Judging by the severity of his accent, it’s hard to believe Ron Morelli has ever left the state of New York. But in fact, the DJ and producer has been living in Paris for the past eight years with his French partner. His French, he says, is just about passable. The relocation also gave Morelli closer proximity to the rest of Europe, where he makes a majority of his living as a touring DJ. When he’s not traveling, he produces music and runs L.I.E.S., the record label he began a decade ago in Brooklyn.
The day before Thanksgiving, Morelli was at work, punching numbers into a calculator to add up the total for “a fucking invoice”—words he says with such obvious disgust, it’s almost comical. “I think by nature, I’ve always been an extremely pessimistic person,” he says. And, indeed, a feeling of impending doom taints much of the music on L.I.E.S. But for someone with such little faith in humanity, his industriousness is staggering.
Ten years and hundreds of releases later, Morelli is still involved in every aspect of L.I.E.S. “I really don’t have much faith in the world in general,” he says, “or, even on a smaller scale, the art and music world. But this is my passion.” Though the label now has a global audience, L.I.E.S. remains very much a passion project. The label’s first release, back in 2010, was a single from Malvoeaux, the now-extinct alias of Jason Letkiewicz, a friend of Morelli’s whose music has become a staple of the label. It’s a lively record of filter house, a perfect production from a then-unknown name. In fact, many of L.I.E.S.’s early releases were unexpected gems from unknown artists like Letkiewicz, most of them friends of Morelli’s from the New York scene.
Before L.I.E.S., Morelli’s background was in hardcore—he delivered screechy vocals as the singer for the band Devola—and while the sonics have shifted, he continues to embrace a DIY sentiment in both ethos and sound. When self-sufficiency meets electronic music, the result is a gritty, lo-fi sound that reflects a combination of cobbled-together hardware and self-taught musicianship. Letkiewicz in particular is a skilled musical polymath, but as the label evolved, it landed on a rough-and-tumble style that was at odds with the more polished European electronic popular at the time. The uniqueness of vision displayed on each record, coupled with the relative obscurity of its producer, felt almost baffling—like some sort of miracle delivered by the gods of techno. Thanks to a decade of diligence, some of the names that were once unknowns have now become, if not exactly “household,” then something closer to it. L.I.E.S. is no longer the outsider label exposing hidden talent, but an imprint that bestows a guarantee of quality on each new effort. Releasing a record on L.I.E.S. means that whatever you’re doing, it’s not trendy.
2 x Vinyl LP
Most of the last 10 years have been fruitful for Morelli, who releases dozens of records a year. But with the pandemic grounding his DJ career, 2020 was particularly productive. Earlier this year, he released an album, the depressingly (if comically) titled, Betting On Death, and the label itself issued 20 records in 12 months, with plenty more planned for 2021. But Morelli’s industriousness isn’t a way to stave off death—it’s a way to stave off real life. “When the label started getting a lot of attention, I was undoubtedly skeptical, because I knew none of that would ever last,” he says. He’s grateful that it has so far, though he seems sure it will die down at some point. “You should never think that you’re going to live off of being a musician or running a record label,” he says. “Anyone who thinks that—I mean, you’re you’re smoking the pipe.” But even if the label crashes, it’s been a hell of a ride. Here are 10 records from the last decade that helped define the L.I.E.S. sound.
Mode For Love
An effortless mix of house and techno, with drums that are simultaneously abrasive and gentle, this was L.I.E.S.’s breakout record. Like many of the releases that followed, “In The Mode For Love” sounds like a fairly clean recording that was run through a broken cassette player several times before being pressed to vinyl. Morelli calls the record “dark and super psychedelic,” embracing the aesthetics of both New York and Chicago house, as well as those of a haunted house.
Morelli worked with Delroy Edwards at A1 Records in New York’s East Village, and became something of a big brother to the producer, recommending crucial house records. When Edwards casually mentioned that he was making music of his own, Morelli asked to hear it. “He sent me these stunning tracks,” Morelli says. Aftershock fine-tunes Edwards’s early productions, a double-LP of stripped-down house that bubbles along happily. Edwards now has a long discography and a label of his own, but this remains his most expansive release.
A freaky collection of songs from New York’s Lili Schulder, the tracks here roll along slowly, with patches of weird sounds like moody gongs and choppy static accented by Schulder’s barely-there spoken vocals. Some moments might be techno, some might be noise, others industrial; but altogether, Paranoia Star is a lifeform unto itself, a fog of sound best suited to a very goth funeral.
Tom of England
Sex Monk Blues
Morelli calls this “a beautifully arranged rock record,” and while he might be right, those words bring to mind images of the Zombies or the Beatles. Tom of England is a thousand times more warped. This album by Thomas Bullock, one half of by influential, tastemaking DJ duo Rub N Tug, includes the miraculous single “Song of the Sex Monk,” which is ten minutes of lusty moaning and sweetly funky guitar. It’s easily the most ecstatic song in the L.I.E.S. collection.
Morelli enlisted the help of producer Shane English to assemble this 22-track compilation of the American electronic underground, which also serves as something of a microcosm for L.I.E.S. at large. That’s mostly to do with its grim sound, but also Morelli’s vision to spotlight musicians who are otherwise working in the dark. “These are people that go to their day job, come home, and turn on the equipment,” Morelli says. “It’s a very nice document of a certain crew of people who are floating through North America.”
Self-Titled and Silent Neighbour
By the time he was a teenager, Mick Harris was already a legendary drummer as the percussive force behind Napalm Death and one of the originators of grindcore. Over time, he migrated from playing behind a kit to working with electronics. While the sound changed from hardcore to techno, the intensity never dissipated; Harris pummels the drum machine on track after track. Harris’s two records as Fret are, “absolute utter intensity and sheer brutality,” Morelli says, delighted for the opportunity to work with someone of Harris’s stature. “He’s texting me pictures of him barbecuing in the middle of the winter,” he says. “It’s somewhat surreal.”
Plant Age is something of an anomaly amid L.I.E.S.’s typically raw releases. Morelli says the album is made up of “deep, dusty, perfect tracks,” and while that description brings to mind the type of beat-making proffered by DJ Shadow and J. Dilla, Terekke uses the swishiness of the drums to build something that’s nominally deep house, but that skirts close to ambient. It’s house music, hollowed out.
Compact Disc (CD)
Even after moving to Paris, it took time for Morelli’s network of artists to expand beyond New York City. Tzusing, a Malaysian artist based in Shanghai, is the most far afield release for L.I.E.S. “It’s really psychedelic, futuristic, and bizarre, bizarre music to me,” says Morelli of the LP. It does have a certain Blade Runner quality to it: industrial plodding interspersed with bell ringing from far away. Despite the experimentalism, the album is never far from a striking drum pattern, like strip club anthems for the year 3000.