Erick Morillo chats to Brian Murphy about his career so far, including his first time in Ibiza as well as his residency at Pacha Ibiza, and also talks the label ‘Subliminal Records’ plus the best advice he’s ever been given.
There really is very little in the world of music and entertainment that Erick Morillo hasn’t turned his hand to. He’s a platinum-selling artist, he’s topped the charts worldwide as the producer behind Reel 2 Real’s hit “I Like To Move It” (used in both Madagascar movies, reaching millions of viewers worldwide and covered by Will I Am in Madagascar 2) and he’s been responsible for a bewildering array of dance-floor tracks including ‘Reach’, ‘Believe’, ‘Do What You Want’ and ‘I Feel Love’ – under pseudonyms including Ministers De La Funk, The Dronez (with Harry ‘Choo Choo’ Romero and Jose Nunez) and Li’l Mo Ying Yang. He’s remixed everyone from Whitney Houston to Basement Jaxx and continues to run the legendary Subliminal Records house music empire.
Read more about Erick Morillo on his biography and listen to his interview with Unity Radio below:
BM: Every week here on Unity Radio we speak to the leading artists on the dance music scene for the ‘Real Sound of the City’ feature. Today I’m joined by Erick Morillo, how’s it going man?
EM: Hi, it’s going well. Thank you for having me.
BM: You had a nice day?
EM: I’m having a beautiful day. Out in LA and getting ready to head out to Europe for ten days.
BM: Nice. Are you touring?
EM: I am. I’m going to be in London, I’ll be playing in Tenerife, I’m going to Ibiza for three days then I’m playing Barcelona at SONAR, then I’m in Macedonia, then Istanbul, and I’m going to finish it off in Sao Paolo in Brazil then back in LA. All in ten days, yeah!
BM: So then, where did it all start for you? What was it that created who you are today?
EM: It all started when I was 11 really. That’s when I got the fever for DJing. I would watch my neighbour DJ in his house and I fell in love with the art form. After that, just always being in love with music I think, then one thing led to another and I started producing music. The rest is history as they say.
BM: How can you describe your sound to the listeners?
EM: At the moment it’s sexy, it’s deep, it’s techy and it has balls.
BM: Where was the turning point in your career which made you think ‘yes, I’m going to be DJ Erick Morillo’?
EM: I did a record when I was 20 called ‘I like to move it’ with my group Real2Real and that gave me an opportunity to come to England for the first time. It was just unbelievable the kind of dance culture that existed in England back in 1991/2. And at the time coming from New Jersey where we had no dance culture where it was all about rock and hip hop was just coming on board, it was like I had gone to heaven. I think that first trip to London when I went to the Ministry of Sound to see David Morales there. Everybody was just standing and looking at the DJ. I didn’t understand that people were there to see him. They were living off his every move, and he had no shirt on. People were just losing their minds, DJs there are like gods. It was then that I had an ‘aha’ moment where I said that I wanted to become one of the biggest DJs in the world. From that point on it was a very clear path to that because of the Real2Real success and notoriety. It took me a while to shake that image because it became such a huge phenomenon, and it took a minute for the Ministry of Sound to want to book me.
BM: Speaking of the 90s. You were known as Erick ‘More’ Morillo. A lot of DJs tended to have the tags in between their names. What was the reason that you dropped it?
EM: The reason I had it in the beginning was because GLADYS BEZOAR FROM STRICTLY RHYTHM, whenever I would hand in a record I would give her six or seven mixes, so she would call me Eric ‘More for your money’ Morillo. That’s where the name came from. I just remember being in the studio with Harry and Jose and they said that I should drop it. I believe it was after I left Strictly Rhythm and started Subliminal Records that the ‘more’ dropped. We wanted to invent something that was very cool and underground and just for DJs, so it was time to grow up a little bit. We didn’t grow up at all, but it made me feel grown up.
BM: As you mentioned about being one of the biggest DJs in the world, can you tell us what it was like at the height of your career being so successful?
EM: It was overwhelming at times, because I wasn’t just satisfied with just being a DJ, I wanted to run my own business which was a record company, I wanted to manage other DJs, so I was managing Harry and Jose, DJ Sneak, Julio Sanches. There were so many things that I was doing, so it was definitely overwhelming but it was some of the best times of my life. It definitely does bring perks with the job, obviously being one of the first DJs to fly around with private planes and five star hotels. It really was the lifestyle of ‘sex drugs and rock and roll’. I kept my head together for a while. I have been blessed with the best job in the world, because I get to travel around the world and play the music that I love and share a bit of myself with the people.
BM: You have a huge catalogue of music dating back to the early 90s and you’ve worked with some amazing artists like P Diddy, Jocelyn Brown, Harry Romero and Shawnee Taylor. Which of your own tracks are you proudest of?
EM: Three songs stick out for me. Obviously ‘I Like To Move It’ because it really opened all the doors that gave me the bit of financial cushioning that I needed to be able to do the things that I wanted to in life. The second would be the one I did with Harry Romero and Jose Nunez under our collective ‘Ministers De-La-Funk’ with Jocelyn Brown called ‘Believe’. It was one of those records that, even when I hear it now, I remember how she went in the vocal booth and knocked out that vocal in one take. It was like God had just come into the studio and touched her. She came out and cried, I cried, it was just one of those moments. The final one is a record I did with Eddie Thoneick and Shawnee Taylor called ‘Live Your Life’ just because of the message and what I was going through in my life at that time. I’ve never gotten so many messages from people telling me about how this song touched them, saved their lives or helped them through a tough moment than with this song. It’s one of those records that we smashed out in about half an hour, when they happen you know it’s magic and it’s really exciting.
BM: I can agree with that. I’ve actually seen people with tattoos of the lyrics from ‘Live Your Life’ on their bodies.
EM: Absolutely. The message is very simple but very clear. It’s all about what we need to be doing these days, which is to stay present, live your life and don’t worry about the nonsense. Be free, you can have it all.
BM: You just released a new single with Eli & Fur called ‘Thunder and Lightning’ on Subliminal Records. How did that come around and how does it feel to be making music again?
EM: To be honest I’ve been back on the path of making music for about a year and a half now and I have about 20 releases that are going to be coming out now through Subliminal Records over the next six months, so every two weeks there will be something new coming out on Subliminal Records. A person that I used to work with before who’s been in my career for almost ten years is managing Eli & Fur now. Helen and I were chatting and she got them to come to the studio, and they’re such nice girls. They’re really into what they’re doing and they’re really talented singers and producers. We did two songs together, one being ‘Thunder and Lightning’ and another coming out in probably October. This was the best record to embark on this new phase with, because it’s now all about the deep, dirty and grindy as well as the bassline. I want to bring vocals back into the underground. Right now there’s so much music coming from the underground but not a lot of vocals, and the ones that do have vocals are really pop-y and cheesy. Bringing vocals back to the underground is my new mission in life. I’m really lucky to have worked with these girls, they’re definitely artists to watch out for.
BM: Is that the way you’re going to be taking Subliminal Records for the future now?
EM: Absolutely. We have a new record coming out this week from myself and a gentleman from Germany called Junolarc called ‘This Is How We Do It’ which will be out on the 10th June. It’s more of a techno-house kind of thing, but a little bit harder than a vocal. After that, in two weeks Harry Romero is releasing a funky record called ‘Rude’. Then I have another record with Junolarc coming out which is a more deepish vocal track but not in-your-face. After that we’re launching our Subliminal Records classics remixed which is basically some of the old Subliminal Records catalogue being remixed by some of the musicians that are really hot right now. It’s a really cool series and about every six weeks or so there’s going to be a different remix. It’s quite exciting, because there’s so much going on right now, and I’m just happy to be back and loving music again. For a little while I lost myself, I tried to chase more of what was going on in the U.S and the success there as opposed to staying true to myself. It cost me a little bit but here I am back and swinging. Even if only three people picked up the record I don’t mind, it’s not about success now it’s about making myself happy.
BM: Let’s turn to Ibiza, because it’s played a major part in your life and career. Can you tell us about the first time you went to Ibiza?
EM: The first time was when I went to Space Ibiza back in 1993. I remember getting off the plane after a really rowdy flight from either Manchester or Leeds. It was one of those low-fare airlines so everybody was drinking and partying, I remember thinking it was insane. I got dropped off at the hotel and I was told I would be picked up at around 6.37am because Space Ibiza didn’t open until 6 in the morning. I walked around San Antonio and went to either Es Paradis Ibiza or Foam and then I was picked up to go and play at Space Ibiza on the Sunday. I remember the DJ booth facing the bottles of alcohol and you had the back to the crowd and the terrace with no roof and the vibe was just going off. I had to get a flight right after my set to Manchester to play at either Sankeys or the Haçienda in the early afternoon. Ever since then I knew that I had to go back to Ibiza. I went back the following year with Ministry of Sound and Cream Ibiza. In 1997 I started a 13-year residence at Pacha Ibiza playing Subliminal Records on Wednesdays and I ended up buying a house there in 2002. I had some of the up-and-coming performers as guests such as Steve Angelo, Avicii and David Guetta. It was a great place to have as a stage to launch music and to have my finger on the pulse as to what was going on. You know exactly who’s hot coming out from Ibiza by the end of the summer.
BM: You spoke about your Subliminal Records residency at Pacha Ibiza, can you describe Pacha Ibiza to the listeners?
EM: For me Pacha Ibiza is a great place because it was one of those clubs that everybody got dressed up for. It’s a really big room, and because of the vibe and the energy and with the ceiling being low the vibes we would get were phenomenal. I remember the first time we played our Subliminal Sessions party, it was actually called Subliminal Underworld. Darren Emerson and I were playing back-to-back, and he was known straight up for Techno but I was known for House. People realised that back-to-back that it actually worked. So for me, Pacha Ibiza is a big club but it still feels intimate and that’s what I’ve always loved about it. Even though it’s got the VIP and the tables, it never made the clubbers feel distant. It has a great sound system, a great production, the dancers are always on fire and they were my family for a very long time. This year I did the final opening party for Space Ibiza and that was incredible, it really went off and they had to close off the main room from like 5 until 8 in the morning, so it was a great way to kick off my Ibiza season. I’ll be back in July to do Carl Cox and I’ll also be doing the closing party for Space Ibiza later in the season.
BM: Playing the opening party and the closing party for such a legendary club like Space Ibiza in its final ever year must be crazy. What are your thoughts on it?
EM: Well the fact that it’s closing is a damn shame. I have so many great memories at that club. I used to do the closing party and the birthday for like 10 years in a row and closing the terrace. It’s definitely part of my Ibiza history and it’s a shame for people who haven’t experienced it and now won’t experience it. When 9/11 happened I remember being trapped in New York and couldn’t catch my flight to England, but when I eventually got on a plane there was literally like three people on the plane because everybody was afraid to fly. Surely enough when I eventually got to Space Ibiza I played Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ as my last song and people just started pulling out American flags. People were getting on eachother’s shoulders, some were crying, and I turned down the volume so people could sing the chorus. That was just one of those moments, I’m getting chills just thinking about it now. It’s a moment that will live on forever in me. For a lot of people Space Ibiza, it was a place for everybody to go. I’m a little sad but everything must move on in the world. It was a great privilege for me to play that opening party and the closing party is probably going to be so emotional for so many people.
BM: You’ve recently spoken about your personal matter of overcoming a drug addiction at the International Music Summit. I’m sure this was very hard to get off your chest but how does it feel now that you’ve got it out there?
EM: To be honest it was something that I felt I needed to do. Ben Turner and Pete Tong spoke to me about it and I thought it was about the right time. If nothing else it was healing to be able to let it out, but the biggest reason for me was to let the young DJs and Producers coming up today who put so much pressure on themselves to succeed that firstly don’t think it can’t happen to you and secondly don’t think that it’s easy to stop. For me it took a therapist to be able to open up and get it out to realise that the problem was my ego. There aren’t many people in my genre of music who have achieved success and who are able to say to those coming up to be aware, so I just want to let people know about some of the pitfalls of having success, or even without the success to not let the pressures of the business get you down.
BM: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2016?
EM: Honestly, there’s going to be so much new music coming out. There’s a Subliminal Records track coming out every fortnight, which I’m excited about. There will be a lot of touring as well because I’m back to my old self and I love what I do. I’ve got a compilation coming out through CR2 Records which will be the Space Ibiza final year compilation; Carl Cox is doing pt.1 and I’m doing pt. 2 which I think will be out in September. I then have my own Subliminal Records compilation coming out in October. Obviously I did a deal with Armada Music so they’re now my partners, and I’m really excited to have such hard-working partners.
BM: Outside of music, what do you like to do in your spare time?
EM: Right now my life is very simple: yoga, training and just generally taking care of myself. I enjoy being with my family and sharing time with friends. I’m just doing things that I didn’t really do before, and making sure I take time off. I like spending time with the people that I’ve met in all these different places over the world over the past 20-something years. I really feel like I have integrity with myself now and I know what I want and won’t settle for less, not just career-wise.
BM: We spoke about how you intend to spread advice after your personal matter, but what’s the best advice that you’ve been given?
EM: Within music it would be to do what you love and stay true to what you do. No matter what it is it will come back around again. I’ll be damned if it is not happening right before my own eyes that House music is doing it to such an extent that I can’t even fathom. If you were to tell me this six or seven years ago I would have told you you were insane.
BM: If you weren’t a DJ/producer, what would you be doing right now?
EM: Probably an electrician or an actor. When I was a little kid I used to like dismantling all of my toys and then putting them back together again. I’ve always had a bug for acting as well; I used to host a couple of shows for MTV over in Ibiza, and I just like being in front of a camera. Acting might be something for the future, who knows. I’m working on a book at the moment as well and producing a TV show, so yeah there’s a lot going on. The book will go into more detail on the escapades that I’ve got into over my career
BM: Could you give us your best advice for up-and-coming DJs of today?
EM: Play the music that you love; don’t worry if it isn’t popular or if it’s being played in the clubs, just stay true to what you do and you’ll find your niche.
BM: Thanks a lot for your time.
EM: Thank you very much out there for the love.
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