Stress Music – In praise of L.I.E.S

The leather clad punk in skinny jeans and a fuck-off attitude that sneers at conformity while biting down on the edge of knife’s blade isn’t some pseudo punk band today, it’s a dance music label. Rather it’s a particular electronic music label known as Long Island Electrical System or L.I.E.S as it’s more commonly referred to. The brainchild of one Ron Morelli, L.I.E.S has been making a severe impact in dance music’s more unconventional corners for the best part of a decade today and its presence can always be felt in the dusty corners of your local record store. Whether it’s the functional DIY design of their record sleeves or the other labels that try to mimic their crunchy unadulterated sound, the label is always there, pushing the envelope for House music and club culture in the most profound ways. Ron Morelli steers the course of his all-encompassing tastes in a singular direction that is L.I.E.S and of course, it starts and ends with the man behind the label, but it also incorporates the network of artists he has cultivated from the label’s initial base in New York. It’s a city Morelli has previously referred to as an “overrated cesspool”, but it’s exactly the “overrated cesspool” that allowed the label to germinate and even gave it its acronym of a name. “I wanted to have an outlet for myself and a tight knit group of people here in New York”; says Morelli in an interview for Juno about the origins of the label and immediately it’s evident the city of New York’s role in the label is an integral part of its existence.

A 1980’s version of New York pulls into focus when you conjure an image of the city through the music on the label. There are pieces of trash propelled into the air through open sewer grates; hazy smog so thick you’d need a jackhammer to pound through it; and an apathetic disposition to the world that borders on the malevolent. That feeling of the city is what’s been behind everything L.I.E.S since that first Maloveaux record back in 2010, but there was another element stirring the pot that informed the sound of L.I.E.S during its initial stages and that was the sound of House in the Netherlands. More specifically it was the raw sound of House and Techno from Bunker records in the Hague that inspired Morelli and L.I.E.S with acts like I-F, Electronome, DJ Overdose and Legowelt – the latter two names appearing on the label in 2011 and 2015 respectively, still acting like some sort of invisible and indirect rudder for the progression of the label. It’s “more of the attitude than the sound that is pushing me forth these days” says Ron Morelli in that interview with Juno about Bunker’s influence. There’s an undeniable sonic connection there too in the raw visceral sound of any L.I.E.S record, but nothing concrete enough to pinpoint, and perhaps it does in fact just boil down to the attitude. What does however make it very different from, say a Unit Moebius release on Bunker is in the sporadic energy and the versatility of a L.I.E.S release, which can go from the down-tempo acid work of Gavin Russom to the aggressive noise of ADMX-71 before taking a detour through to the ambient corners of the dance floor with someone like KWC 92. In the American tradition of classifying all electronic dance music as either House or Techno, L.I.E.S refuses to be pigeonholed and even in those two categories the label is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. While the label has always catered to a club environment, the music that features on the label is diverse and flits between albums that focus on the listening experience, to EPs with straightforward club-killer tracks whose function is to enlighten as much as it is to propel. Although they occupy two very different spheres at times, one word we’d never associated with L.I.E.S is boring. There’s a raw industrial aesthetic to the general sound of the label that sounds like it was all recorded through the same old dusty mixing desk in a concrete basement somewhere, the worn out equipment unable to give quarter and layering everything a warm driven sound always on the brink of cracking up. Like drinking malt liquor out of a brown paper bag, there’s no frills or fuss to the label, tying the music together without pandering to any particular trend or style.

Ron Morelli and L.I.E.S are always going to do what they do, and that thing might not always be for everyone, but there will always be a little something just around the corner thanks to their Bunker-inspired excessive release strategy. “The music is there from the artists, so if I can get it out, I’m gonna get it out as fast as possible”; explains Morelli about the very-active release schedule of the label for Fact. “Some stuff you’re not gonna like, but then there’s gonna be another one coming soon”, Morelli justifying the sheer volume of records the label releases. Without any real defining characteristic to the purpose of the label, besides perhaps locality, L.I.E.S presence is a deafening one and speaks to various musical tastes on different levels. Whether you like the more album formatted listening experience of last year’s very popular KWC92’s debut on the label, “Dream of the World City” or the more dancelfoor focussed exercises by Jahiliyya Fields or Willie Burns, L.I.E.S will have something for you, centred quite obviously on the unique personality of Ron Morelli. “There’s no real aesthetic. I put out what I like and what’s around me”, says the label head in a video interview with Basic Replay early on in the label’s existence, a small portion of his extensive record collection surrounding him at his home office. “If there weren’t all these people around me I wouldn’t have started a label”, he continues, emphasising the “I” that ties the label and the music together. It would have you believe that Ron Morelli, the central figure in the label, would also be its most significant contributor, but that is not the case. Although his work as one half of Two dogs in A House, a project he shares with Jason Letkiewicz (Malvoeaux), contributed to the second only L.I.E.S release he’s very rarely flexed his creative muscle on his label, and even his debut album Spit was released on Hospital in 2013. It’s an album that could easily have slotted into L.I.E.S discography with its penchant for a darker sonic aesthetic and assertive beats, elements that conspire in what Ron Morelli calls “stress music” in an interview for XLR8R. He goes on to say that his music is unrelated to anything on the label, but I’d have to disagree and say that it is impossible for the creative personality to completely dissociate itself from the head of a label. That idea of “stress music” is what basically lays the foundation for the appeal of L.I.E.S. Even a release like Terekke’s YYYYYYYYYY utilises the idea of stress in creating ample amounts of tension in the music with a simple Deep-House palette with timbres that linger in the darker end of the spectrum and hints at something malicious brewing beneath the surface. Put it down to New York, trend or similar tastes amongst these artists/friends, elements like these conspire to the core structure of L.I.E.S and like every good label out there, it unifies the music under one umbrella, and in this case this umbrella is Ron Morelli and his very esoteric musical tastes.

There’s no stopping the trajectory of L.I.E.S today with this fundamental approach pulling it along. This year has already seen the release of Gunnar Haslam’s third brilliant album, Lebesgue Measure on the label; giving the world a new reason to enjoy ambient music in KWC’s Iran; and seen the return of Jahiliyya Fields’ collaborative project, Inahlants to the label. Morelli might have left the cesspool of New York behind for Paris, but he’s still very much keeping L.I.E.S ingrained in the sound of New York with these artists on the label. “There’s no real vision. (I’ll) just keep doing what the label’s doing. Put out records by the people around me.”