Halloween is the last time DJ Erick Morillo remembers playing Miami’s Club Space. He started on the turntables at 2 a.m. and played for 12 hours — straight. That next afternoon, he saw a guy there dressed like Jesus, his hands raised in the air, looking up at the sky. Morillo turned to his cousin and said, “I think it’s time for me to go home.” He laughs, recalling that long night. “That’s a sign.”
Spending nearly half a day spinning is never planned. “It’s the people, that’s what it’s all about," he explains, "If the people are happy, and the place is packed, it gives me energy, which then, I want to keep playing. It’s really simple. I love what I do, and if I’m playing for people who love what I’m doing, I don’t really care, I’ll keep playing till the cows come home.”
The Colombian-American DJ, producer, and label owner is best known by your mom for his 1993 hit as Reel 2 Real, “I Like to Move It,” but to the rest of the dance-music world, Morillo has been a house music colossus since way before Madagascar hit the big screen. Next week, he will take another trip to Space — a club he’s played more than 20 times over the years — to celebrate its 15th anniversary.
A decade and a half ago, the club, now owned by Justin Levine and Roman Jones, opened a few doors down from its current location as a warehouse space with an outdoor roof deck. In 2003, it moved to 34 NE 11th Street, after which it was renamed Space 34 before dropping the numbers and returning to its roots.
Morillo remembers the venue in what he calls “the Danny Tenaglia days,” when Paul van Dyk and Oscar G dominated the scene. Many may recall that time as a whirlwind of wet bodies and blasting beats, or maybe (and more likely) not at all. For his part, the DJ says he used to come for Tenaglia’s 24-hour sets and stay the entire time. ”When he did his all-nighter sets, it was something I wanted to be a part of… [Space] has grown to be one of my favorite spots to play around the world, because I’m able to express myself as an artist and play what I want and play for a long time.
“I’ve been going there since the beginning and playing there since the beginning, I’ve been one of the lucky ones to do that… Playing Space is always special,” he says.
Morillo is in the process of relaunching his classic label, Subliminal Records, following a break from the business. “For quite some time, I lost my way, not only business-wise but personally,” he admits. And after losing his passion for music, the DJ struggled with emotional issues, but he’s finally reemerged with the same old zest. “I feel like I’m 21 again," he says, “and all I had to do was stay away from drugs and alcohol, who knew?”
Back and clean, Morillo soon realized he wanted to reboot Subliminal Records. And he wants the label to again stand for what the DJ says it once stood for: underground music. "It’s about being a label for DJs by DJs. It was always my baby, and my expression as a producer, and I was able to create a stage for other producers to come in and release their music via my vehicle.”
But Subliminal is also being reshaped to fill a hole that he sees in the current electronic music world. “Out there right now, there’s a big gap between the underground tech house, deep house going on and the EDM progressive-house stuff. There’s nothing in the middle. There’s no more sexy songs with pumping music, all that stuff is missing, the middle ground, what I call house music... But that’s not the only thing we’re going to do. We'll have a little techno, a little tech house, a little deep house, but all really cool music for DJs.”
Before the relaunch, in order to “get his feet wet,” Morillo worked with Jennifer Hudson and Madonna, and dropped two bangers — "Devotion" and "Let the Freak Out” with Carnage and Harry Romero — on Ultra Music. He’ll be releasing his next album on his own label. The plan is to offer strong, substantive dance songs, not pop music or run-of-the-mill EDM.
“I’m going to try to bring soul back to what’s happening right now in dance music,” he says. “I love that dance music has done what it’s done in America, but now that it’s become the dominant culture, I think it’s time for people to start opening up their minds a little bit, and realize that it’s more than just progressive house and pop records on top of those.”
The DJ is thankful for all of the support that he’s gotten over the past year during the Subliminal reboot. There’s going to be a lot of news announced in the coming months, and he’s excited, he says, “to throw my hat back in the ring.” Other notable names on the label include Craig David, Pitbull, and Andrew Cole. “It’s going to be a good year for music, I think."
Morillo reminisces about one Subliminal Records party he threw at Space during a very rainy Winter Music Conference. Despite the torrential downpour, he remembers, "people still came out. And we moved the party inside. Then the sun came out, and we moved it back out. And then it started raining and people were like, ‘Fuck it!’ and dancing in the rain. It was awesome. That’s what great memories are made of. That’s the thing about Space, it’s not about looking good, it’s about: Make sure you’ve got your sunglasses, and we’re going to hear some great music tonight.”
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As for what he’s planning for Space’s 15th anniversary, the DJ says it’s “always a fiesta. It’s never let me down.” Expect some Colombian flags flying high too. He explains that, back in the early days, he played what some thought of as techno with tribal sounds. “That’s why I developed almost a cult following of my Latino people in Miami, because they knew when I came down there, my tribal beats would come out. You felt like you were in the jungle somewhere.”
This time, club-goers will be the first to hear the newest six releases off Subliminal. He’s also thinking of bringing in a vocalist, and promises there will be plenty of surprises. “I always look forward to playing Space, it’s always a very special gig… Space has always been the rock. It’s always been the one that brought the best DJs. It’s always had the best sound system. Space has always maintained a quality that’s second to none.”
Space Miami’s 15th Anniversary. With Erick Morillo, ALX, Allan Gallego, Radamas, and Erwin. 11 p.m. Saturday, June 13, at Space, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-375-0001; clubspace.com. Tickets cost $25 to $30 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up.