Ron Morelli's music is not for everyone. But that's how it usually goes with artists that make few compromises in their work. Ostensibly a techno producer, his records can be arrhythmic, atonal, and murkily atmospheric -- caustic machine noise experiments more akin to the power electronics subgenre of industrial music.
Clearly, Morelli has no interest in conforming to dance floor conventions, let alone pandering to mainstream EDM tastes. Browse through the catalog of his celebrated Long Island Electrical Systems (L.I.E.S.) imprint and you'll find that his A&R pickings can be just as subversive.
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Side by side with the more experimental, genre-defying fare on L.I.E.S. though, is the raw house and techno purism of Legowelt, Delroy Edwards and Miami's own Greg Beato, among others. So all in all, Morelli's role is increasingly one of dance music conservationist, not just leftfield electronic music trailblazer.
Crossfade caught up with Ron Morelli ahead of his performance with Greg Beato and SAFE at the Electric Pickle tonight. Topics of conversation included his musical roots, L.I.E.S. and his new EP.
Crossfade: What did you grow up listening to and how did you first get drawn to electronic dance music? Were there specific labels, artists or records that most shaped your early appreciation for electronic dance music?
Ron Morelli: Growing up, I was into early hip-hop: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, EPMD, and so forth. Was also heavily into classic rock, metal, punk, and hardcore -- Slayer, Metallica, Black Flag, Misfits, etc. My gateway into modern electronic music was through hanging around Sonic Groove Records, as I had friendsu' working there, and finding out about the Hague squatter electronic music scene, specifically Bunker and Murder Capital Records and all of their various sub-labels.
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Around 1999, 2000 to 2001, a lot of the guys from the label would tour the States and come to NYC to play. It was very bare bones and totally punk in its approach. I never went to raves or clubbing in NYC growing up, though all of my other friends were heavily involved with that. From there, I worked backwards, delving into the classic building blocks from NYC, Chicago, Detroit, and further.
Did you have a concept in mind for L.I.E.S. when you first set out to launch the imprint? What sort of sound or aesthetic are you looking for to define the label and what's your criteria for signing artists and material to release?
There was no concept in starting the label, it was simply that I had a group of people around me sitting on music and we decided to release it and see what happens once it got out there. As far as the sound of the label, if you are a fan and have followed it from the beginning, one would know there is no specific sound of the label. We have put out soundtrack records, Krautrock guitar jams, house records, techno records, noise stuff. It is an open door musically. As long as it makes sense to me when I hear it, then I'll release it.
Regarding artists who I sign, I generally like to have a personal relationship with the artist before we even speak about releasing music. It's better to get a feel for a person and their intent before jumping into putting out music.
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L.I.E.S. has made its fair share of ripples in the electronic dance music pond in the last couple years, even taking the top spot on RA's Best Labels list. To what do you attribute this buzz? Would it be fair to say that the label has a no-bullshit back-to-basics philosophy which is in direct defiance of the Beatport "EDM" paradigm, and the scene needed a label like L.I.E.S. to take a stand? Or are we reading too deeply into it?
Yeah, I think that's reading into it a bit too deeply. All of that other stuff exists in its own world, as what we do here exists in our own world unto itself. I think a lot of people have latched onto the label because of its unpredictable nature -- it's not static, it's not one thing. It can appeal to a wide range of people and it's not directed at anyone in particular.
DJs and music fanatics alike can have equal interest in what the label does, and that is very important. If you strictly release dance floor records, it is going to be hard to sustain a long life as a label. We also work damn hard and put in the hours and that is also quite important as well.
What prompted your move to Paris last year? Was it in any way a reaction to the quality of life and music scene in New York? What has your time in Paris imparted to you as far as what you're doing professionally, if anything?
Essentially, my time in NYC was over. I could have stayed forever and worked at A1 [Records] but nothing would progress. It was too much of an endless loop. One can only do so much there, and after 14 years living in Brooklyn, it was time to move on. A lot of the magic of this city is gone for me, and I think a lot of people who lived here for a long time will agree. In Paris, and Europe in general, there is a lot of new blood and opportunities that simply do not exist in the States. The music may have all started here, but the true interest is overseas.
So what's next for L.I.E.S.? Any forthcoming artist signings or releases we can look forward to?
Over here it is nonstop work. This month will see releases from Daywalker + CF, an LP from Jorge Velez, and 12-inches from new artists NGLY and Person of Interest. There are also a couple of older titles that will be repressed as well. So yeah, we're keeping busy.
You just dropped your new eight-track Periscope Blues EP on Hospital Productions this week. How did you approach the creative process in the studio for this release? It there a common thread, or is it more a collection of individual tracks?
Periscope Blues is the third record I produced for Hospital. It was recorded last summer, in the same sessions as the first two records I did. Sonically, I think this release is the most cohesive when comparing to the first two releases, and when you listen through, it makes the most sense as a listening experience. For me the record is about being stuck in one place with no place to go, thus Periscope Blues.
So how did you hook up with the Hospital label, and why release with them instead of on L.I.E.S.?
Dom [Fernow] approached me and asked me to do some music for his label. He set a deadline and I did it. It could have never happened on L.I.E.S., because since it is my label, there is no one to answer to, no deadline, no one pushing you and so forth.
Last month, we included Greg Beato on our list of Miami's 25 Best Electronic Music Acts -- no small feat for such a young newcomer to the scene. How did you first hook up with Greg and what drew you to what he does as an artist? What makes him L.I.E.S. material?
I was following Greg on SoundCloud and he was always posting tracks. To me, his music possessed an unrelenting energy and had a balance between the ruggedness and the sense of melody, throwing in dramatic string samples or having the right swing on the drums. There was a good juxtaposition between his sounds, and the music also was very dance floor ready, yet also not easy to swallow. It just had many of the right elements of many different styles that all fell into place perfectly.
This won't be the first time you play the Electric Pickle, but there are certainly many locals who have yet to experience one of your DJ sets and the curiosity is growing. What can we expect tonight?
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Expect the unexpected from Greg and myself. Will be a good one.
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Ron Morelli's L.I.E.S. All Night. With Greg Beato. Presented by Safe. Friday, April 11. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $15 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.