Ron Morelli, a producer and DJ, is someone who has been deeply involved with music for many years in various ways. In 2020, even though it was a very difficult year for the music industry, he released the album Betting On Death on Hospital Productions; and his records label, L.I.E.S. (Long Island Electrical Systems), which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, has released 20 titles. Over the years, L.I.E.S. has helped build the careers of many artists including Delroy Edwards, Svengalisghost, Beau Wanzer, and Tzusing, as well as re-introducing already established artists such as Legowelt and Broken English Club (Oliver Ho) to a new audience. This is the second half of an extended interview with the New York-born, Paris-based artist, in which we talk about his perspective on the label and his relationship with the Japanese culture and music（Part 2）.
Connection with C.E and the first visit to Japan
――Let me ask you about your connections with Japan. Your first visit was to perform at the C.E party, correct?
Ron Morelli (Hereinafter Ron): Yeah, the first time was with C.E and I went back the following year. Toby (Feltwell,) who’s one of the owners of the company, is like the best friend of my friend Will Bankhead who runs The Trilogy Tapes. Toby had been interested in bringing me over there, but I was really hesitant to travel very far for a while. And I finally went in 2017, and I loved every minute of it. [laughs] I mean, my mind was absolutely blown. So, I went back and stayed longer the second time. I had only met Toby there. We didn’t meet until like, I was there, but we knew many people in common including some of my label artists. I had also been in touch with Nozaki through Samo DJ, I think. And then when I came there the first time, we hung out. He is a huge fan of Chicago house and Italo, so we ended up just really nerding out and did a record together (Nozaki’s EP under ZZZ alias came out in 2018.) I’m working on this mysterious remix for him that I finished. I don’t know much about it, but I think it’s a project from him and this guy, Sei from Bonobo.
Ron: No, we never worked together because I worked later, after he had been back in Japan already for quite some time. I started working in the shop in 2009. Toshio Kajiwara was part of the original crew, like the real heavy, heavy duty guys. There were only French guys— very tough French dudes, and one Japanese guy, Toshio. I was a customer in the shop. This is in the late 90s, and you know, these big French kind of gangster guys all smoking cigarettes in the shop, bald heads, with the chain out, everyone speaking in French quite loud… And it was quite intimidating to go into the shop. You know, I don’t think I spoke to anyone who worked there until like, five years after going to the store.
――Wow for that long!!
Ron: Yeah, they were scary. But, Toshio was like a real guru for many of us and for the guys working at the shop as well, because he brought the whole avant-garde aspect—Deeper aspect to the shop. Because at the time, the shop was basically very hip hop oriented, and Black music— soul and funk oriented, where, if it didn’t have a drum break on it or was not a rare hip hop, it was just put in the dollar bin. They didn’t care. Even if it’s a $200 avant-garde noise record, they don’t give a shit. Then Toshio came in, and he knew all of that stuff. So, he kind of really put the shop on the map with the more left field stuff, and also he really knew the deep… the very underground house and techno stuff as well. Toshio brought this whole other aspect. And you know, after years, we ended up becoming friends. And I was comfortable to talk to him and ask him about records. It was a very cool, very special time in New York. I’m very happy to have been able to experience it, because you had really funny characters coming into the shop. Really good time to remember, as a customer going there, and then later on working there as well from 2009.
――I didn’t get to go to A1 in the 90s, but yeah, late 90s was the time I went to record stores the most, too.
Ron: Yeah. I mean, it was different. It was more magical to do that. I had a very good friend of mine, and we used to go (record shopping) every Saturday. We got off the train, we had coffee and went to like 10 different shops in a day. Then finish at a bar and get drunk, you know. I really miss this.
――Did you get to visit Toshio’s shop Hitozoku Records in Kyoto?
Ron: No I didn’t. But we did play together in Troop Cafe (in Kobe) last time I was there. He did the opening slot, which was just absolutely amazing. Super killer. And we had a very, very nice time together. It was really nice. I had not seen him in years. I don’t know, 10 -12 years or something. I asked him for music. I was trying to say, if you’re recording any of the music you make, I would love for you to send some to me to hear it. But he is a mysterious guy and he works at his own pace. Maybe one day, we will be able to do some stuff together. That would be really cool. I hope I get to go to his shop next time too.
Producing music for the UNDERCOVER runway show
――And at the beginning of 2020, you produced music for the UNDERCOVER runway show in Paris. How did that come about?
Ron: Jun (Takahashi) is a pretty heavy music collector, and, I found out he was a fan of this really…kind of brutal record I made for Hospital Productions. I was surprised because I didn’t think anyone really liked it so much. And my friend Low Jack ended up doing some work for him, so he put us in touch. And we had some emails together. And he was like, “hey, let’s work on a project together” and I said “yeah, that would be cool, I would love to do that.” And I figured maybe we could just make some T-shirts together, or mixtape. I had no expectations for it. And then he asked me if I was going to be in Paris in January. And I said, “yeah, I’ll just be coming home from a tour then.” He’s like, “I’m having my runway show in the second week of January of 2020. I would really like you to maybe work on the music for it.” I was shocked, you know? I was not expecting that at all. And I had told him, “I’m honored that you would ask me to do it, but I’ve never done anything like this. But if you have faith in me to do it, I would push myself to do it.”
And then the story gets a bit more complex. Because it’s not just your regular runway show. It ends up being a theatre production. We worked with this very famous choreographer, named Damien Jalet. And he’s… I mean, he’s Madonna’s choreographer. I’ve never worked with a choreographer either. So basically, I prepared all the music before I left for the tour. And I hired my friend who’s on the label Krikor to work on the project to make the final mixdowns and edits of the stuff with Damien, while I was away, and then there were only two days of rehearsal in Paris. I was shocked. Again, I was so impressed. I mean, these dancers… they’re absolutely stunning how they do it— only with two days of practice, all in sync with the music. The theater piece and the whole collection was based on Throne of Blood, the movie by Kurosawa. So, Jun wanted me to sample stuff from the soundtrack. So, a bunch of the music is actually sampled, but I really put it through my filter pretty hardcore… if you will. But yeah, that went really, really beyond my expectations. And everything went super smooth. The record for that will come out on January 16th from UNDERCOVER, with some bonus material. And we did some clothing together, which will also come out at the same time as the record.
A new L.I.E.S. Records release of a Japanese artist
――You recently released music of a Japanese artist called Manisdron on L.I.E.S. It’s a solo project from the drummer of the band goat, but I think he’s largely unknown even in Japan. How did you discover his music?
Ron: Well, this was one of the very, very rare occasions where I ended up working with someone that I don’t personally know. It was through my good friend Mark Cremins, who works for Rush Hour, who I’ve been working with for 10 years now since the beginning of the label. I can’t say enough about the really amazing job that Mark has done for us. Mark put us in touch. And, you know, this kind of project is the exact type of thing I look for the label. When I heard Takafumi Okada (Manisdron)’s music, I said, “well, this fits perfectly.” It’s somewhere in between many different genres, and which, for some people is dangerous. It’s not a nightclub dance record, but it does clearly have beats. It’s not a rock record. It’s not a noise record. So, it’s kind of in this strange gray area of many sub genres of music meeting, and he’s singing on it as well. So, it just drew me in immediately, and was really, really cool to work on this and have this come out. He’s been a pleasure and very easy to work with. And it’s cool to have another Japanese artist on the roster as well. I’m getting really good responses as well. I-F has been playing it out in his DJ sets!
――Initially, I was planning to ask you about the influences from Japanese music and culture, but from what you’ve told me so far, it seems like you’re not particularly attracted to or looking for Japanese elements, but rather, personal connections or things that caught your attention somehow happened to be Japanese.
Ron: Yeah, as I said with Okada’s music, it was the cross section of a lot of different types of music. You can hear it in there. And that’s what brought me in. I mean, if someone asked me to describe the record, I can’t really describe it. So many times, people do this kind of music, where it’s five different genres in one, and it just sounds terrible. But here, you can hear distinctly the influences and they’re somehow perfectly combined. It’s a rare occasion that it works. I don’t know his exact musical interests. I don’t know if he’s actually into say… techno, obscure no wave or krautrock… but to me, it sounds like all of them together. And, I mean, I don’t want to generalise, but I will say, I think, with Japanese culture in general— when the Japanese do something, they do it to an obsessive, extreme amount. You’re going to have a better pizza in Tokyo than you’re going to have… maybe in Naples, Italy. So for me, especially with musicians who are Japanese, and hearing this, I’m making some assumptions that this guy is probably into all the coolest stuff and is very informed. He is informed about music through the years and years. Someone like Toshio Kajiwara, you know, he has his influences come from so many different places, but he is refined. He really refines them and executes them. Same with Nozaki with his obsessions with Chicago house and Italo.
If you even look at the Japanese noise scene. It’s one of the most extremes. There’s a famous group called The Incapacitants, and there’s a footage of them playing outdoors in Fukushima with all the power tools and metal instruments on a cliff. It does not look real! Another one is by Hanatarashi, an old band by EYE of the Boredom’s, where he in the bulldozer destroys the venue during the performance! There are instances in western music that can come close to that, but especially in the noise scene, I think the Japanese are very, very good at pushing it to an extreme extent. I love this type of extreme energy.