The rise of Long Island Electrical Systems has always been, at least in part, a matter of geography.
With a few honourable exceptions, the label is built around a particular corner of New York’s musical community. But L.I.E.S. founder Ron Morelli has long maintained a robust cynicism towards the city (as far back as 2011 he was calling it “an overrated cesspool”). And this year, finally, he’s made good his escape. Over the summer, he left behind his life in the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn – and his job behind the counter at A1 records – to run the label remotely from Paris (though, it should be said, L.I.E.S. stalwart Svengalisghost also lives in Paris, as does new signing Voiski).
Morelli seems unfazed by having left behind the city he called home for so long (“when it was done it was done” is the way he puts it). It’s certainly a practical move, enabling him to better capitalise on his label’s growing acclaim on the European club circuit (he will play alongside Legowelt, Marcos Cabral and Svengalisghost for a L.I.E.S. showcase at London’s Fabric this weekend – details here). But when we meet in the restaurant of an Amsterdam hotel ahead of an appearance at Trouw, Morelli doesn’t want to talk about the move, New York, or, really, the label. He seems exhausted at the idea of fielding yet another round of inane interview questions – and who can blame him? Instead, over the course of a subdued 30 minute conversation and subsequent followup emails, what enthuses him is his new album, Spit, and his relationship with Dominick Fernow, through whose Hospital Productions label it appears.
Morelli’s debut release under his birth name, Spit’s eight grubby machine workouts are apparently inspired by “the fear and repulsion of basic human interaction”. The record is certainly not his magnum opus but, made in stolen moments between managing L.I.E.S.’ obscene release schedule and a packed gigging calendar, it feels like a neat snapshot of where this feted artist is up to in 2013. Of Fernow, he says at one point, “He is a person that gets things done and has based his life around his work, often isolating himself from the outside world”. It’s easy to see why the two hit it off.
You’ve produced a handful of records in the last few years, collaborative things mostly. Do you always have a few bits of music bubbling under, or is it only something you do when you’re set a specific goal?
I’m always messing around, but I never finish anything. Whenever there’s time. As of late – the last year – a lot less.
Is it something you wish you could dedicate more time to?
Yeah, it would be great to be able to do it. That’s kind of the goal, is to be able to do more of that and less sitting on email all day.
In decades to come, would you want to be remembered as a producer as much as—
Well, I don’t even care about that at all, I just enjoy making music. It’s relaxing and it’s fun to do, so.
The album is out on Hospital. How did you first meet Dominick Fernow? Presumably you encountered him while you were living in New York – did you ever go to the Hospital shop when it was open?
I met Dom through a mutual friend, Steve Lowenthal. Oddly enough, it was the day before he was moving to LA. I actually never went to the shop when it was open, though I used to go to Jammyland, the store above Hospital, quite a bit.
Were there aspects of his approach that you identified with right away?
Yeah, well, immediately I felt Dom had this reckless energy and incomparable work ethic that I had a deep respect for. When he speaks it’s not bullshit, if he says something is going to happen it is going to happen. He’s very direct, to the point, and has a vision. My release was catalog number HOS-407. That’s 407 releases on his own label – not including his own work for other labels – since 1998. He is a person that gets things done and has based his life around his work, often isolating himself from the outside world. So, yeah, I related to him, I think.
I guess the two of you occupy, or occupied, quite different musical worlds. Has there been a lot of cross talk between these worlds in New York in the past? I’m interested in whether the scene is quite interconnected there, or whether it’s very ghettoized.
The thing is, everything is so split apart in the world of “dance music”, I never considered myself to be part of the world of dance music, although I may have been DJing and working around that medium. To me, dance music is the Shelter and Body and Soul and Fort Greene Park, Dance Tracks Record Store, Vinyl Mania Records, Sonic Groove and so forth. Then you have all the sub-sects and sects and sects of sub-sects. Like techno people who would never listen to Blaze, or indie rockers into Kompakt Records but who would never listen to Jeff Mills, or some guy into Coil who buys New Beat and might also check out old R&S, but not a DJ International record. This is what I would see while working at A1, and it was a great way to gauge and see how split up the different worlds that fall under the umbrella of “dance music” are.
So yeah, the world of noise music to me was always pretty separate from, say, the world of techno. Obviously there were exceptions, but these scenes generally never crossed over. Not that I was going to noise shows, because I wasn’t, save Black Dice and Wolf Eyes affairs. With that said I think now a lot of lines have been blurred and there probably is some intermingling, with noise scene people taking a shot at making some techno. Mind you, we’re speaking about NYC here, not the rest of the world. I mean, the fact that Mick Harris, drummer of one of the most legendary grindcore bands of all time [Napalm Death], also made some of the craziest Mills-esque techno in the ’90s says a lot. This fact would probably send some hesher living in his mom’s basement in Jersey to an early grave if he found out.
Talk about the making of Spit. You threw it together in a few weeks, right? Were you conscious of not allowing yourself to get bogged down in editing or fine-tuning?
To me, yes, this is not re-inventing the wheel, you’re working in a tried and true format and throwing your own shitty take on what has been done by the masters years ago. And in this case I didn’t have a choice to take months and months. There was a one month window, give or take, and yeah, you knock it out and get it done. I think it’s good to get lost in the frantic energy of the moment and not stop to think. To me if it sounds good then it is good. The bottom line is that there is always more one can do. You can always edit more, you can always EQ more, you can sit there for days or months getting stuck on a sound. When this happens it numbs the initial feeling to me.
You’ve described it as a ‘throw it on and get distracted’ record. Lately it’s common to hear people complain about how their attention spans have been damaged by the internet, social networking and so on – how they can’t now sit down and, say, listen to a record from start to finish like they used to. Do you identify with that?
I completely identify with that and it’s the worst thing in the world, especially for music. I hate it. I don’t enjoy music on the same level I did when I was a kid – for numerous reasons. You would buy a Public Enemy tape in 1988 and you would listen to that tape in your Walkman start to finish 10 times a day. You would know all the words, when the DJ would scratch it would be a part of you. It was an escape and an obsession. And you would play these tapes until the next release would come out, sometimes two years later. DJing has ruined me too. You’re playing sections of a song, not a whole song. It’s the most ADD format ever. When was the last time you listened to a techno track in its entirety? Aside from some Cybotron stuff or Drexciya or some Transmat jams, probably never. The records are DJ tools meant to be played to move a crowd and get them into a frenzy, and you’re just playing small chunks of these tracks, never the whole thing. It is a bit bizarre.
But yeah, the internet, iTunes – forget it. Just skipping through songs: ‘No, no, no, pretty cool part, no, no, cool, no’. You ever go to a house party and they have iTunes playing? No one can even leave a damn song on all the way through. They have 15,000 tracks at their fingertips and are always trying to put something cooler on. It sucks man, it just plain sucks. But there is no fighting it, so best figure out how to live in this shit or get left in the dust.
The record is quite sluggish in places, very much sit-down music. Did that reflect your headspace? Having spent so much time in clubs in the past year? Are you less interested in making club music in your time off?
I submitted about 20 tracks to Dom for the record and let him compile what he wanted on the LP. For this particular LP, yeah, I would have liked it if there was only one track with a kick drum on there really – but again, I left it to the label to make the decision. That is their job and I trust them. For me, the less club-oriented the better. I don’t ever really think I’ll be able to make a “club” record, it’s not in my nature. But it’s fun to try.
You’ve said the record is about “the fear and repulsion of basic human interaction”. Would you describe yourself as an anti-social person – do you prefer to be on your own rather than in crowded social situations? How does this square with your career as a club DJ?
Anti-social… hmm, I don’t know. I’m just disgusted by humanity, really, I always have been. I live by a simple Catholic rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated, or something like that. All I see is constant disrespect on the most basic of human levels, all of the time, everywhere. People are terrible and always have been. That’s the harsh truth since the dawn of man. You reach a certain age and you’re not making friends, you’re just losing them one by one and that’s just fine. We’re all going to die alone. Regarding being in a club: well, I love DJing, I live for it, but generally I hate being in the club unless I’m playing. So yeah, figure that one out.
To talk about L.I.E.S. for a second: a lot of people have been impressed by the volume of records you put out. What’s your reasoning behind releasing so much?
The music is there from the artists, so if I can get it out I’m going to get it out as fast as possible. There’s no reason to sit around and wait. Like in 1992, Strictly Rhythm or Nu Groove would put out three records a week, maybe more. This is no different than that. If other labels don’t do it, that’s their prerogative. Maybe they can’t do it – I tend to think that’s probably it. Some people are just artists – like Confused House, they put out four records this year, and that’s cool. For me, my job is to put out new music now. No artist wants to wait nine months or a year, you know?
Is there a point beyond which it’s too much?
It’s a dense amount of material to digest, even for myself. It’s a lot. Too much? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not to say. Like I said, it’s the same thing as in the ’90s, when record labels were putting out records like a record label should. To me, that’s exciting – going to the shop every week to check out new releases from a label you love. Some stuff you’re not gonna like, but then there’s gonna be another one coming soon.