There really is very little that Erick Morillo hasn’t turned his hand to.
Erick has been a platinum-selling artist, topped the charts worldwide, has been responsible for an array of dancefloor tracks under pseudonyms like Ministers De La Funk, The Dronez and Li’l Mo Ying Yang, remixed everyone from Whitney Houston to Basement Jaxx and continues to run the legendary Subliminal Records empire.
Along the way there have been ups, downs, and parties across the globe, and in 2017, Erick celebrated the milestone 20th anniversary of Subliminal with its digital relaunch. With perhaps his most prolific year to date coming to its end, Erick’s musical output over 2017 included several original productions and key collaborations, teaming up with Junolarc and Ora Solar, while enlisting Kolsch, Harry Romero, Danny Howard and Pirupa for the Subliminal event relaunch. Going strong into 2018 with energy and determination, Erick Morillo is the next addition to our Legends of House Podcast series.
Here, he shows us 20 years of Subliminal with both sound and knowledge.
“Bad Girl” By Junolarc & Erick Morillo feat. Ora Solar will be released via SUBLIMINAL on December 11th. BUY
The Dance Music landscape in 1997 was very different from what it is today in 2017. As labels have become forced to evolve into full on brands, what were your initial goals with Subliminal? Did you see it as simply being a platform for music or did you see it as a wider industry brand?
It was definitely a brand. Back then, I was doing music with Strictly Rhythm mostly and they were releasing a lot of music. They were at a place where they had so much money that every single could be released, which made quality control go a little askew from time to time. I began to manage DJ Sneak, Junior Sanchez, and Harry Romero and we had a conversation where we felt we needed a new brand for what we were trying to do. This was when DJ Sneak was really the king of the Disco-filtered sound. We wanted to have a brand that looked and felt European, even though it was American. It would stand for quality music. We didn’t invent Filtered House, but we took it to the next level.
So, you did have this vision that Subliminal was more than a label?
Yes. I knew this was going to be a flag for us to wave around proudly. As soon as the label opened, we started doing Subliminal events in New York City, tours around the world, and more. This was the brand, for me.
As a brand does grow and reinforce itself, how has your approach to A&R evolved from the early days of Subliminal until now?
It is a bit different at the moment. Back in the day, we released vinyl and actually sold music. That used to make money and it would then give you more money to play with. I was fortunate in that most of our music came from the in-house camp. We worked with the same group of people so it was always a family atmosphere. Nowadays, 90% of our music I have touched in some way. Now my approach is, you don’t really sell music anymore, you stream it. Licensing is pretty non existent these days. Labels will either use their own artist, so they don’t have to spend money, or advances are so minuscule that they just hope to sell it down the road somewhere. Nowadays, music is a marketing tool. People will forego events if they could be on specific labels to appeal to certain fanbases.
For you, do you prefer the old way? Or do you embrace the new paradigm?
Honestly, one of the best things I did, which was like a prayer being answered, was joining forces with Armada. They have been doing this for a while! I was out of the game for a minute but this was like going back to school. Now, I know the main guy at Spotify and our song with Kryder just got on Sirius. You need to embrace all the new media and you need to know the people who can help. I have never done anything half-assed. Everything needs to be done full on. Armada is like a new mentor. They are teaching me all the tools needed to manoeuvre in this new landscape. I am all in right now! There is nothing else I should be doing!
You don’t mind engaging in the social media protocols then?
I’ll tell you this much, I am glad I jumped on it when I did. I remember when people first started telling me I had to use Instagram and I thought they were fucking crazy. When I did jump on, I became addicted to it. Everytime I do something, I have the potential to see it as being part of my social identity. It’s just part of life now. It is a new world. Do we have to? No, but if you want to sell what we have, people need to find out about it somehow.
What role did Pacha NYC play in the development of Subliminal? The label had been up and running for a while before the club opened but it had to have had some kind of reinforcing effect.
As soon as we opened the label we started doing parties at (new York City’s) Centro-Fly. They were every Thursday. It helped us create the brand. With Pacha, because I was an owner and it came during the time that it came, it was the perfect vehicle for me to continue what had become Subliminal Sessions and to have a venue where I could play until whatever time I wanted. It had that raw, old school New York club feeling that really doesn’t exist anymore. Pacha was one of the last of the true New York City “clubs”. As a city, we were rich in clubs. We had Tunnel, Limelight, USA, Save the Robots, Twilo, Sound Factory, Palladium, these were all humongous venues that brought all walks of life together to celebrate dance music. Pacha was the last of it.
Systematically, New York City has wanted to get rid of clubbing and those people gathering to do it for a very long time. They would send the police inside a club to bust it for drugs that they bring themselves. Being a club owner, I wouldn’t believe it unless I actually saw it. We had undercover police officers coming into the club with drugs they were going to plant and then having people come and raid the club to get the video system. It was incredible! But, it was a great celebration of music and a great way to continue the development of Subliminal and Erick Morillo in New York City.
Well, your time at Pacha did result in one fo the great nightlife photographs of all time – P. Diddy is dressed as the Pope in the DJ booth and is blessing you…
[laughs] That was a Halloween party! I had some really incredible times in that club. The sound system was built to my specification. I felt at home when I was there. Everyone was there, from Adriana Lima to P. Diddy. We had the celebrity element but we always had the clubbing element. It was a family.
What is your relationship like with Ibiza these days?
A long time ago I bought a villa there. Ibiza is one of my homes and is a place I cherish and love going to. I use it as my base to do my European touring and I still did some parties. Some day I might want to do another Subliminal Sessions, but this year I thought I wanted to work with different people. I did the opening of Amnesia, I played with Loco Dice at HYTE, I did a party with Pete Tong at Blue Marlin, a couple of parties at Pacha with Hot Since 82. I thought this was the year to explore different fanbases. I still think Ibiza is the epicenter of Dance Music and I love it. I don’t think I will ever stop going. It has changed A LOT since back in the days but there is nothing like it. People always say Mykonos or Lisbon or wherever is the new Ibiza, but there will never be another one. Ibiza is rich in culture and rich in history. There is something for everyone.
So, for you, it has maintained its distinct atmosphere?
Absolutely! People say it isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t say that. Everything in life changes. It has had to manoeuvre a little but it’s all still there. If you want that dirty style clubbing you go to DC-10. If you want outdoor you go to Ushuaia. If you want to be with the Hippies you can still find it. You just have to search.
Moving forward, what are the future goals for Subliminal?
We have three labels and one that we will relaunch again next year. We have Subliminal, that encompasses any style; Subliminal Soul, which is for Deep House; SONDOS, which is our Techno/tech-House/Tribal imprint; and then Subusa, which is a little more mainstream. For me, it is still about quality music and continuing down that path to be a label DJs go and check because they know the quality is good. I also want to mold younger, up and coming talent as well. We are really focusing on that next year. Then, we will have a bigger presence at events again, and in Ibiza.
Finally, you mentioned how part of your aim with Subliminal and its family of labels is also to take on new, young artists. Aside from nurturing their creative side, I’m wondering if you also embrace the role of industry mentor. Specifically, in terms of “guiding” a younger artist through some of the distractions and vices that could become counter productive to their career longevity, not to mention to maintain issues of Mental Health?
I do embrace the role of a mentor for the upcoming artists. Since I opened up about what I went through, DJs have approached me to ask for advice and guidance on how to deal and cope with certain situations. I’m happy that I can share some of my experience and assist others who may be going through some difficult times.
Rudimental x The Martinez Brothers – No Fear
Dave Martinez – La Atarraya
Lars Wickinger – La La La (Brummkreisel Remix)
FISHER OZ – Stop It
Tim Baresko, Room303 – Marilyn Monroe (Nathan Barato Remix)
Kryder & Erick Morillo feat Bella Hunter – Waves (Erick Morillo & Harry Romero Remix)
Green Velvet, Riva Starr – Keep Pushin’ (Harder)
Kydus – Elements w/ Dajae – U Got Me Up (Danny Tenaglias Club Version)
Junolarc and Erick Morillo feat. Ora Solar – Bad Girl
CamelPhat & Mat.Joe – Bang 2 Drum
Harry Romero – Blazing
Junolarc – Latitude