep for the Wicked," actually. It's kind of a key song as far as that goes. It's set in the middle of the album and it's written directly about the Standard Hotel and Le Bain. Being at that Night People party with Blu Jemz, Eli Escobar, and Lloydski. It's about a wild night that happened there and ended in a hotel room. The thing about Le Bain is that people judge it because it's played out. To me, Le Bain is timeless New York; it has this vibe that old New York had to me.
Isn't it sometimes strange to see these DJs who ride for punk and DIY also play at these places where they'd never go or be able to afford otherwise? I'm not mad at it, but it is an interesting duality. DFA comes to mind with the hotel circuit too.
Yeah, that's the whole thing though. Like, that we're at this place that's too nice and we shouldn't belong there and then we tear it the fuck up and do whatever we want and have a great time in the process. I mean that musically too. I make music that is very different from the DFA roster, but we all share this punk feeling, that we want to rage and have fun and do something creative and different. Once you're punk you can never change that at the core. It's with you forever.
Drop The Lime performs at Le Bain at the Standard Hotel on Saturday.
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