Cover Story: Curses! New Wave Acid Love from Outer Space
Cover Story: Curses! New Wave Acid Love from Outer SpaceJuly 19, 2021
Luca Venezia, the man behind the Curses alias, is an unmistakable figure, a face in the crowd that is difficult to forget. With a characteristic look that is one part Greaser, one part Jodorowsky, and one part Phil Oakley, Venezia has had a career that is as stylistic and chic as his looks.
Originally from New York City, Venezia’s career has seen him adopt many monikers that have reflected the multiple facets of his musical identity. Around the turn of the century, the producer embellished himself in the world of slick Miami breaks and basslines as Drop the Lime. After touching upon mainstream success, Venezia opted to drop the bass, and adopt the cold wave and EBM sounds that had been a part of his musical upbringing. Of course, the story isn’t as simple as that — the journey involved a lot of introspection and challenges. Now, recording as Curses (as well as a whole bunch of other aliases, but we’ll get to those later) Venezia feels at home in his new skin.
In 2018, he released his debut LP Romantic Fiction on Dischi Autunno, Jennifer Cardini’s imprint for minimal wave and disco sounds. It’s a record that embraces Venezia’s rock n’ roll character, and translates it into something that borders between dub-disco and post-punk, with guitars, synths, and drums that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Ministry record.
“It’s what everybody says, when you start making music for yourself and not trying to please everyone, then it works,” Venezia says about finding his sound.
Soon after the album, he was asked to compile a personal compendium of new wave and EBM for Eskimo Recordings, which he imaginatively titled, Next Wave Acid Punx. “It’s a way of having fun, and coming up with a ridiculous name,” he jokes about the record’s name. “I get scared if you put a genre on something. Once you start naming things you kill it. That’s why I gave the record such a ridiculous name.”
Once you start to label something, it often starts to create an attachment to identify. As a musical chameleon, this is why Venezia is keen to not be pigeon-holed, always ready to change his sounds, but not his spots. Understanding that a change was needed, Venezia switched locales, moving from New York to Berlin in 2015; a move that happened to coincide with the launch of the Curses alias.
“I felt a bit uninspired because I was still compromising, and I couldn’t play all the music I wanted to play… I couldn’t do what Andrew Weatherall was doing at the time,” he says about his life in New York. “Moving to Berlin allowed me to do that. I went full circle going back to listening to the music that got me into DJing: new beat, Italo disco, Latin freestyle… all the stuff I forgot about, but that I knew was in me.”
In Europe, and Berlin in particular, Venezia found a collective of like-minded individuals and promoters, when this genre-agnostic approach was well accepted. But it didn’t happen straight away. “I came here hoping to be thrown into that sound,” he describes about his early days in the German capital. “But I couldn’t find it, and I ended up playing at places like Kater Blau… spots that didn’t make sense, and then I thought, shit, maybe I have to start making techno [laughs]… all my friends were making techno, even if they loved music that was slower.”
Eventually, Venezia found his way into playing local Berlin events such as Voyage Voyage and Cocktail d’Amor, and meeting artists like Local Suicide, VoX LoW, and Franz Scala. “Franz Scala was the one that really opened my eyes to a whole new world,” Venezia says. “He runs the Slow Motion and Wrong Era labels, and I went to one of their parties which had Chris Baha, VoX LoW… there was just a variety of sounds that had all these gated drums, ‘80s influences, but their own unique take on it. They were calling it ‘Italian Dance Wave’.”
Driven by the influence the collective had on his sound, Venezia would release the EP So Strange on Wrong Era in 2019. A record that embellishes his love for Front 242, the four tracks perfectly tie together the world of Italo and new beat, while still retaining that Curses sound. “That [record] opened a lot of doors for me,” he says about the release. “And, I think, that’s how I ended up on Jennifer Cardini’s radar.”
Nowadays, you’ll hear a brazen selection of styles and genres in Venezia’s wildly eclectic DJ sets. Post-punk, krautrock, disco, all with radically varying BPMs. You only have to listen to his Beatport Live set, to get an indication of the type of electronic melee that he enjoys creating. Overall, the way Venezia approaches DJing — and his personal style — takes many cues from the legendary Andy Weatherall (1963 – 2020), who had an influence on his career from the very beginning.
“For me personally, [Weatherall], along with Sean Johnston and his Love From Outer Space mixes and parties, had such a big role in me feeling comfortable to mix genres,” explains Venezia, when asked about his feelings towards Weatherall. “Before I felt like I was living a double life, being in punk bands, loving rock n’ roll and goth music, and also going to raves… and god forbid you could DJ those together.”
In 2019, Venezia was invited to play at Convenanza festival, the impeccably curated event by Andrew Weatherall and Bernie Fabre that took place every year in a 12th century castle, in Carcassonne, France. To coincide with the performance, Venezia released the mini-LP Carcassonne on Höga Nord Rekords in 2019, a follow-up to his debut album. Carcassonne ended up embodying the spirit of Weatherall, who sadly passed away the year after. Across the LP’s six tracks, you can hear similarities to Weatherall alias The Sabres of Paradise echoing through the eerie, reverberating guitars and cold wave beats. A touching reminder to one of the greats.
In 2020, Venezia was approached by Eskimo Recordings to put together a compilation of EBM and new beat tracks. The Belgian label had a history of releasing well-researched, scene-specific compilations, having worked in the past with lauded dance music journalist Bill Brewster, and Psychemagik, the respected UK production duo. “They knew how much I was influenced by new beat and early EBM,” he says. “They also have access to all the early Front 242 and a lot of stuff that’s normally expensive to license… so basically I had free reign.”
With the market for new beat compilations relatively saturated, with the likes of This Is Belgium and the TSOB being particularly well regarded, Venezia decided a different approach was needed. Instead of doing a basic retrospective, he opted to dig deeper, flaunt his in-depth knowledge, and include some personal favorites. “Some of these are my secret weapons,” he elaborates. “Like BPM AM’s ‘Come To Me’, it’s my favourite new beat record ever… and now it’s out there.”
The compilation kicks off with cult EBM band Borghesia, before rolling through other such profound acts as Suicide, Yello, and Front 242. “Yello are such pioneers, still weird, but somehow made it into the mainstream,” Venezia says. “With Front 242, I could easily have put ‘Welcome to Paradise’, I could have put ‘Headhunter’, but they’re songs as crate diggers we already know, this is more about songs that had a personal impact on me.”
The first disc finishes with “Porte Bonheur” by Hard Corps. When it came to licensing the track, the band actually requested to re-record the track, to give the music a modern, updated sheen, something which is very rarely done when it comes to creating compilations. “They were such a huge inspiration for me,” Venezia says. “They took that new beat and Hi-NRG sound, but brought it into the mainstream somehow.”
The three-part, 38-track compilation also treads new terrain by including newer artists with their contemporary take on the ‘80s influenced sound. Broken up into three chapters, New Wave Acid Punx includes a second disc featuring artists and music from today’s EBM and disco scenesters, while the third disc includes brand new and exclusive music, licensed specifically for the compilation. “As the project grew and evolved, I thought, ‘Why don’t we get new artists that also inspired all of this’,” Venezia explains. “I kept giving the label tracks, and they were like, cool, send more!”
Many of the newer artists on the compilation are whom Venezia considers to be good friends. Artists from across the globe that he’s had the fortune to play with, produced alongside, or even those he has signed to his label, Ombra International. “It wasn’t a struggle,” he saysw. “Due to the pandemic, the timing was perfect and people were hungry to do new projects and collaborate… a lot of those were excited because they also loved those Belgium compilations and new beat, Italo, and all had their own little twists. I was super happy with the outcome.”
Outside of DJing, producing and compiling, Venezia has been fostering his own community through his record label, Ombra International. Established in 2016, the goal was to connect artists from across the world who all share similar sonic aesthetics. “I started it as a concept label when I realized there were so many artists across the world that were into the same sound as me,” he explains. “I started going after music that mixed the sound of guitars, ‘80s synth music, Italo… and then I just started getting a lot of demos.”
“Now I’m also mixing it up and signing a lot more bands,” he says about the upcoming releases. “The next one is with Juan MacClean and Hardway Bros [aka Sean Johnston]. Mixing these different artists together with this international passion is really important to me.”
It’s a feeling that was replicated during the OMBRA International Beatport Live stream. Alongside Venezia who DJed from the Berlin office, the broadcast also included sets from Skelesys [Argentina], Amarcord [Italy], Mufti [Mexico], Günce [Turkey], Nikkatze [Brazil], Birds [UK], Jorkes [Austria], Que Sakamoto, and Local Suicide [Germany].
“Having this livestream with all of us together chatting in the Twitch room was super emotional,” he says. Without travelling or shows, such events have become the lifeline to keeping global communities together. “Keeping things international, I think, is important right now especially with electronic music. There’s a lot of labels that restrict themselves only to their country and it limits the community feel.”
For someone who seemingly has done, or is doing everything, there is still more to come. Earlier on this year, Venezia flexed his creative arms and started a new alias, Venice Arms. Going back to his rave roots, although not deviating too far from his current sound, Venezia released the euphoric and traditional house record The Future is Waiting on Permanent Vacation. Later on this year, there are plans for a second Curses LP on Dischi Autunno, in addition to new music as Lolo Paradiso, a collaboration project alongside Dame Bonnet where you can expect the producer to flex more of his trademark inner sound; one part Weatherall, one part Douglas McCarthy, and all parts Venezia.
Whichever you try to classify his sound; new wave acid, Italo dance wave, EBM, or dub disco, it’s best not to think about it in purist terms. As Venezia best put it himself when describing the EBM scene.. “it’s like that phrase — ‘It’s not a phase mom, it’s a lifestyle.’”