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Label focus: Long Island Electrical Systems

In the space of less than 10 releases, Long Island Electrical Systems (or L.I.E.S, for short) has already established an enviable visual and sonic aesthetic. The first thing you notice about the label is the name – it immediately conjures images entirely appropriate for an imprint purveying the deeper, darker end of house and techno. Those who tuned in to the early L.I.E.S 12″s will not be surprised to learn that label chief Ron Morelli is a firm admirer of the raw electro and techno that emanated from Holland in the 90s (often referred to as the Hague sound); indeed it was the arrival of the Bunker Records crew on US soil that pushed Morelli’s musical taste in the direction of raw, analogue dance music. The recent appearance of Legowelt on a L.I.E.S 12 inch – making him the only non-New Yorker to appear on the label so far – testifies to that.

Launched in 2010 with the Roule Records-esque sounds of Malvouex (aka the fiendishly talented Jason Letkiewicz, a key figure in the L.I.E.S family), records from Steve Moore, Willie Burns, Two Dogs In A House (a side project for Letkiewicz and Morelli) swiftly followed. This month saw two more releases – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it white label from Runaway’s Marcos Cabral and an ace EP from Steve Summers (another alias of Letkiewicz). A quick look into the label’s futures plans suggests it will not only maintain its impressive release but branch out into hitherto unexplored terrain. Aaron Coultate called up Brooklyn to discover the truth behind L.I.E.S – we also managed to procure a mix from Morelli which includes forthcoming label material from Terreke, Professor Genius, Max D, and Steve Summers.

There seem to be some exciting house music labels coming out of the US at the moment – yourselves in Brooklyn, 100% Silk on the West Coast and Future Times in D.C. all spring to mind. Do you feel any attachment or link to the others?

As far as that is concerned, I’m just hearing about 100% Silk. I know they had a party here in NYC recently and they seemed to have a big following. Future Times are my people – I’ve known Andrew, Mike and the whole D.C. crew for quite some time and it was actually Andrew who pushed me to do the label, because right before I started I was almost not going to go forward and Andrew was like, “you gotta go through with it!” But to me Future Times is a very important label. You see, in New York every single person has a label, makes music, DJs, does this, does that… whatever. Everyone is jaded, playing on the same busted sound systems, at the same depressing places, so things here end up being very diluted and overlooked, as well as taken for granted. But these dudes in D.C., what they do has more of an impact, because they are the only real game in town, and they are pushing it. So by these dudes putting out sick underground cuts, playing music on their terms, making their own rules, it resonates more in their direct community. But guys like me and Will from W.T. Records in New York, we will do what we’re gonna do musically with our labels regardless. You just put your head down and keep it moving despite all the nonsense going on outside your window, no life changing moments, just go, go, go. New York might be an overrated cesspool but there are some sick underground musicians here and I would like to use this label as an outlet to document some of the individuals making the more killer cuts of these times.

I’d like to ask you about the Bunker influence on your label’s sound. Who else apart from Legowelt were you really feeling in those early days, and who do you see as the torchbearers of that sound in 2011?

Damn man, I’m still trying to catch up to those dudes – I-f, Guy, Electronome, Unit Moebius, I-G, DJ Overdose, Novamen, Sendex, Tyrell, Viewlexx, Murder Capital Acid Planet, Bunker, C-B-S, all the offshoot labels and aliases – that stuff was just a total assault and they clearly did not give a fuck what anyone thought, resulting in some of the most punishing and timeless underground tracks. As far as the early Hague sound as an influence, it’s more of the attitude than the sound that is pushing me forth these days regarding the label. Torchbearers of that sound? No one really…that guy Gestolean Cirkel made some sick cuts that were somewhat reminiscent of that time and I was just listening to some unreleased Stinkworx stuff that could stand up to any of those cuts from the 90s, off the top of my head that’s it though.

How was L.I.E.S conceived, and was there a specific sound you wanted to push right from the beginning?

I wanted to have an outlet for myself and a tight knit group of people here in New York to put out records. I definitely want push a darker, more rugged house and techno sound, although we’re not limited to that – one of the upcoming releases is from Professor Genius – it’s a project called Hassan, and it’s an album full of Middle Eastern influences. It’s definitely dark… it’s not very commercial and dancey, it’s more of a soundtrack album.

I remember Professor Genius released some great material on Italians Do It Better a few years back – kind of darkish Italo stuff.

This is at the opposite end of the spectrum. There will be a remix 12” for that one too.

That’s interesting, because all of the material on L.I.E.S so far has been original – no remixes.

Yeah, that’s true, but it’s not my plan to run a label which only puts out original material and no remixes. That’s just the way it’s been so far…

Every release I’ve heard from L.I.E.S so far has been of a high standard, but I particularly like the Legowelt and Steve Moore 12”s. How did you hook up with Danny Wolfers – from what I can tell he’s the only non US artist so far?

He’s the only person who hasn’t been based in New York. I found out about Bunker Records and the stuff coming out of The Hague in the late 90s. Those guys were coming here when I was first getting into dance music, and they had this punkish, DIY aesthetic – real raw, you know. I thought it was crazy and I could totally dig what they were doing. There would be a lot of Bunker tours and they would always play a couple of shows in New York, and I had met Danny met briefly a few times. Anyway, about two years ago, he stayed in town a little longer after a gig and we hung out, got along pretty well and DJ’d together. That’s all it took.

“Everyone in New York is jaded, playing on the same busted sound systems, at the same depressing places so things here end up being very diluted, overlooked as well as taken for granted”

That Maloveaux 12″ is excellent too – it totally reminds me of Trax On Da Rocks era Tomas Bangalter, and the Roule label is mentioned in the press notes. Is that old French House an inspiration for you?

I definitely like that era, for sure. The funny thing is, those tracks are really old, I think they were recorded in 2002 or 2003, and Jason (Letkiewicz) had them lying around for years. I happened to be with him hanging out one day and he played them for me. I was thinking, wow these are crazy, and he burned them onto a disc for me – I had them in my car for a couple of years and I would just drive around listening to them, so it was really nice that those tracks ended up being the first release on L.I.E.S.

The second release was the Two Dogs In A House 12″, which is you and Jason producing together, right?

Yeah, exactly. I’ve known him for six or seven years. We had talked about doing a Chicago house project through the years but we were both unsettled for some time – he was moving, I had other things going on, and recently we finally had the time to work on tracks together. By this stage we wanted to make dark and melancholic house music.

Jason seems to be quite central to the label, releasing under a couple of different monikers…

Jason is the man – he’s one of the cornerstones of L.I.E.S.

You guys remixed Runaway as Two Dogs In A House – is there anything else coming up on the L.I.E.S. production front?

Yeah, Two Dogs have a record on Discoscapablanca coming out this month and are also working on new material. I’ve been working a bit alone in the studio, slowly compiling tracks for a solo EP at some point.

And you’ve got some stuff coming on A Future Times compilation?

I produced a track with my friend Briganti a couple of years back under the name L.I.E.S, and Echovolt Records out of Greece actually put out a record a year and a half ago. Anyway, Max D had this track, and he did a remix of it which he had kicking around – he ended up putting his remix version on the compilation.

You work in A1 Records – which has one of the best collections of house music in NYC. This must have been a significant influence on you – how long have you worked there?

I’ve been there for two years, but I have been going to the shop since ’99. It has always been the spot for me in terms of finding music. There’s always freaked out stuff you can find there, from oddball synthesizer records to 90s house, techno and disco. It definitely has shaped my view on what’s going on, musically. I’ve known Jeremy for years, he works there, we have a bunch of mutual friends from Detroit. There was an opening, and that was that.

I imagine you’ve worked with some interesting people, and had some interesting customers…

It’s great because you get a ton of regular customers there, totally interesting characters with a lot of wild stories and eccentric personalities. It makes the day go by quick, for sure. You get your touring DJs come through, random hip-hop guys from the past. It’s a lively atmosphere.

Who are some of your most memorable customers?

Well famous rap producers come by all the time but I’ll shout out some of the DJs who still come by to kick it and still buy vinyl – Tim Sweeney, Justin V, Duane Harriott, Anthony Parasole, Dam Funk, Twilight Tone, Alex from Tokyo, Anton Esteban, the Future Times crew, Willie Graff, Benguin, Sharegroove, Sal P, Danny Krivit, DJ Harvey. But the true unsung heroes of the shop are the regulars like Don “Fed Ex” Lassiter, Solophlex, Dennis the King of Latin, Willie “Vitamin D” Dragon, Stinky Steve – these are the people that make the place.

You are a native New Yorker, right? Not to labor the point too much, but how much has the city impacted where you’re at now? Is the name of the label a nod to your own heritage?

I grew up in Long Island so I was up in the city a lot as a kid going to shows and hanging out, and I thought Long Island Electrical Systems was a catchy little name with good imagery. Truthfully, the dance music history of New York is not something I lived though and experienced first hand. I was not into dance music in the late 80s or early 90s. I grew up with hip-hop and punk rock. It wasn’t until probably 1998 that I really got into a lot of dance music – and that was way past the prime of Nu Groove Records and all the classic stuff, when all the good parties were happening.

You mentioned you have a busy schedule of releases on the horizon. What’s coming up? Are you planning to expand L.I.E.S., with parties or anything else?

Putting parties together is not for me – I’ll leave that to people who are pro at doing that. I’m just going to keep pushing the label, and I hope to get out of town in December and hit the road for some DJ slots. I hate to say it, but in New York, we’re just a little blip on the radar that people barely notice. People are pretty wrapped up in their own things, so they catch on a bit late. The worldwide reaction has been good though – I’ve been surprised at the amount of positive feedback – so I’m hoping to hit the road and spread the word of L.I.E.S.

Interview: Aaron Coultate