House-music pioneer Erick Morillo talks shop
Working the East Coast dance music scene since the early ’90s, house music pioneer Erick Morillo is perhaps best known for the 1993 monster dance hit “I Like to Move It,” which he produced under the pseudonym Reel 2 Real. Morillo wows Vegas crowds at Life Nightclub at SLS on May 24, joining a Memorial Day weekend lineup that includes Fedde Le Grand, R3hab and Gareth Emery. Las Vegas Magazine’s Kiko Miyasato recently spoke with Morillo about the future of his style of music.
How’s performing at Life Nightclub stacked up to other clubs you’ve played around the world?
They did a really great job with that place. The sound system, it’s really awesome. I think production-wise as well. I really like playing there. Everyone in the room can see you, and you can see everyone in the room. Some clubs, when you have a lot of people in the room, you can’t see the whole environment and what I like about playing at Life is you can see the whole room when you’re rocking it. You can see everyone going off. I like that.
You’ve been in the industry before there was really even an electronic dance music industry. What have been the biggest changes, besides the paychecks?
It’s really funny here in the U.S. A lot of the industry people call EDM “aggressive house.” Here in America when you say “EDM” to people, it’s supposed to mean electronic dance music … but for some reason over the last year or so, EDM really means progressive house, which is what a lot of the younger DJs are playing these days.
One of the biggest things I’ve seen here in the U.S., there really was no dancing here. Back in the early ’90s there was a little burst of what could have been with C&C Music Factory, CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters, and then all of a sudden hip-hop just took over and there was no more dance music—and this lasted about 17 years. And then it wasn’t until the Black Eyed Peas, with “I’ve Got a Feeling,” that kind of really sparked this whole change in American culture to dance music and to the DJ culture. And then David Guetta came along and then the Swedes. It’s really been incredible to see how it’s changed now, and now dance music is the main culture in America. Now hip-hop is taking a back seat. It’s already happened in other parts of the world, but it’s really great to see it happening in the U.S.
It’s gonna be a slow process from where it is right now to where it will ultimately go, which is more quality dance music. Right now people are kind of being spoon-fed the progressive house, commercial stuff that really isn’t just what dance music is about. But at least we have the culture now instilled in America, and that’s a good thing—it’s kind of like the first step. I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s gonna grow and where it’s going to go.
Is there something that the scene has lost since the underground ’90s? Is there anything you miss?
Not really, in the sense that all that underground stuff still exists. You still have these underground clubs and parties going on. Especially in New York with clubs like Output. There’s a lot of stuff in Brooklyn, too, with warehouse parties. Now more people are into the music. And the Internet has opened up a lot of people who don’t listen to the radio or watch MTV—they’re looking to see what’s cool, what’s hot/what’s not on the radio, and that’s opening the whole scene a little bit, too.
This is kind of where I would have loved it to be back then. So, I don’t really miss anything except for the fact that people weren’t spoon-fed a lot of the garbage music that’s out there right now. Its like pop music has taken over dance music, and it should be the other way around. All the pop stars want a dance record now, so they do a record with so and so and so and so but there’s no quality to the actual song. Nobody’s paying attention to the songwriting, nobody’s paying attention to the song, it’s just kind of like, “Let’s get this noise going and write the song, and get so and so to sing it, and there we go, we have a record out.”
There’s been very few records, in the past year, year and a half, that I can tell you are quality dance records. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a few—Calvin Harris has had a bunch. There are artists who do focus, so I’m not trying to say everyone, but it just seems like the culture has sort of gone that way and I can’t wait for the quality stuff to start breaking through.
Do you miss carrying around crates of records, or do you love the new, modernized DJ equipment?
I can’t tell you I miss carrying records around (laughs), absolutely not. I wouldn’t be carrying them anyway because I have a tour manager. But the problem is if you have a long-haul flight and you have to be somewhere, when your records go missing it’s the worst feeling in the world. Number one, you never know if you’re going to get them back; number two, you can’t show up to a gig and go, “Oh well, I can’t give you 100 percent of my show because I don’t have all my records.” That was the biggest reason that I said, “OK, it’s time to move to CDs.” Now I do USB.
Staying on the topic of computerized DJ equipment, what are your thoughts on the technology?
I’m not really happy with computer DJs. I mean, it’s good, I guess, because when the new 18-year-old kids that are coming on now don’t know how to DJ, they could become a DJ in a week because they don’t need to learn how to mix anymore. But we’re losing quality. I can count on just one hand how many DJs are actually putting on a quality show now. Which raises the question: What’s a good show and what’s not a good show? I’m not talking about the pop star DJs who are literally going to play their own music. I’m talking about DJs that can literally go and play music. That’s kind of what we’re losing now. I really thought that when this computer stuff came up, I thought there was going to be such a backlash and people would say, “Oh my god, how could you do that?” But there really hasn’t been any backlash.
Even Paris Hilton is a DJ now. Don’t get me wrong, she’s my girl, I love her. I think Paris is like our modern Madonna, not necessarily musically, but business savvy, she is second to none. She knows how to talk, make things happen, so she stays relevant. The fact that she wants to take on being a DJ, I won’t diss her or anything, but at the same time if you gave her two turntables and a mixer could she do a mix? That’s the question. Could she? I would say probably 75 percent of the DJs out there can’t, and again I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m not saying it’s good, I’m not out here to judge. If the crowd doesn’t mind, if the people don’t care, then it’s really not a problem.
For me, my best gigs are not knowing what I’m going to play next. I connect with the crowd, and the room lights up. And it seems nowadays a DJ thinks that the best thing to do is play one big, noisy record one after the other, and the record is made for that. It’s like a big buildup and then just noise coming out of everywhere. And the producers who are making records now, it’s like, who can make the nosiest, loudest, fastest record to see the reaction of the crowd. But it has nothing to do with the crowds closing their eyes and feeling the music and again. I’m talking about that progressive house music, what they call EDM, what is really not EDM, it’s progressive house.
Do you feel you have a responsibility to, or have to set an example for, the younger DJs coming up in the scene?
It's not so much that I feel a responsibility; it’s more if asked I’ll definitely give my experiences and help with what they’re going through. Recently, I’m not going to mention any names—but it's a huge name and success has come really, really fast and they don’t know how to deal with it—and they wanted to know how I dealt with it. How was I doing it? How was I keeping my house together? I can offer advice in that respect. As far as responsibility to them, I would love DJs to mix more, follow their heart with music. Unfortunately what’s happening is a lot of these young kids now they want to be DJs and in America the only sound that they see that’s big is either really, really cheesy commercial music or they want to be cool and they want to be underground, so they’re gonna go that route, but there’s nothing in the middle.
So, if there’s any example that I’m gonna set and that I want to do in the next year is to create that middle, but it’s got to be quality. The problem right now, the music that’s coming out right now, there’s such a saturation of all that noisy stuff because everyone wants to be Afrojack, everyone wants to be David Guetta because they don’t know anything else. Who else can they look at and go, “Hey, I want to be like that?” There’s nobody in the middle. It’s either really noisy, commercial or really underground, Jamie Jones kind of stuff, that whole vibe. I think that’s what my responsibility is, to not only the younger guys, but to myself.
Do you think the EDM bubble is going to burst, or only get bigger and better?
I don’t think that the dance culture bubble is going to burst. It’s a loaded question. Do I think DJs making the kind of money they’re making now is gonna burst? Absolutely. Clubs can’t withstand that, and I think especially if music doesn’t change people are going to get bored and tired of the same old noisy crap. I do believe that there’s a bubble that’s going to burst, but we’re not going to go backwards where people don’t like dance music. I think dance music culture is here to stay. So yes and no is the answer to that question. I just think the way it looks like now things are gonna change, clubs just can’t afford to pay these DJs, and I’m a DJ, so don’t get me wrong. Just because the scene is big you have everybody trying to make a lot of money, so everyone thinks they should be making a lot of money. It’s kind of crazy.
Who are some of your favorite DJs from back in the day? What about present day?
Back in the day, definitely Little Louie Vega, David Morales, Derrick Carter, old days those would be my guys. Presently, that’s a tough one there. I will tell you I like what Jamie Jones is doing; I like his vibe, I like his sound. I like The Martinez Brothers.
If you could sum up your performance at Life, how would you describe it—the vibe, the music, the energy?
For me it’s about good energy, good vibes. Definitely hands up in the air, a little bit of vocals, and a little bit of everything. I’ve always been a smorgasbord of music. I’ll play deep. I’ll play pumping. I’ll play a little tribal. I’ll even play a little techno. For me, it’s about reading the crowd and going with it and letting people have fun. I play house. I play deep house. I play tribal. I play tech house and I play techno. Whatever you want to call it all together, than that’s what it is.