Purveyors of raw, analogue house and techno, Brooklyn label L.I.E.S. - an acronym for Long Island Electrical Systems - has risen to prominence fast since its inception in 2010. Very much a low key, DIY imprint, it's the singular vision of label boss and longtime record shop employee Ron Morelli. We sat down with Ron last week to talk about the state of the scene in New York, some of his label's key releases, and how L.I.E.S. like to keep it in the family..
So let's talk a little about your home city. It's become a bit of cliche that New York's scene ain't what it used to be; but between l.i.e.s., Underground Quality, Deconstruct, Plan B recordings- there's a lot of great records getting shipped out from there at the moment right? Yeeeah. I would say so, for sure.
Yet you've been quoted saying the party scene's still pretty whack. Is that still a knock-on effect from the Giuliani crackdowns fifteen years ago? Yeah I mean it’s a number of things, and I definitely feel that the city has changed so much, you know? There isn't a proper night life infrastructure here for underground music. There are warehouse parties going on out there, but there are always caveats (as everyone knows) with the police, but also budgeting. It’s hard to have parties that are really underground and consistent, because you know the venue's always switching and there's maybe not so much of a loyal following; where if you had an underground club with resident DJs that the crowd trusts then people would go there all the time. But that doesn’t exist now, you know the club scene's like high end flashy clubs, hotels not places made for real underground music.
The places with the best systems are often a bit slick and soulless and then the real warehouse parties and underground parties have whack sound.. Yeah. You know its like the spirit is there for the party, but [regarding] the infrastructure for the party-you know, the money’s not normally there, so promoters suffer for it in the end. It’s like a no-win situation really.
I understand you still work at A-1 [a used record store in East Village]. So listening to records all day, recommending and re-ordering - the job must have played a big part in forming the aesthetic of your label. Well you know the shop is only used records, so it’s not trying to be at the forefront of the scene or anything. But obviously it somewhat shapes… you’re always learning you know? Always being put onto something new. The world of music’s infinite, there's always something to find, which undoubtedly contributes to one’s taste… so yeah, sure.
Let's talk about l.i.e.s. You're the sole proprietor of the label right? Yep. I do it all..
Something that's become a trademark of your label is the speed at which you put out new music - twelve records since last April by my count. Is that due to having so much dope shit on your hard drive that you want to put out, or is that just the pace you enjoy working at? It’s I think a mixture of both. I'm very fortunate at this point to be around a lot of very productive and creative artists here, and they’re always getting music to me. I feel very fortunate to have people who wanna work with me, that’s really the main thing. The other thing is that I'm trying to be professional and have a release schedule and keep to it. So if I don’t get things into production immediately there’s always a margin for error in pressing vinyl (at least I’ve had some very unlucky experiences over the last year and a half with issues of pressing). So my whole thing is that, once someone finishes a record, I want to put it into production immediately, because then, when things get into production immediately you have like a push pull where you can sub things in and push things out, and then the record's ready to go.
I think it's also better to work fast because with the speed of the internet and the amount of labels out there, if you're not keeping active, I think you're forgotten pretty quickly. I was talking to a friend the other day, saying it's not like the 80s where you’d listen to a tape over and over again, and eagerly await the next Public Enemy tape or record to come out which could come out in two or three years. Now if you wait two or three years you’re forgotten.
I heard the other day that people have now found a way of nicking soundcloud clips even if they’re just up for streaming… so yeah, you’re right, you need to get it out there before people are driven to stealing shitty rips! Yeah, you know the piracy thing's a double edged sword you know, it's like the more people that have your stuff the better. But at the same time if everyone paid the couple of dollars stuff costs in digital then everyone – the artist, the label, even the listener – would ultimately benefit. But it's gonna happen, I don’t see any way of it really stopping, unless the internet begins to get regulated, which may happen, may not. I think major labels have lost so much money over the years, they must be clamouring to the government about figuring out ways to change their business, beacuse things are getting a bit stupid.
Some of the best music you put out has been on white label, in my opinion at least. That Terekke ep mind fucks me every time I hear it! Where'd you find the guy? He lived in Brooklyn for quite some time, we didn’t really know each other, we’d never really met, but we’d both been to the same parties without every really meeting. I wanna say I came across his music on soundcloud, we think that’s what happened. And then when we met it turned out I recognised him from parties and stuff, so yeah kind of a pure coincidence really. At this point we’re working on more music for later this year.. But yeah, he’s great.
White label seems to fall into line perfectly with the overall aesthetic of your label - speed of release, little promo, a certain anonymity I suppose.. Yeah, you know the white label series was kind of circumstantial as to why I decided to do it. I was advised by my distributor that sales, for whatever reason are not the greatest overseas in the summer time. I had stuff that I wanted to come out last summer, and i'm like yo i'm not gonna stop my release schedule cos they think that this is the case, because in my opinion if a record's good it doesn’t matter whether its summer, winter, fall, spring or whatever, people are gonna buy it. So I was like how many of these do you want. Ok 200, well i'll press 300 and keep 100 here in New York. And that’s how it happened, and i'm just kind of rolling with it now, you know. It’s a nice little sub-label within a label, or something like that.
SvengalisGhost is another guy that's seemingly come out of nowhere. While a lot of labels seem more concerned with booking big artists, big personalities, an image I suppose, you guys have gone the other way. There's something special about hearing some serious heat from a guy you've never heard of before. Now you’ve got a solid group of artists associated with l.i.e.s., are you still looking for unknown names to add to your roster? Sure, I mean, I'll always wanna hear new stuff. Definitely. There’s always a desire to hear music from people whether they’re known or unknown. If it’s good, and theres a relationship, then I'd be into putting it out, of course. I think a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time and being around a certain group of people. Everyone I’ve generally worked with I've been around for years, and Svengalisghost, Mark, although we’ve actually never really met, he's a very close friend of a friend of mine in New York, PorkChop, and that’s how I know of his music. For years me and Porkchop DJ'd together and he'd play CDs of Mark’s music, and by the end of the night we’d be so drunk he’d hand over all of these CDs to me. Once the label was going I contacted him and we decided to work together. He’s an amazing dude, a very talented person, who's been making music in Chicago quietly for probably the last ten years.
l.i.e.s. have released house, records techno records, I guess, er, 'ambient' music – I know that Steve Moore’s record for l.i.e.s. is his side project, that he’s more involved in a synth rock band [Zombi]. Would you be tempted to put out a record that barely conforms to an electronic music aesthetic at all - that incorporates guitars, something more in line with synth rock? Well sure, yeah. One of the new white labels coming out has guitars all over it, it’s funny you mention it actually. It's by this guy, Torn Hawk is his artist name, but his real name’s Luke Wyatt, he’s a pretty well known video artist. He did all the PPU dvds, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the People’s Potential Unlimited label from DC?
I’ve heard a couple – well seen a couple, yeah Yeah so he did all the dvds for that, and he did the Steve Summers video for l.i.e.s., and the new Versatile video for i:cube, and a lot of video projects. He made a record that’s coming out in a month or two, and it’s somewhere between noi and cosmic disco, and like balearic slow stuff, so it’s kind of… as long as when I step back it all makes sense in a cohesive manner then it’s a pretty much an open platform for whatever kind of music I see fit. It just has to make sense when I step back and look at the catalogue, it’s like does all this make sense together, you know?
That diversity, it's reflected in your dj sets. I saw you play all sorts of records at meandyou in Manchester last year. Being head of an in-demand label must have helped your djing career; conversely, the day-to-day demands of emailing, pressing and such can't leave too much time for busy touring schedules.. Well everything keeps me busy you know. I have a full time job, on my days off i'm running a label, on my days on i'm running a label. Im hitting the road a little bit now too. I'm also trying to work on producing music which I have little time for nowadays, so yeah i'm pretty damn busy at the moment!
Your main collaborator seems to be Jason [Letkewitz]. He's Steve Summers, he's Malvoeaux. He's a talented guy, clearly. I've also heard you've been doing some producing together? Yeah we do this project called Two Dogs in a House together, at this point only when we have time together, which is rare, but yeah. When we were on the road we wrote a bunch of stuff in Stockholm, and we’re working, hopefully, towards an album by the end of summer.
What about Danny Wolfers [Legowelt]. Not to do any of your other artists a disservice, but signing him was something of a coup. How did that come about? I had a loose association with Danny for a bunch of years, through WT records. I had met Danny down the years now and again. A few years back he spent some time in New York, we became friends, I heard some tracks, and I was like "yo you want to do a record?" and that was that.
He writes music on the road right? He’s got such an unbelievable output.. I mean, all the time, on the road, everywhere. He’s a master of the craft, he can do it all. He’s a person who.. whether it’s hardware, software, if he puts his mind to it he can make whatever he wants.
Finally, what’s your plan this summer. You mentioned you worked your ass off last summer getting that Terekke EP out there. You taking a break this time round? Ahhh no. I'll be working all summer in New York up until basically September. The release schedule is really hardcore, there’ll be a lot of releases, maybe as many as ten. There's a couple of things that are backlogged, the Steve Moore and Hassan records are backlogged because of pressing issues, they’ll be out soon hopefully. Then everything else that’s on the release schedule: a bunch of white labels, a bunch of regular releases, probably some surprises as well… then there’ll be some west coast dates in august, a couple of l.i.e.s. nights in San Franciso and LA, but nothing overseas 'til mid September, then ill come to tour for maybe two months through Europe in the fall, which should be interesting. And probably in the fall things will finally slow down a little bit...
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