Miami Almost Killed Erick Morillo, but It Also Saved His Life

Erick Morillo: Still thumping and pumping.
Erick Morillo: Still thumping and pumping.
Courtesy of the Artist's Management

It was a Sunday in January. Erick Morillo had just finished a marathon set on the Terrace at Club Space. He and former Space owner Louis Puig were heading out with ladies packed in their car like clowns in a Volkswagen Beetle. But their afterparty was delayed slightly when warning lights flashed, bells sounded, and a drawbridge parted for a passing boat. Morillo stepped out of the car to feel the warm air against his face, which felt amazing compared to the snow back in New York. Perhaps it was the go-go dancers in the car, or maybe the sunshine, but Morillo experienced a moment of clarity. "The water is blue, the palm trees are swaying, it's 30 degrees in New York — what the hell am I doing living there?" he thought.

Shortly after, he moved. And Miami has been home for more than a decade.

This Saturday, Morillo will spin for a Halloween party at Heart Nightclub. It will be his debut at the Club Space neighbor and his last stop on the 14-city Subliminal U.S. Tour. The tour is named for the label he founded in 1997. On that tour, between stops in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., Morillo found time to say goodbye to an old friend. Carl Cox and Josh Wink looked on as Morillo helped close the iconic Space Ibiza October 2. The club is closing for good after 27 years.

"Are you ready for the big black Cox? I said, are you ready for the big black Cox!?" Morillo yelled to the Ibiza crowd before handing the controls to Carl Cox one last time.

But despite the bittersweet taste of losing Space Ibiza, Morillo says right now is the best he's ever felt. "I have a street named after me, for Christ's sake," he laughs, referring to Erick Morillo Way in Union City, New Jersey, where he spent his teenage years.

He says he's been sober for more than two and a half years and might not be alive without the help of another Miami nightclub owner, LIV's David Grutman.

"I helped guys like David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia, and for them to become bigger than me was hard to handle," he says, looking back on his most troubled years. "I DJed for 15 years without partying, but things got bad. When I started playing music like those other guys is when it was the worst. I had been to rehab three times for ketamine, and things could have gotten a lot worse, but David came to my house and he got me help. I almost lost my life in Miami, but I got it back."

These days, Morillo credits his therapist for his peace of mind and feels like he's put his ego in check. He's also become a yogi and regularly lifts weights and cranks out dips in the gym. The training appears to be paying off — his fist-pumping speed and power are as good as any in the industry right now.

Before moving to New Jersey, Morillo spent his early childhood in Cartagena, Colombia, and he often loves to shout, "¿Dónde están mis latinos?" from the booth. Come Saturday, he's sure to get a loud response. He was scheduled to play for four hours the last time he performed in the Magic City, but he played for 12, which is what the crowd of naughty nurses, sexy cops, and shirtless firemen should anticipate this Saturday.

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But while those folks are dancing their makeup off, they should take a moment to give thanks that Morillo is still with us. He's still smiling, twisting knobs with both elbows flared, and bobbing his head like a bird in search of worms — that's quintessential Morillo. His energy is contagious.

"My set will be thumping and pumping," he says. "It will be a long one. Around daybreak, I'll play a remix of 'Time' by Pachanga Boys, and then I'm going to bang 'em in the ass with the tribal."

Erick Morillo. 11 p.m. Saturday, October 29, at Heart Nightclub, 50 NE 11th St., Miami; heartnightclub.com. Tickets cost $35 to $59 via wantickets.com.

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