It's difficult to discuss just a single period from house legend Erick Morillo's three-decade career. The Colombian-American DJ grew up in an era when SoundCloud didn’t exist, and one couldn’t simply email a freshly produced track to a dance music label's rep. Morillo comes from a time when DJs spun on vinyl because it was a necessity, not just an impressive technique on the decks. Even without the internet, the hustle and the need to be better than one's sound-selecting peers was every bit as intense as it is today.
Morillo has seen plenty during his tenure, including the rise and fall of legendary clubs and the advent of EDM culture. But what has remained consistent is his longtime romance with Miami.
“I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to play many shows in Miami, going back to the early Miami Winter Conference days when we did some memorable parties at venues that are no longer around, such as Crobar, Shadow Lounge, and Mansion,” Morillo recalls. After a busy Art Basel weekend that included playing alongside the Martinez Brothers at Heart Festival, Morillo will promptly return to the Magic City Friday, December 20, at Wynwood Factory. He'll be joined on the evening's bill by Miami’s own Cocodrills and Leyva.
“Playing venues like Wynwood Factory, with the history that [Miami after-hours fixture] Louis Puig has, and the venues that he has put together, like Heart and the original Club Space, you know you are going to get a crowd that is musically intelligent and loves that Latin tribal sound,” he says. Like most DJs who honed their mixing skills in the early days of DJ culture, Morillo relies on reading the crowd and takes the party from there; audiences will never find him playing a predetermined set.
“I usually just start playing and get a feel for the room,” Morillo says. “Personally, I find it exciting to try and figure it all out as I go. It can be nerve-racking at times, but it’s all part of the fun.”
Heading into a new decade, Morillo doesn’t seem to be slowing down; in fact, he may be busier than ever before. Earlier this year, his label, Subliminal Records, released the compilation album Subliminal Summer Sessions 2019. And soon he'll be summoned to the idyllic island of Ibiza come the summer, when he's a regular at world-renowned clubs and parties such as Paradise, Elrow Amnesia, and Ultra’s Resistance.
“I think it is great that Ultra is also showcasing the underground artists," he says of the Miami-born music festival's underground-oriented imprint, Resistance. "As the industry changes and [the] underground is definitely becoming more well-known, I think it is important for any festival to grow and move with the times.”
The DJ plans to release a track every other week in 2020 and continue to sign artists who'll inevitably supply his well-stocked armory of delightful house bangers. Listeners can also expect collaborations between Morillo and the likes of Eats Everything, Jamie Jones, Luciano, and Lee Foss. Although he refrains from going into further detail, he hints that a project with Miami pride and joy Gloria Estefan is in the works.
“I was approached by the head of Armada Music to see if I would be interested in remixing ‘Promised Land’ since it was, and still is, one of my favorite records," he says. "I jumped at the opportunity and immediately said yes!”
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Morillo is also credited with helping to spur the career of the celebrated DJ duo the Martinez Brothers. “Many years ago, a friend of mine was insisting that I check out these two young DJs that were simply amazing. I believe they were 14 and 15 at the time,” he shares. “After hearing them play, I was really impressed, and that summer I invited them to join me at my Wednesday-night Subliminal Sessions residency at Pacha Ibiza. It turned out to be their first visit to Ibiza, and they absolutely killed it. Everyone in the room knew they were definitely going to make some noise in the music industry.”
Miami has always been a sanctuary for Morillo, and there isn’t a club or festival he hasn’t spun in the city: He has visited Ultra, Club Space, and even the Miami Beach EDM stronghold LIV. In fact, Morillo and LIV’s owner, David Grutman, have a lengthy history. The DJ can often be seen on the Miami nightlife mogul's numerous Instagram stories. “My relationship with Dave extends back many years," Morilla says. "What makes Dave such a great friend is that he tells you how it is and he doesn’t hold back any punches. That man saved my life in many ways, and he will always have a special place in my heart.”
Having earned his due in the dance music world, Morillo could understandably wind things down and tread on the triumphs of yesteryear. But at the end of the day, Morillo wants to continue honing his craft, making the best music possible, and connecting with crowds on the dance floor. Asked what age has taught him through his long, crazy journey, Morillo simply states, “Keep it positive. Be patient. No drama.”
Ethics. With Erick Morillo, Cocodrills, and Leyva. 11 p.m. Friday, December 20, at Wynwood Factory, 55 NE 24th St., Miami; 786-360-3712; wynwoodfactory.com. Tickets cost $24.80 to $35.80 via electrostub.com.