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Most pop music fans have probably never heard of Erick Morillo. He is a top DJ and producer, one of the few American leaders (alongside Christopher Lawrence, Danny Tenaglia, Deep Dish, and others) in an international dance scene traditionally dominated by Europeans.
But Morillo doesn't produce the cheesy trance shit you hear on car commercials. His music is deep, dark, funky, pulsating house. It is throbbing with bass, and tsunamilike in its onslaught of high-speed beats per minute. It is brazenly sexual, the sound of pure lust, meant to whip dancers into a frenzy.
When Morillo takes to the decks, his sets can last two to ten hours or more. He scratches and cuts records like a turntablist, expertly blending them into a steady and hypnotic bass metronome.
"It's about telling a story with your music," says Morillo during an interview at the label he owns, Subliminal Records, in Manhattan. But the 33-year-old usually prefers spinning longer sets, since that allows him to play more records. For example, he explains, "If I want to play [Guns 'n Roses] 'Welcome To the Jungle,' how do I build it up to that record so I have a three or four record story leading up to that record? If I'm going to play a big rock record, I can build up and play a couple of records that have rock influences and then get to that record. I can set up it better. Whereas if I'm doing a two-hour set, I'm dropping that record, and then I'm dropping the next big record I want to play."
Morillo owns houses in Weehawken, New Jersey and Ibiza, and recently purchased a third home in Miami Beach. He won't say how much money he charges per performance. "I make millions a year. I don't like to put a number on it," he says. He stays busy, spinning all over the world on most weekends (Thursdays through Sundays) and holding down a summer residency at Pacha Ibiza on the famed European vacation island. "I haven't had a weekend off since May," he says.
Then there's his label. Launched in 1997 with frequent production partners Harry "Choo Choo" Romero and Jose Nunez, Subliminal has issued more than a hundred releases, from Morillo's own material to dance hits such as Who Da Funk's "Shiny Disco Balls."
On January 24, Subliminal Records is scheduled to drop The 2 Sides of Erick Morillo, an omnibus four-disc set that illustrates the epic lifestyle Morillo leads. It combines two albums originally put out in Europe this past fall, My World and the two-disc mix compilation Subliminal Winter Sessions Vol. 2, and a third, previously unreleased addendum to the Winter Sessions.
My World, the first album of original material to appear under Morillo's own name, is as flashy, swaggering, and overwhelming as the twilight world he inhabits. Interspersed between the fourteen tracks are ribald skits that are funny and outrageous: Morillo playing congas to the sound of a woman having an orgasm. Harry Romero's brother Sheldon joking, "I just saw Erick Morillo walk out of the club with two hot strippers ... all I know is when I die, I want to come back as his dick."
"That's a friend of mine," laughs Morillo when asked about the latter skit. "All the interludes are more jokes than anything else.
"My world is the world of a workaholic who likes to have fun. I believe there's time for everything," he continues, more seriously. "My life is divided into two areas. One is, obviously, the jet-setting DJ who travels the world, bringing house music to the world and doing really well at that. The other side is the guy who sits in the studio and loves bringing music."
Guest stars abound on My World: Boy George sings on one of the cuts, "Who Am I?", while the Audio Bullys chant romper-room choruses on "Break Down the Doors," "Sunshine" and "Lessons." Even P. Diddy appears on three tracks, including the bulbous tribal anthem, "My World." "You're in my world," says Diddy. "Let's rock!"
Miami club kids are well aware of Diddy's ongoing collaboration with Morillo: He has appeared at Morillo's Subliminal Sessions for the past two editions of Winter Music Conference. "We actually met at Ibiza," says Morillo, adding that he's producing two tracks for Diddy's upcoming dance album. "Before I met him, I thought I was one of the hardest-working people in this business. After I met him, I realized I have a long way to go," he adds, laughing.
The money, the accolades, and the collabos with P. Diddy are proof that Morillo is a major player in the global house underground. So why does his name barely register in the mainstream, if at all? In America, dance music is considered background music, something people listen to while partying in meat-market nightclubs. Little attention is paid to the actual tracks, the people who produce it, or the DJs who spin it.
The other reason, as Morillo explains, is that Europe "has a clubbing culture, they have a dance culture. Whereas here in America, we have a hip-hop culture, and that's what you see in the streets." A recent track by Diddy is proof: While his 2003 debut dance single with Kelis, "Let's Get Ill," charted in the Top 30 of the U.K. singles chart, it wasn't played on mainstream radio here. "It's not strange to see your favorite dance record with a video on MTV in England," adds Morillo.