Drop The Lime
Like so many stories, it begins with a girl. 27-year-old New Yorker Luca Venezia was making mixtapes for girls in his class by the age of nine, but it was a different girl who set the train in motion that would lead to him becoming Drop the Lime, head honcho of New York's rowdiest DJ crew and the man behind some of the heaviest dancefloor anthems of our time. "I got into rave culture when I was about 14," reminisces Venezia. "I was dating a girl who'd say, come to this crazy party in Brooklyn. We got to this warehouse - I was just a kid, and I'd never seen anything like that before. It was crazy - like, whoa, one person is making all these thousands of people dance? I immediately became obsessed."
It was a good time to become obsessed - "The '90s were real strong - lots of illegal parties and stuff going on" - but like so many thriving rave scenes, it didn't last. "Around 2001 it fell off. We got Rudy Giuliani as a mayor; he shut a lot of clubs down, and that definitely hurt us a lot. I'd say it's starting to come back now, especially in Brooklyn - I'm really excited, there are lots of warehouse parties going on again, lots of exciting new talent..."
What Venezia doesn't say - and doesn't need to say - is that the return of a fresh, innovative club culture to New York is in no small part due to himself, along with his Trouble & Bass crew. Born four years ago out of an unlikely affinity for London's grime scene, then producing some of the most thrilling sounds on the planet, Trouble & Bass has become one of the most significant labels in dance music right now.
Whether hosting increasingly legendary parties (and revitalising the moribund NYC scene in the process) or providing a home for a roster of hugely talented artists, from AC Slater to Zombies For Money, it has set a rapid pace both at home and worldwide. Their modus operandi is, in Venezia's own words, "kind of like an anything-goes house party. At Trouble & Bass nights, people will get rowdy, throw things around, jump around. We try really hard to keep that energy and punk attitude when it comes to playing dance music: to make it more like a concert where people are coming together, rather than just having a faceless guy up in the DJ booth and people dancing on their own. It's a very mixed crowd, too - a lot of different cultures and crowds coming together - hip-hop kids, indie kids, drum'n'bass fans..."
Drop the Lime's own music typifies this: ferocious, bass-heavy dancefloor monsters that punch you straight in the solar plexus, bam, and deposit you in the middle of a sweaty warehouse rave where there's no option but to get down all night long. His music crackles with energy, ideas coming at the track from all directions - a belting diva here, a gnarly synth there - and an intense physicality. You can feel it in your bones. "I'm really drawn to bass," he asserts. "That goes back to my first rave experience, just being blown away by the way the frequency can make the body shake physically - with the sub-bass that you can't hit on an instrument, only a synthesiser."
Venezia has his own distinct twist on the Trouble & Bass sound, though: one that's been apparent in his slew of singles to date, and that he pushes even further on his second full-length album, Enter The Night. Indeed, it may well be something of a surprise to those who have been following him so far. The tense opener "Dusty Roads" is underpinned by a twanging, bluesy guitar riff - and this influence grows as the album progresses, from the hoedown stomp of "Hot As Hell" to "Ghost Train", a cover of the classic Johnny Cash country song "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky". Not that Venezia's abandoned his basic sound; check the oscillating synths on "Cat Got Your Tongue", the insane, devlish titular instrument on "Sex Sax". Rarely does the tempo let up; packed with hooks and kinetic dancefloor moments, Enter The Night is that rare example of an artist swerving into a different lane without losing any of the qualities that gave him power originally, and doing it with such ease that you can't help but follow him. In fact, it's actually a return to Venezia's pre-rave roots. "I've been playing guitar since I was about seven, and grew up listening to that kind of music through my parents. When I was a teenager I was just like, fuck that, fuck rock'n'roll, but recently I've got back into it through DJing straight rockabilly and northern soul parties and sets like that - and eventually I began putting it into the dance music."
Other influences? Venezia's long-standing obsession with vampires and horror is apparent immediately, whether a glance at the B-movie poster aesthetic that dominates his artwork or at titles such as "Devil's Eyes", "Hot As Hell" and "We Never Sleep". "I'm really excited by the mystery of darkness and night-time, of the way people change when the sun goes down. They go out, they party, they become someone else - I was always fascinated by the extreme, but also the romance of it, and I try to incorporate it into the music. It's like Dracula: he'll bite you, he'll kill you, but women are seduced by him and they want to be in his presence." A role model for Venezia himself, then? "Haha! Maybe subconsciously. I've always thought of my music as very sexual in that way, where you...first meet someone and you're really attracted by them, you want to get to know them and you want to be a part of them, but there's that mystery - you don't know them, who are they? I like that mysterious, weird but at the same time kinda dark emotion. It comes through on "Hot As Hell" - it's not about anyone in particular, but it is about the ideal woman that I would like to marry."
In daylight hours, when not being a vampiric ladykiller, Venezia is a flâneur, walking city streets for hours for inspiration. "I like to get lost in cities while I'm on tour - if I have a day off, I won't take a map, but I'll just walk and really soak things in. I like to grasp the pace of a city and its culture, and that also always goes into the songs I do, even if it doesn't make any obvious sense. Like "Ghost Train" - it's a cover of an old Western song, but I came up with the idea while I was in Perth, Australia, of all places."
Key to Venezia's artistic development has been his posse. "I always envisaged having some sort of crew; I didn't know in what way, whether in a band or a group of DJs, but I always envisioned it," he says. The rise and rise of Trouble & Bass has been a natural one: starting out with Venezia bonding with Star Eyes over grime white labels and combining them with US hip-hop and Chicago/NYC house, such as Strictly Rhythm or Get Nervous records - "it kind of made this new style of music that no one was really doing in the States then, with that heavy bassline over a house beat" - it escalated organically, an ever-expanding group of friends supporting and encouraging each other. "It's really important," confirms Venezia. "It's like a family or gang mentality. When we DJ together, someone will be mixing two records, someone will be putting an effect on the mixer, someone will be singing...it's almost like a band, but of DJs. It keeps the energy going, keeps things fresh and alive; we'll go off and tour, but when we come back we'll share all our different experiences and tastes of new sounds." Now, that family is one of the most sought-after: Drop the Lime has now remixed Major Lazer, Little Boots, Robyn among others.
It's one of several such crews that have sprung up in recent years in cities worldwide, and as such signifies something of a renaissance in the idea of a dance music posse. There's Night Slugs and Tomb Crew in London, Top Billin in Helsinki, Numbers in Glasgow - and what's also interesting is a certain shared sensibility among many of them: a love of the same music, a focus on similar aesthetics, a baseline consisting of house, hip-hop, grime and dubstep. It hasn't been formally defined, but bass looms large - and the way that these global bass crews are, in toto, pushing outwards in every direction is one of the most fascinating narratives in the dance music of this decade. Drop the Lime is at the forefront of that - which must surely please his old professors at Bard College, where he majored in music. Taught by luminaries of experimental electronic music such as Moog pioneer Richard Teitelbaum and Laurie Anderson collaborator Bob Bielecki, Venezia remembers sparring with them over the music he wa making: "When I tried to make dance music, they thought I wasn't being adventurous enough." They can rest assured that, nearly a decade on, their former student is pushing the boundaries in the best, most dancefloor-friendly way possible.