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Curses: passion and attitude

As he releases a massive and exhilarating compilation exploring the worlds of EBM, industrial, synth-pop, and various dark and wavy offshoots, the DJ and producer Luca Venezia — better known as Curses — fills us in on the enduring appeal of his chosen sound

By rights, Luca Venezia should be feeling a bit frazzled. He was on his way home from Fondi, Italy, where he had just played under his Curses moniker, and would theoretically be home in plenty of time for his chat with DJ Mag — but as the appointed hour neared, the WhatsApp messages were coming fast and furious. “So sorry but luggage still not arrived. BER airport is the worst,” said one; “they’ve lost my guitar six times this summer during our live tours,” read another.

Yet, when he appears onscreen for our Zoom call, only a half hour behind schedule — basically on time, as far as these things go — Venezia, dressed in black with a copious amount of gold hardware dangling around his neck, comes off as fully composed, calm in demeanour and even a bit jubilant. And why not? After all, the veteran DJ, producer, and musician, born in NYC but living in Berlin since the mid-’10s, is gearing up for the release of a wondrous new compilation, ‘Curses Presents Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, a follow-up to 2021’s first instalment.

The comp, which was released through Belgium’s Eskimo Recordings on October 20th, is a colossal affair. 49 tracks split into three chapters: one for classics, one for “the sound of the clubs I love to both play and just hang out in these days,” as Venezia puts it, and one dedicated to “that part of the night where you probably should go home, but it’s too late for good decisions”. Like its predecessor, the collection is devoted — as is Venezia himself — to the sometimes serrated, often romantic sounds of EBM, New Beat, electro, industrial, the dancier end of the new wave / post-punk spectrum, Italo, and related sounds. (His own label, Ombra International, covers similar territory.)

Photo of Luca Venezia sitting against a pillar wearing a beige shirt and sunglasses

It’s a broadly defined scope, spanning the distance, via tracks both new and vintage, between the wistful ’80s pop of Book Of Love’s ‘Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)’ and the neo-freestyle of Venezia’s remix of Nuovo Testamento’s ‘Heartbeat’ to the pulsing elegance of Silent Servant’s ‘Non Fiction’ and the body-jarring stomp of Poison Point’s ‘Altered Beats.’ Older acts include D.A.F., Throbbing Gristle, Vicious Pink, and Nitzer Ebb; the new breed is represented by the likes of Boy Harsher, Synthicide’s Andi Harriman, Dina Summer, and Neu-Romancer.

With a range like that, it’s not easy to put one’s finger on what makes a track eligible for a ‘Next Wave Acid Punx’ comp, but Venezia gives it a shot. “I think it comes down to the attitude, of the approach to this music,” he says. “I mean, you’ve got slow, indie-influenced, heavy music to very Veronica Vasicka– style cold wave music, to trance-influenced Hi-NRG, to techno — but everything has an attitude that’s a bit DIY, a bit punk, a bit anything-goes. It’s music that’s a bit more naïve and innocent — it’s just about making something you love, and it’s not overly polished and overly produced the way EDM or tech-house is. It’s putting the passion and putting the attitude first.”

Venezia is a veteran spinner, but nowadays, much of his effort goes into his live show. He takes a stripped-down approach — he’s on guitar and MPC, while his gigging partner Dame Bonnet (who also plays on his albums) handles bass and drum-pad duties. Taking his own work as inspiration, much of the ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ tracks come courtesy of “both full live bands and makeshift electronic duos alike, the kind of acts that you might have found wedged between DJs back in the day at The Haçienda in the ’80s,” as he puts it in the liner notes.

“Bringing live elements into a dance music environment has always been interesting,” he says. “Parties in New York City like Motherfucker always used to do that, and I think that that probably had a huge influence on me as a kid going out in New York City. New parties, like Snap Crackle & Pop in London and MILK ME here in Berlin, are doing the same thing. It’s cool, because you can have a concert with this sort of music and people will dance, and it could end at midnight — or you could put someone like Boy Harsher on in the middle of a club in Tbilisi at three in the morning and people are going to love it. That sort of symbiosis between dance music and live music is exciting.”

Photo of Luca Venezia wearing a beige shirt in front of traditional architecture

“Electronic music from the ’80s, late ’70s as well, has such an impact because it was the beginning of humans and machines making music together.”

Excitement is one thing — the nuts-and-bolts work of putting together massive compilations like the two editions of ‘Next Wave Acid Punx’ is quite another. “It’s annoying,” Venezia admits. “I had picked around 80 tracks, and then we had to narrow it to whatever the labels would agree to license, and I ended up losing some ones that I really love. Like Razormaid and Micro Chip League — I would say those are my top own production influences. It’s what put me into what I do now. And so I really wanted a Razormaid mix, but it’s a production studio, like 10 people, where you’ve got one guy saying, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ and then the other guys say, ‘No, I don’t like that mix.’ You have to go through so many people — it’s impossible. And some of the music I wanted, nobody knows who’s collecting the royalties or who’s distributing. It’s just kind of a wild, wild west out there!”

The comp’s newer material, happily, came together easily, culled from the music of his friends and people who Venezia’s met on tour over the years. “Working with artists like Zanias and Neu-Romancer," he says, “triggers the same excitement that I would get from artists like Nitzer Ebb, In Sotto Voce, or any of the classics.” The music in ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, in spirit if not always in fact, is permeated with the aura of the ’80s — yet despite its grounding in generations-old sounds, it’s lost little of its appeal. Venezia thinks he knows why that is.

Venezia’s been intensely into this sound from an early age, but it hasn’t always been his main focus. Born in the early days of the ’80s, he grew up in Manhattan’s Tribeca, well before that neighborhood became the domain of the onepercenters. By the time he was in his mid-teens, fake ID in hand, he was going to parties like Body & Soul at the nearby club at 6 Hubert Street, then known as Vinyl. He was also proficient at guitar from an early age, playing in various bands.

“Electronic music from the ’80s, late ’70s as well, has such an impact because it was the beginning of humans and machines making music together,” he explains. “It was early in the relationship between synth and human. I think that gives it such a timeless sound that we still love; it’s this weird, almost futuristic primal affection that we have with it — like, ‘wow, we’re recreating something new with the robots.’ There’s a Kraftwerk-esque timelessness to it, and it never dies. There’s this sort of retro glamour, this Tron romanticism, that remains.”

Photo of Luca Venezia sitting against a pillar wearing a beige shirt and sunglasses

He debuted as an electronic music artist in 2004 with a breakcore-leaning sound, and went through a number of musical permutations over the years — including, at one point, a singular rockabilly-electronic hybrid. The Curses persona sprang to life in 2007, via the ‘Hungry For Love’ EP on Institubes, with a rough-hewn electro-rock motif. It was his 2015 relocation to Berlin that enabled Venezia to fully focus on the Curses creatures-of-the-night sound we know today.

“Before then, I didn’t have the courage to make the music that I’d always loved,” he says. “In New York, I thought that as a DJ and a musician, I had to play something else and sacrifice a little bit. Yeah, maybe I could play something a bit more wavy or post-punk, but then after that, I definitely would have to play a deep house track or something to keep them going. But when I moved to Berlin, I realized, ‘oh, I don’t have to do that at all!’ I can actually play what I love, and make what I love. It’s then, when I started making albums as Curses and meeting everyone, that I realized that there was a whole scene.”

A new album of Curses originals, a follow-up to 2022’s ‘Incarnadine’, is in the works, though Venezia prefers to keep the details under wraps; there are also a handful of North American gigs in the pipeline for November, in New York, Vancouver, LA and New Orleans. As the interview nears an end, the conversation begins to wander, and talk turns to off-topic items — books, among others. At the moment, Venezia is deep into Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act: A Way Of Being, a tome that cements Rubin’s rep as something of an enlightened Zen sage. “My mom got it for me, and it’s nice,” he says.”

“You know, touring can be very stress-inducing. And to read wise words from a musical guru, it can be very calming.” A calm demeanor and dreamy yet intense music — it’s a hard combo to beat.

Want more? Read DJ Mag’s recent feature on how Awakenings is staying on top of the techno game

Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag’s North America editor. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @BruceTantum