Nothing But the Truth: An Oral History of L.I.E.S.

September 17, 2013


From the magazine: ISSUE 87, August/September 2013

For more on L.I.E.S., read Emilie Friedlander's profile of the label.

Quick to deflect praise from himself, Ron Morelli credits the success of L.I.E.S. to its artists. They’re the ones responsible for the music, but what makes L.I.E.S. so special is its community, of which Morelli may be an unwilling—though incredibly effective—figurehead. His artists’ reverence for him is strong, as is their sense that they are a part of a movement that is greater than the sum of their individual contributions. Fifteen of them spoke on the spirit L.I.E.S embodies, and Morelli’s penchant for strange sounds.

Legowelt (Danny Wolfers) Somehow, Ron Morelli was already legendary in my book. I don’t know why exactly. I interviewed him for Intergalactic FM in some Mexican restaurant in Queens when L.I.E.S. didn’t exist yet, and he made this cool mix for my radio show. Back then, Ron Morelli went by the name “The Maltese Falcon.” I dunno why he dropped that name. It was cool.

Bookworms (Nik Dawson) Everyone kept talking about Ron and I was like, Who is this Ron guy?

Terekke (Matt Gardner) He’s a DJ first and foremost. He’s just a genuine collector-selector.

Steve Summers (Jason Letkiewicz) Ron knows his records. He has strong opinions about it, and he knows what he likes. Sometimes he’ll send [over a track] and I’ll hear it and I’ll be 
like, This is cool. But then when I hear him play it at a certain way at a show, it takes on an even stronger presence, and I feel like that’s sort of how he’s hearing it when he’s listening to it 
for the first time.

Maxmillion Dunbar (Andrew Field-Pickering) Ron had the idea for L.I.E.S. way too long before he actually did it. We were always just like, What the fuck are you waiting for? Talk about someone who could curate some good shit, and it was like, Why haven’t you? You got taste out the ass.

Steve Moore As he was getting everything together to start the label, Ron approached me with an idea that I thought was really interesting and fun. He said, “I would like to release something by you in this style,” and sent me a bunch of dub techno to check out, kind of as a joke. I listened to it, and I drew inspiration from it, but the joke is that [what I made] didn’t come out sounding anything like the music he’d sent me. It just kind of came out like whatever I would do anyway. He was real into it, and I was into the fact that he was into it.

Svengalisghost (Marquis Cooper) Playing parties around the world, you notice people are fed up with this standardized concept of dance music. We’re living in this paradigm shift where people are like, This doesn’t have to be so simple. I want something to actually challenge me, like a good book or movie does. L.I.E.S. is like a battle against flaccid house.

Legowelt I heard these kids call L.I.E.S. “outsider house.” That term pisses me off. The L.I.E.S. sound is just the DIY underground house techno that has existed since the fucking late ’80s, with a punk attitude. People never stopped playing this stuff. So these kids that come and say L.I.E.S. is something new and fresh, they need a history lesson or to stop radiating their brain on the internet with electrosmog. This is not outsider cause these fucking hipsters started listening to this shit; this is real in the inside.

Lili Schulder (Shadowlust) The main element driving this aesthetic is the pure heart of the music.

Svengalisghost L.I.E.S. feels more like a collective than just putting music on a label to get your name out. It feels like you’re part of some kind of crew, some kind of weird posse. An electronic music gang. There’s nobody that’s arrogant or an asshole. I think that’s in direct relation to what Ron wants: he’s only releasing people that he knows. That’s really special in this age, where people just want tracks cause, Oh, this person’s hot, this person’s really cool now, I want their track, I wanna put them out, I wanna try 
to make something of myself.

Xosar (Sheela Rahman) To be on L.I.E.S., all you need are some freaky beats, a bad childhood and a deranged sparkle in your eye. The label has a certain disregard for standards, seriousness, social acceptance, reality. The common denominator amongst L.I.E.S. artists is that we’re all a little weird and/or crazy and do whatever we want, which is reflected in the music.

“People are tired of packaged goods” —Jahiliyya Fields

Torn Hawk (Luke Wyatt) Ron’s giving a venue to people with a distinctive voice who perhaps may not have had a venue before. Before L.I.E.S., Jason Letkiewicz was probably not getting the attention he deserved. Like me, not really ever having had something where people connected with the vision I had—L.I.E.S. has given me a platform to do tons of shit. That’s what labels do: if they have a good vision, they put you in context for the greater culture. It kind of provides a filter for people to pay attention to you. You can grab that and run with 
it, or you can fuck it up, but Ron’s done a really good job.

Lili Schulder Ron’s bullshit-radar is on-point, so it’s humbling to have his support. Working with him now on a professional level, I look up to him in regards to business-ethics conduct.

Delroy Edwards It’s one of the only labels that’s doing whatever it wants, without a border. It’s just free. I feel like my tracks are not the best-recorded music on the planet, but it’s cool that he can get down with stuff being a little raw.

Maxmillion Dunbar There’s something in each one of the records that kind of sounds like Ron is involved. It’s the sound of the snare drum or something. It’s not how everybody always talks about tape hiss; it’s this drums-in-the-hallway type of feeling. If it’s not the drums, it’s the background noise of some sample that you hear.

Bookworms [L.I.E.S.’ sound is] kinda fucked up.

Terekke Everybody just kind of says what they want to say. I guess, on a really general level, it’s electronic, maybe moody. And there’s just like a lot of “fuck-ups” or whatever. Who wants to listen to a totally clean 707 drum machine?

Jahiliyya Fields (Matt Morandi) When you’re out and you hear some music that’s really overproduced, there’s essentially a kind of cotton candy element to it. There’s a sense of luxury involved in certain types of production. Whereas doing things with some sort of grittiness—I don’t know if it makes it more immediate, but I think that people are tired of packaged goods. Punk music—I wouldn’t quite say that the aesthetic is being pastiched onto the dance music thing, but it’s similar in that it’s an emotional response to the type of production values that are the mainstream, which can be quite deadening. It’s not [necessarily the sound of] the music itself, it’s the attitude, and that attitude has been traveling around.

Maxmillion Dunbar L.I.E.S. records make the choices that nobody else makes. All of a sudden, the record throws in something that is really off the wall, or it repeats in this way. They stand out next to other records when you play them in your sets. They might even stand out next to other records [in the catalog], cause it sounds fucked up, and you can’t turn the gain up. They just are singular in that way. It’s kind of consistent with the look on my face. If I get promos from Ron, I’ll just be like, Oof.

Marcos Cabral If I had to sum up [the L.I.E.S. sound] I would say raw and soulful. A lot of the artists on the label are doing music that’s very spur of the moment, so it’s more emotive that way. Instead of working on one song for like three months, a lot of songs on the label are done in, like, minutes.

“People are tired of packaged goods”—Jahiliyya Fields

Professor Genius (Jorge Velez) I know pretty much all the guys on the label, and everyone just enjoys making the music. We’re all into making stuff without thinking ahead to any idea like, This is going to make a good album or a good 12-inch, or this is going to come out on L.I.E.S. or any other labels. We just love to make music, and that’s really been the guiding factor.

Delroy Edwards The reason house music is great is that you kind of have to stick to this foundation, or recipe, because it’s dance music. So the objective is making music that moves people. People are just putting new spins on it, with new ways of making tracks, but keeping connected with the roots.

Legowelt The success of L.I.E.S. is a complete mystery. There is nothing new about the label, because labels like Bunker and Creme Organization more or less stood [as a] model 
for it. The artist roster is pretty random and seems, at best, a rather odd collection of rehabilitated patients from a mental hospital or rehab clinic that just started to discover the merits of a drum machine. I think the coolest thing about L.I.E.S. is the logo, and I am pretty sure that is a key to its success. That logo is so real and out there. L.I.E.S. can never stop having that logo. If they changed it, it would mean the end of L.I.E.S.

Xosar The best way to describe the sound is irrational, nonsensical, energetically charged, emotionally disturbed, machine-driven ramblings from a colorful assortment of society’s finest rejects. There’s no other place where I’d feel more at home.

Vereker (Oliver Vereker) It’s helping to bring experimental electronic music to a wider audience, [while] creating a bond between the underground scenes in Europe and the States that hadn’t really been there since the ’90s.

Maxmillion Dunbar We all saw the labels that we used to like at one point get to the point where if you look at the discography, there’s a chunk that you never bothered with. None of 
us ever wanna get to that point with that label. We just want it to be fire, fire, fire, fire.

Svengalisghost Ron’s releasing some weird stuff I did with Lili [Schulder, of Shadowlust]. I didn’t think it would be anything he would be interested in, but he’s pushing himself, too. In the face of mediocrity, that’s extremely brazen. When you take risks, you know he’s gonna stand behind you. That’s a really crucial feeling for an artist. If you’re doubting yourself, thinking something’s too weird, then give it to someone who says, This is gonna work. And you’re like, Fuck, okay, I will push it further.

1. Terekke (Matt Gardner) at home in Brooklyn, NY.
2. Terekke in Brooklyn, NY.
3. Jahiliyya Fields (Matt Morandi) in Brooklyn, NY.
4. Lili Schulder of Shadowlust at home in Brooklyn, NY.

Nothing But the Truth: An Oral History of L.I.E.S.