The events surrounding Erick Morillo‘s death have brought an important subject to the forefront of our industry’s conversation: how can we continue to separate art from the artist when the artist is responsible for violence, rape or abuse?
Erick Morillo was found dead at his Miami Beach home on Tuesday, September 1.
On August 6, 2020, Morillo was arrested and charged with sexual battery on a woman for alleged rape. In December 2019, Morillo and his accuser were working as DJs at a private party on Star Island in Miami Beach and later went to his Miami Beach home. She told detectives that she was drunk at Morillo’s home and declined several sexual advances before passing out in an empty bedroom and later waking nude with him beside her, also nude.
DNA found inside her was confirmed as his shortly before he turned himself into the police in August of this year. He was due to appear in court on September 4 but was found dead at his home three days earlier. While the cause of death hasn’t been revealed yet, police stated they do not suspect foul play.
When the news of his arrest first broke out on social media it was impossible to not read many accounts from people who claimed these types of allegations against Erick Morillo aren’t new and that he had a history of similar incidents dating all the way back to his career-defining NYC hey-days in the mid-’90s.
Morillo drew attention in June 2013 when he failed to appear at a June 6 show in Long Island. Then on June 12, he had to be escorted off stage 45 minutes into a set due to “erratic behavior.” According to reports, Morillo appeared to be dazed when he began his set, and his condition worsened after he began it. At one point, he vanished from view, leaving a single loop playing over and over. Morillo later stated on his Twitter page, “The time has come to take a break and refocus my attention on my health and well-being.” Morillo took the time to go to rehab and tackle his drug addiction head-on and seemed to have made a good recovery since, returning to performing in more recent years.
Erick Morillo spoke to Pete Tong about his journey and recovery from drug addiction during an IMS Ibiza panel interview. You can find it in full on YouTube by clicking here, but the following excerpts are already telling of a deeper story.
IMS Ibiza 2016: Erick Morillo
— Business Teshno (@businessteshno) August 7, 2020
Let’s rewind a bit.
Morillo was one of the first “international super DJs” in the dance music industry, enjoying large paychecks for his gigs, flying in private jets, owning mega-mansions in several cities and, of course, enjoying large recognition for his DJ sets and the releases on his seminal record label called Subliminal. Morillo even enjoyed mainstream recognition for his 1993 hit “I Like to Move It” on Strictly Rhythm, which he produced under the pseudonym Reel 2 Real, and which was featured in commercials, ringtones and movies, most famously on animated film Madagascar.
It is beyond obvious that with his status in the industry Erick Morillo had friendships with many other world star DJs in both the EDM world and the more “underground” circuit. Morillo enjoyed the mainstage hype that saw him perform alongside David Guetta, but was also a respected house DJ and producer which gained him recognition and connection with many other DJs in the House and Tech House scene. He was a much-lauded proponent of New York City’s nightlife scene, hosting Subliminal Night with the likes of Danny Tenaglia, Darren Emerson, Bob Sinclar, Derrick Carter, Tiger Tim Stevens, Mark Farina and Tony Humphries invited to the label.
Morillo hosted various other club nights across the globe, such as the annual Crobar party in Miami and his legendary Subliminal Sessions parties at Pacha in Ibiza, which was named “Best International Club” of 2002 and “Best Ibiza Party” of 2001 by Muzik magazine. Ibiza is also where Morillo was crowned “Best International DJ” in 2002 and “Best House DJ” in 1999 and 2001 at the Pacha Ibiza awards.
It’s important to mention the above to have a complete understanding of how Morillo was viewed not only by fans by also by his peers.
Since the news of his passing, countless DJs and fans have taken to social media to offer eulogies and recount stories of their relationship with Morillo. Needless to say, Morillo’s music touched countless music fans through many nights on the dance floor. It is also pretty clear that through the years Morillo was both a mentor, a musical influence, and a friend to many other DJs throughout the world.
What is troubling, however, is how many of the eulogies, which have come from a wide variety of artists, have either failed to address the troubling rape allegations levied against Morillo or have outright downplayed them.
An incredibly wide variety of artists, almost all male, have taken to social media to post similar words of condolences. They’ve chosen to either ignore the rape charges or to minimize their severity by using a salad of words including “troubled,” “mistake,” “not perfect,” “demons,” “he had changed,” “he fucked up BUT,” and so on. It’s important to note that the aforementioned words are almost always accompanied by the use of other telling ones, such as “legend” and “genius,” in many cases implying that all geniuses and legends are troubled and have demons. The implication here is dark. Are these artists seriously saying that musical legends and geniuses can commit rape and still be considered as such?
You can read a selection of these social media posts and eulogies below. You will no doubt recognize many names ranging from David Guetta to Carl Cox, and in between Sven Väth, Joseph Capriati, Camelphat, Hot Since 82, Jackmaster, Steve Lawler, Danny Howard, Nic Fanciulli, Black Coffee, Dennis Ferrer, Danny Tenaglia, The Martinez Brothers, Eats Everything, Pete Tong, Dubfire, Marco Carola, wAFF and Yousef.
I must add that the above words are even more troubling when you realize how incoherent they are if you juxtapose them with these artists’ previous public stances in support of women and equality.
If you were to look at the many comments and tweets from fans on social media you will also find similarly worded sentiments. Many of those comments go further claiming the woman that pressed charges against Morillo is lying, forwarding the age-old narrative that anyone rich and famous wouldn’t need to rape a woman because after all, “who wouldn’t want to have sex with them?” Other comments imply or openly state that any woman drunk at a man’s house must be there with the intention of wanting to have sex, and so the DJ who pressed charges couldn’t possibly have been raped.
This isn’t an easy opinion piece to write because the death of Morillo is tragic in many ways, but it is a topic that must be talked about. While it is true that Morillo wasn’t found guilty by a court of law, it is also true that the woman who pressed charges will not see justice served, and that Morillo had turned himself in to the police after positive DNA test results and after originally stating that he hadn’t even had sex with the woman. These are facts.
We must also look at the subject of rape and sexual harassment and analyze this situation within that context both in society and in our industry. Let’s be brutally honest: the dance music industry is not new to sexism and sexual harassment. Women are reluctant to voice allegations of abuse against powerful men because often they are not believed, and face an incredibly arduous and uphill battle in their quest for justice, usually coupled with never-ending social media attacks. This is further exacerbated by a lack of accountability in mainstream media as well as within particular industries, including ours.
Unfortunately, we are seeing all of this happening with Erick Morillo. Sexual harassment and rape of women have been so normalized in our culture, and in dance music, that too many people are brushing such incidents aside as “mistakes.” While it is incredibly hard to reconcile the fact that a mentor, friend or DJ you once respected and loved could be capable of such heinous acts, we must hold each other collectively accountable for ensuring that we denormalize rape and harassment of any kind, no matter the circumstances.
It is no coincidence that the vast majority of eulogies and dismissive statements regarding Erick’s rape charge have come from male DJs and male fans. It is also no surprise that these statements have been met with a mixture of anger, sadness, and disbelief by women, including many fellow DJs and music producers who have themselves been a victim of sexual assault by men in this industry in the past, and are now logging on to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to read eulogies downplaying rape as a “mistake.”
The fact that this is happening is not ok.
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I’m feeling really vulnerable and emotional posting this as I have been questioning what my outrage has been over the passing of Erick Morillo and how the fact his alleged rape and court case has not been mentioned once as my fellow colleagues share their thoughts on his passing painting a picture of “a humble guy who was far from perfect” etc etc. All this has done is brought up feelings of my past and the shit I have dealt with and the fact that even if I had tried to talk about what had happened my perpetrators would still of been excused and somehow would actually be my fault. This is not me talking bad about the deceased but really the need to reach out to the women who may have had similar experiences to share that I know how this feels but I don’t know how to change things within the industry as now it seems we still have a long way to go but maybe together we are stronger 🖤
While Morillo’s musical legacy is undeniable, the legacy he leaves behind includes a series of rape and sexual abuse allegations that cannot be ignored, downplayed, or swept under the rug.
Many people claim that artists and their art should be viewed separately and that we can enjoy art independent of the actions of the person who is responsible for it.
I do recognize that this isn’t a “black and white” issue. One can possibly admire and enjoy music from artist(s) who hold some differing political and social viewpoints (within limits of course), but we must draw a line somewhere, and surely that line must be drawn before we get to actions of deep moral severity, such as violence, rape, sexual harassment, abuse, racism, etc.
We must believe women and stand up for them. We must hold artists accountable for the harm they inflict on other people, even if we enjoyed their music before discovering the truth about who they are as a human being.
We cannot keep separating artists from their art, looking the other way when they are effectively harming and ruining people’s lives through their actions. This is even more important when abusers are getting away with it thanks to the very status they enjoy as a result of their art.
If you’ve read this far I hope you can agree with me that this is a tough topic to discuss and tackle. Yet, this doesn’t mean we should shun away from open dialogue and honest look at what is happening. There are many emotions that come into play in the passing of any human being, and Erick Morillo’s death is, as I stated above, tragic in many ways.
With this conversation, I do not seek to downplay Morillo’s work in music or the many friendships he had. The huge disconnect we are witnessing on social media between those and his alleged pattern of abuse over decades must be addressed head-on, as it is part of a wider problem within our industry.
Any kind of harassment and abuse in our industry must be eradicated and the first step to achieve that is recognizing not only that we are not doing so forcefully and consistently enough, but addressing all instances where we see a failure to do what is right.
We must all look inward and decide that the battle for equality is one we must all fight, together. Just as we have to stand up against racism in the global fight for racial equality, we must also do so against sexism and sexual abuse as allies of all women everywhere.
The stark truth is that the fight for true equality includes looking at our own circle of peers and friends, and holding them accountable on a personal level. No excuses. No ifs, ands or buts.
That is what we must do to achieve real change.