It's difficult to quantify the influence of Liquid Liquid on popular music since the band's early-'80s heyday. But for its considerable obscurity and only a modest batch of limited vinyl pressings, the foursome has attained definite iconic status among America's alternative-dance pioneers.
Forged in New York City's underground no-wave scene, Liquid Liquid is set apart by a singular DIY blend of punk, funk, dub, and Afro-Latin rhythms. Over the years, its decidedly idiosyncratic sound has seen the group's records sampled by Grandmaster Melle Mel, Tricky, and Massive Attack.
These days, Liquid Liquid frontman Salvatore Principato continues to push the dance-music envelope as a DJ and producer. And most recently, he teamed up with Italian producer Shield of Rebirth Records for an edgy house cut he's sure to drop during a rare Miami DJ set for the label's tenth-anniversary party at Do Not Sit on the Furniture.
Ahead of Monday night's soirée, New Times caught up with Sal P. to chat about the roots of Liquid Liquid, the new record, and his ongoing collaborative projects.
New Times: Liquid Liquid has gone down as one of America's seminal postpunk dance acts. What glued you together creatively at the start?
Sal P.: Liquid Liquid appreciates that acknowledgment. The band evolved more than being formed whole, meaning there wasn't a big concept at the start, but there was a feeling and approach that was natural without being too folky; funky without being derivative; intense in an understated way. [Bass player] Richard McGuire and myself are from the same hometown in New Jersey. We bonded one summer at a job that was supposed to keep kids off the streets. [Drummer] Scott Hartley and Dennis Young, who shreds on marimba, are also from Jersey. It was during the original punk era; it was all about DIY. It seemed whatever medium of art you practiced, you also should form a band. And because I wrote poetry, I became the singer. We all loved percussion. We all felt the beat. After not too long, we hooked up with Ed Bahlman and 99 Records, which was the official start of the band.
Late-'70s and early-'80s New York City saw the confluence of radical new music styles like disco, hip-hop, punk, and no wave. How did that musical environment shape Liquid Liquid's sound?
The cultural scene in NYC at that point was very dynamic. The possibilities, for better and worse, appeared endless. We absorbed our influences mostly through osmosis and serendipity. At the time, an eclectic aesthetic was in ascendancy. It wasn't so much how well your particular project was branded, but how much culture you could capture within it. Perhaps in the age of internet search, that doesn't seem remarkable because of accessibility, but at the time, if you wanted to know about something, you had to be into it body, mind, and spirit. You had to seek it out, show up, and interact. Also, at the time, people tended to let it all hang out. So whether it was our neighbor blasting disco, salsa playing full-on from a passing car, or a b-boy rolling with a boombox, combine that with our own punk and postpunk nightlife, it resulted in a tasty NYC gumbo.
You infamously took Sugar Hill Records to court over its illicit use of a "Cavern" sample on "White Lines (Don't, Don't Do It)". What are your thoughts today about Liquid Liquid's influence on popular music and the legacy of your sampled work?
It's kind of ironic. We used to joke about someone trying to do a cover version of one of our songs because they're so quirky and idiosyncratic. It definitively isn't up to me to evaluate our legacy; I'll leave that to others. I can say, though, if we had consciously set out to make music that would be relevant 35 years or so down the line, we would have failed. We just tried to make sense in that moment.
Liquid Liquid has reunited to perform live a handful of times in the new millennium. Can we expect future shows or releases?
Gosh, not sure. But remain optimistic. We're still relatively youthful, vital, and local.
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How did your new collaboration with Shield and Rebirth Records come about? What was the creative process like on this recording?
So far so good. I was aware of Rebirth Records, so when Shield reached out to me with this great track, I felt I wanted to contribute. Producers who know my work and want to collaborate don't always get how to integrate my style, but Shield understood, and I appreciate that.
What can we expect from you next on the production front?
Things are coming fast and furious. The challenge is, if you're gonna do something, make sure you have the time, energy, and resources to do it right. I have a live music project — 178 Product — which consists of eight musicians. We play "unprepared" music, meaning we make everything up on the spot without sounding as if we're making it up on the spot. And after four years of building and bonding the musicians with the sound, I think we're ready to release something. There are other collaborations I've contributed or am contributing to: Siren, the Neurotic Drum Band, No-Zu, Ursula 1000, and of course the track I played on with DJ Shield. In between that, there are DJ gigs and remixes and more to come.
So what do you have in store for Miami on Monday? What are you all about as a DJ?
Well, it depends on the the crowd and my mood. My default is dubby disco, funk, and reggae with a little bit of house. I'll read the audience and know how to proceed from there.
Rebirth Tenth Anniversary, With Sal P., Shield, Corrado Bucci, and Lele Sacchi
10 p.m. Monday, March 20, at Do Not Sit on the Furniture, 423 16th St., Miami Beach; 510-551-5067; facebook.com/DoNotSit. Tickets cost $15 plus fees via residentadvisor.net.