Born in New York to Latino parents, his music had great influence on Erick Morillo. He considers himself an underground dj, although he has composed and collaborated in more commercial and Latin productions that made him known in the mainstream scene. After more than a decade in the ridge of the wave under its rhythm and a few years ago it returns to act in Ibiza with certain regularity.
You were born in New York, I guess to Colombian parents, and were raised with one leg in the Big Apple and the other in Cartagena de Indias, the Caribbean coast of Colombia. What is the background of your family? How come you were born in the USA but moved to Colombia and the back to New York?
My mother is Colombian and my father is Dominican. My parents were divorced when I was young and at that time we were living in rough area in New York. The divorce was difficult on my mother who was left to raise two kids on her own while she worked full time. With the dangers of the neighborhood, she felt it was best to for me to spend sometime with my aunt in Cartagena, Colombia. I spent a few years in Cartagena and returned to the U.S.A. once my mom moved from New York to New Jersey.
Was the Latin music a big influence on you?
Absolutely. My family is really into music and growing up, Latin music was constantly played at my moms house. We listened to salsa, merengue, cumbia and vallenato. When I first started producing music, these Latin rhythms influenced my sound. Even today, I love experimenting with Latin beats and percussions.
You were 11 or 12 when you started deejaying, around 1982. What genres of music were you passionate about and mixing back then?
I used to play a lot of high energy disco, hip-hop and whatever I can get my hands on. I spent hours playing music. It was just what I enjoyed doing.
How do you remember your first ever proper or professional DJ sets?
I played a lot of the high school dance parties. Looking back, I laugh as I would charge around $200 dollars per show but needed to rent the equipment, transportation, and pay a friend to help me setup. At the end of the night, I would end up with $0 dollars in my pocket after paying all of the expenses but it didn’t matter. I loved being in front of an audience DJing and controlling the room with the music I was playing.
Later on I started DJing at a place called Shanghai Reds in Weehawken. It was a proper club and I remember being so nervous prior to the shows. Eventually after I started playing, I was able to get into it and I calmed myself down. 24 years later, I have to admit, I still get nervous before going on stage. I don’t think that feeling ever goes away.
Regarding Shanghai Reds, it was at that club where I got my first break. It was there where I met El General who was A well known reggaeton artist at the time. I had recorded a remix of a reggae record and when I played it, El General approached the DJ booth inquiring about the record. We spoke and shortly after agreed to work on a project. That project was “Muevelo” which became a huge hit in South America and actually started the reggaeton movement all over South America.
And your first ever residency at a venue?
My first major residency was in New York City at a club called Centro Fly where we would do the Subliminal Sessions Thursdays. My first residency out side of the U.S.A. was at Ministry Of Sound in London. Being the only American DJ to hold that honor since the likes of Tony Humphries.
Before becoming a big name, where you playing both in the US but also in Colombia? If so, how different were the gigs and the crowds?
I moved back to the U.S. when I was young so I didn’t get the chance to play in Colombia just in New Jersey and New York. After I produced “I Like To Move It” I did return to Cartagena with Reel 2 Real in the mid 90’s and it was definitely special seeing some old friends and performing in front of your home crowd. Several years later, I did several shows in Colombia as a DJ but it was not until 2017 that I played a DJ set in Cartagena. Playing the out door Beach party in Cartagena this past January will be one of the shows that I will always remember. The Colombian fans are very special and I’m grateful for all of their love and support.
When and why did you start producing music? What inspired you to do so?
I’ve always been passionate about music and as I was finishing high school, I knew college was not in my future. I wanted to do something musically. One night after getting home from a late night, I walk into my mom’s house and on TV there was a commercial for The Center for Media Arts in New York City. It was almost as if it was a calling. The minute I saw the commercial, I knew that is where I needed to go. Shortly after, I enrolled and learned the basics of studio recording and sound engineering. Looking back, it was a great foundation to have and it taught me what I needed to learn to develop my skills.
How was the life of Erick Morillo before your first hits, back in the beginning of the 90s?
As soon as I graduated high school, I enrolled in at the Center for Media Arts in New York City and after graduating, I spent countless hours in my homemade studio. I had converted my small bedroom at my mom’s apartment into a recording studio and slept in the living room sofa for months. While other kids would be hanging out or playing sports, I was in the studio. It was and still is my passion. I would spend, hours, days in the studio often times hearing my mother knocking to lower the volume!
How did your life change after these hits that pushed you to world fame, specially the Reel 2 Reel hit ‘I like to move it’
Reel 2 Real opened a lot of doors for me. It gave me the opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures and most importantly it allowed me to see how dance music was perceived in different parts of the world – specifically in the UK. Growing up in New York, you had the night clubs and the DJs but you did not have the dance culture. I remember the first time I traveled to London and turned on the TV in my room, they were playing dance music videos. I was blown away. I turned on the radio and they were playing dance music. This was unheard off in the U.S. I then went to Ministry of Sound to hear David Morales and I was in awe of how the people were mesmerized by the DJ. They kept telling me David Morales is God and they were going mental over the music and his set. It was that night that I recall telling my self ‘I want to be a professional DJ’!!
Your sound was mainstream and quite hip-hop and reggae influenced, but around the mid 90s you turned a bit more housier and underground when you joined forces with Louie Vega. Why that change?
My production in my early years was influenced by latin and reggae rhythms. As a DJ I was always an underground DJ and producer and was known for that but when ‘I Like To Move’ became a massive hit world wide, a lot of the club promoters wanted me to play commercial which was not what I played. It took some time for promoters to realize that I was an underground DJ and eventually my musical production reflected my style of music. At that time, I had several underground alias such Smooth Touch and RAW. I met Little Louie Vega through Marc Anthony (Salsa singer). Marc and I were working on a house music project and one day he introduced me to his good friend Louie. Gladys Pizzaro the head of A&R at Strictly Rhythm Records at the time was the person who suggested that Louis and I spend some time in the studio collaborating. We did and we created some great tracks.
I believe that helped you to get yourself introduced to the house music club culture and little after you started coming to play gig in Ibiza, which at that time was the European Mecca for house music.. But before you ever came to Ibiza, I guess you had already heard about the island from colleagues, friends or in the media. What is what you felt about the island at that time?
I have heard of Ibiza but as they say, you have to experience Ibiza to understand what it is like. My first time in Ibiza was in the early 1990’s. I was booked to play Space. When I arrived on the island, they took me to the villa and the promoter said he will come back at 6am to pick me up! 6am!? I was like “WHAT?” and he explained that my set was not until 6:30am to make sure I had plenty of rest. In my mind I was thinking, ‘wow – they have me playing at 6:30am. By the time I start, everyone is going to be gone’. Well, when I arrived at Space at 6am – the place was packed! And it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The energy in the room was just insane and I’ve never experienced a room full of so much energy and good vibes. The booth however was behind the bar and the DJ was actually facing the wall. The strangest DJ set up but it did not matter because the energy was insane and the terrace was outdoors. Every time a plane would fly by overhead, the place erupted with cheers. Just amazing! It was people from all walks of live and different nationalities having the best time of their lives. It was that morning that I recall thinking to my self ‘man – this is were I want to be’. I’ve returned to Ibiza every summer since and have made it my summer home.
Which was your first ever DJ set in Ibiza and how did you feel while playing for the Ibiza crowd? How different was the crowd in Ibiza from the crowd you were used to in the United States?
My first time playing in Ibiza was a Space in early 1990’s when the terrace was open. It was truly a life changing experience. One of the best nights of my life. I really can’t find the words to describe the magic of that morning. It was just so special and everyone was having a great time. Simply incredible. You can’t compare the Ibiza crowd to the U.S or anywhere in the world. Ibiza its in its own special place.
Your DJ sets at the Space Terrace were memorable. I was lucky enough to see you many times turning the dance floor upside down with your eclectic mix of mainstream and underground sets that went from house to even techno. What are your memories of those mornings and afternoons?
Space terrace will always have a special place in my heart. There was something magical about the terrace. If you played the terrace and got it right – the night would take on a life of its own. It was a one of a kind room. I was blessed to have played I believe 10 opening and closing parties and each one was so special in its own way. The last closing party was bitter sweat as a lot of old faces came to celebrate and reminisce on the many great memories we all had over the years at Space. One of the most memorable was when I played the terrace closing party right after 9/11. I was in New York and all the airports where closed. I was not sure if was going to be able to leave the country and by pure luck I was able to get on the first flight out of JFK airport. I made it to Spain just in time for the closing. Everyone in the club was trying to have a great time considering what was going on around the world. As I was finishing my set, I played Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York New York’. The reaction from the crowd was overwhelming. Everyone in the terrace started crying, signing, hugging each other and some people started waving US flags. Everyone just came together for that special moment to comfort each other. It was such an emotional and unforgettable experience. Each time I think about it, I get goose bumps.
Suddenly, you started your own night on Wednesdays at Pacha, called Subliminal Sessions, which at the time was one of the most, if not the most, successful night of Pacha’s weekly schedule. Why did you choose Pacha and not any other club in the island? How long did you do it?
I had played Space a few times in the early 1990’s and Danny Whittle use to work at Space. When he became the music programmer at Pacha, I got the opportunity to play at Pacha and was fortunate enough to be asked to play again and again. It all kind of happened organically. In total, I ended up playing 13 years at Pacha and creating some amazing memories. So many to recall but bringing Diddy to perform at the Subliminal Sessions was one of the highlights. Especially since at the time house and hip-hop artist where not known to collaborate and I had Diddy rocking out on stage. Having Tommy Lee rock out at one of the nights was also a memorable night. So many great memories.
Little after finishing your residency at Pacha you took a few years break, but you came back to the clubbing scene in 2014 for a single superb gig at Space Ibiza’s 25th anniversary. How did it feel to be back to the club that was kind of a home to you at the beginning of this millennium?
The show was amazing! The outdoor set up at the car park, was incredible. The place was packed early and it was such a fun night. I had the opportunity to play at the outside stage and then play the terrace. It felt great to be able to play at such a wonderful venue and to be part of the 25 year anniversary celebration. I’ll definitely remember that party for many years to come.
Did you play in Ibiza in 2015 at all?
I played 3 shows at Space in 2015 including the closing. They were all fantastic!
Was it hard for you to get back in the track of being a superstar DJ after that break?
Not really. I needed the break to get my personal life in order. DJing, touring, traveling is all second nature. But my personal life needed some attention and I’m fortunate that I was able to step away and come back to the touring circuit as if I never left. My fans are very special and I appreciate their love throughout the years and I feel very blessed to be able to share my passion with people around the world.
In 2016 you made a triumphant come back in the island by playing the last ever Space Opening Fiesta, and then you also played the last ever Space Closing Fiesta. How did it feel for you to give a farewell to this club that saw your first and most memorable DJ sets on the island?
It was a bitter sweat moment. We were all there to celebrate the success of Space which had become an Ibiza institution. For the guys that have been around for a while, it was tough to say farewell. For me personally, it was an emotional evening. I have so many great memories of Space and it was a tough one to be honest. It was a great night and Space, in my mind, will go down as the place where I played the best sets of my life.
Did you play other gigs in Ibiza last year? If so, which were the most remarkable ones?
In 2016 I played three shows at Space which included the opening and final closing party. The final closing party was unique and those that experienced the party will talk about it for many years to come. It was the end of a beautiful era. Space will forever be remembered as one of the best clubs on the island.
This year you have a stronger presence in the island than in recent years and in fact, with Space no longer in the map, you played the Amnesia Opening Party, were you had played before in the past but I believe not in recent years. How did it feel to be back at Amnesia after so long?
Amnesia is another Ibiza institution. It was great playing the opening party. The energy in the room was electric. I was also fortunately to play the HYTE Amnesia party on July 5th. Everyone came out to support the party. Great seeing some of the old friends and friends I’ve met over the years.
This year you are supporting Hot Since 82 at his residency on Fridays at Pacha, called Labyrinth, with two dates. How did this happened? Were you already friends with Hot Since 82? Why did you choose to play for him and not at any other of the Pacha nights?
I’ve known Hot Since 82 for quite a while. He’s doing some great things at the moment. My booking agent had mentioned the idea and I felt the time was right to return to Pacha. Playing Pacha brought back a lot of memories but it was as if time had not past since I last played at the club. It was such a great time. I’m looking forward to playing Pacha again on September 15th. It’s going to be special.
Your first gig at Labyrinth was on Aug 4th. How did it feel to be back to the club that was once your house in Ibiza? Did you feel welcomed by the crowd at Pacha?
It was special. As I mentioned, it felt like time had not past by since I last played at Pacha. The staff was absolutely amazing and made me feel right at home. I think they were anticipating the night just as much as I was. The majority of the staff is still there so they remember the many crazy and fun nights and it was as if you reunited with an old friend that you have not seen in years. It was great seeing old friends and can’t thank the fans enough for coming out to support the night. It was truly a night to remember.
You are coming back to play Labyrinth next Friday, September 15th. What can we expect from your second gig at Pacha this summer?
It is definitely going to be fun! I’m excited and looking forward to playing again at Pacha I can only guarantee that its going to be a set full of great energy and it will be a night to remember.
What are your plans for next summer? Will you try and keep re-building your name in Ibiza and maybe have your Subliminal residency back in Pacha or any of the other clubs at all?
I’m absolutely looking forward to playing in Ibiza next summer. Ibiza is my second home and I look forward to playing several parties during the 2018 season. I have a few plans in the works. Can’t reveal them just yet.