Ron Morelli Isn't Interested in the Clown Show
a.k.a. An interview with the L.I.E.S. founder about his label, its place in the dance music canon and his upcoming solo album.
What were the most influential dance music labels of the 2010s?
Hessle Audio, Night Slugs, PAN, probably a handful of others, but when looking back at that decade, no accounting of what happened would be complete without the story of L.I.E.S. Records.
Founded in 2010 and headed up by Ron Morelli, a Long Island native who’d come of age in the punk and hardcore scene, L.I.E.S. quickly made an impression, its raw (and often distortion-riddled) grooves reflecting the grit and grime of the New York City streets many of its artists then called home. During a time when many US scenes had fizzled or were actively looking abroad for inspiration, L.I.E.S. provided a distinctly American take on dance music, one whose gruff attitude and unpolished presentation also spoke to countless young punk, noise and experimental music fans, many of whom had otherwise written off club culture as a cornball endeavor.
As interest in the label quickly grew and journalists began to take notice, L.I.E.S. suddenly found itself in the center of a hype storm, its artists—and Morelli in particular, who was also a fixture behind the counter at NYC’s famed A-1 Record Shop—held up as icons of what had awkwardly been dubbed “outsider house.” Like many genre descriptors, it wasn’t a term that the L.I.E.S. crew endorsed or adopted themselves—and to be fair, it was also applied to a slew of other artists and labels on both sides of the Atlantic—but its growth did propel Morelli, along with producers like Delroy Edwards, Terekke, Steve Summers and Svengalisghost—to a certain level of international acclaim. Outsiders or not, they soon found themselves on the European club and festival circuit, playing for crowds who weren’t always ready for the label’s corroded rhythms.
The hype around L.I.E.S. didn’t last of course, but the label has soldiered on all the same, often releasing more than a dozens records within the span of a single year. Other sounds and scenes have come and gone in dance music, but L.I.E.S. has remained sonically consistent, routinely tapping into the gritty sounds of early Chicago house and Detroit techno, but also exploring the noisier and more experimental corners of electronic music. Morelli himself has also continued to span that gap; although he’s one of the few artists from the early days of L.I.E.S. who’s continued to regularly DJ around the globe—it helped that he relocated from NYC to Paris in 2013—much of his solo production work has swerved the dancefloor entirely, focusing instead on harsh sonics and gnarled blasts of noise.
Last year, however, Morelli dropped L.I.E.S. Promo 03, a 12” on which he dove headlong into the stripped-down sounds of early house music. It marked a rare appearance on his own label—most of his previous solo output had been released via Hospital Productions, an imprint that in recent years has been hit with intense criticism regarding its founder Dominick Fernow’s associations with extreme right-wing tropes and figures—and the record signaled a potential change in direction, at least when it came to the kind of music that Morelli was making.
That musical direction is now set to continue with the recently announced Heart Stopper. Due to arrive on April 28—the title track is streaming here in the meantime—it’s Morelli’s first-ever full-length on his own label, and is being billed as his “definitive dance music statement to date.” Harkening back to both the ’80s-era sounds of Chicago, Detroit and New York and the early days of L.I.E.S., it represents something of a full-circle moment for the label, which Morelli has now been running for more than decade. (That said, it’s also surfacing at a time when the L.I.E.S. aesthetic feels rather far away from the current dance music sphere’s most hyped sounds and styles, which raises of the question of exactly how the album will be received.)
Given all of that, now seems like a particularly good time to check in with Morelli, and though the L.I.E.S. founder has only granted a handful of interviews in recent years, he agreed to speak with me. Over the course of a long call last week and a few follow-up conversations, we not surprisingly talked a lot about his new album and what inspired it, but we also looked back at the history of L.I.E.S. and how, despite its relative consistency, its place in the wider dance music landscape has continually shifted throughout the label’s long run. Along the way, Morelli also shared his unfiltered thoughts about dance music’s current state of affairs, and looked ahead to where both he and L.I.E.S. might be headed in the years to come.