ERICK MORILLO at the Guvernment (132 Queens Quay East), Saturday (January 31). $15 before 11 pm, $20 after. www.theguvernment.com Rating: NNNNN
New Jersey's Erick Morillo is one of the few figures in house music able to balance huge commercial success with some semblance of underground respectability. His breakthrough hit under the alias Reel 2 Real, the annoyingly catchy I Like To Move It, dropped back in the early 90s. It became one of those rare club tracks that hit so big on mainstream radio, even your grandparents could sing it.
I still shudder at the memory of my boss shouting the lyrics to hurry us up while we washed dishes that summer.
Wisely, Morillo used the profits from that hit to start Subliminal Records in 1997, fusing European big-club sounds with the soul of classic New York house. Through the various sub-labels, he also pushes dark dubby tribal, soulful vocal house, electro-rock house and filtered Latin workouts, covering as many tangents as possible.
His label has continued to spawn some pretty massive crossover hits, most recently 2002's Shiny Disco Balls by Who Da Funk, which was played to death at every mainstream house night that year and much of last. On a deeper tip, Harry Romero's I Go Back (featuring Robert Owens) was undisputedly the big track of last year's Miami Music Conference, and a big hit for the label. He's received too many awards to bother listing, and he's one of the small handful of house DJs among the top 20 of Mixmag's trance-dominated "best DJ of 2003" poll.
Remember last year when P. Diddy announced he was going to start a dance label and had discovered house music? Morillo was the one who showed him there was more to dance music than the obnoxious trance Diddy was used to in Miami. Diddy's also apparently a guest on Morillo's upcoming album, scheduled to come out sometime this winter.
Before he gets around to pushing that on us, he's got a new mix compilation out, Subliminal Winter Sessions, a collection of the biggest tracks from his Wednesday residency last summer at Ibiza mega-club Pasha, plus unreleased tracks from his label. House purists may turn up their noses at some of the filter disco moments and most of the tracks' hard edge, but the disc captures an interesting middle ground: a bit of that acidic Chicago bump, some disco bounce, a touch of New York soul, a bit of the hypnotic qualities of progressive and some of the aggression of the electro revival.
Morillo's widely respected for his versatility, able to play melodic vocal house to one crowd, then fly to another town to play a raw and dirty tech-house set at an after-hours club. In fact, this Saturday he's booked to play both Toronto and Montreal, which is the kind of schedule that helps explain why even his publicist can't get him on the phone.