Music

Erick Morillo obituary


Half an hour into the 2005 animated film Madagascar, the viewer is confronted with a frozen tableau of jungle animals, poised and ready for a choreographed dance to begin. Their leader, a lemur called King Julien, begins to chant the opening lines of a song – I Like to Move It – and a frenetic dance scene begins. The drum beat and bass part of the track are simple to the point of banality, but the song’s infectious chorus ensured that it was a high-charting hit in several countries. The song appeared in three further Madagascar films and a spin-off TV series.

The success of I Like to Move It, originally released in 1994 by the house music project Reel 2 Real, and the reported $2m in earnings, enabled its composer, Erick Morillo, who has died suddenly aged 49, to live the life of the superstar DJ. While he also scored big hits such as The New Anthem (1993) and Move Your Body (Mueve la Cadera, 1996), and later went on to make music of more complexity in the deep house and tech house genres, I Like to Move It remains his best known work.

“I’m just happy that a track that I made when I was 20 is, 17 years later, being introduced to a whole new generation and it’s a hit all over again and opening a lot of doors,” he said.

I Like to Move It by Reel 2 Real, featuring The Mad Stuntman (1994)

During that time, Morillo had already established himself as a DJ in demand, hosting club nights in New York and Miami and playing parties at the Pacha club in Ibiza. In the DJ awards held at Pacha he won Best International DJ and Best House DJ three times each, between 1998 and 2006, and received a total of 15 nominations.

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Morillo was especially popular in the UK, often playing sets at London’s Ministry of Sound and Cream in Liverpool. He received the Muzik magazine Remixer of the Year award in 1999 and appeared in a seven-part Channel 4 series, House Party, in 2012. “I’m never in the same country for more than a week,” he said in 2009. “This summer I will be in Ibiza every Wednesday, but in between I’ll be flying to England, France, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, Greece – the list goes on.”

Born in New York to Colombian parents, Morillo lived in Cartagena, Colombia, as a child. Returning to the US aged 11 with his mother, Elisa, and his sister, Sheila, he attended Emerson high school in Union City, New Jersey, and began playing DJ sets at weddings for friends and family. In 2012, the section of the road where the family had lived was renamed Erick Morillo Way.

After enrolling on a studio engineering course at the Center for the Media Arts in New York City, Morillo continued to work as a DJ in New Jersey clubs, where he met a Latin reggae singer called El General. This led to the 1991 single Muévelo, which became a platinum-selling hit. Connections with the house music producer “Little” Louie Vega and the Latin American singer Marc Anthony were followed by remixes and The New Anthem (Funky Buddha mix), the first release under the name Reel 2 Real, with Morillo credited as Erick Moore, which reached No 1 in the US dance charts.

The label behind the track, Strictly Rhythm, then released I Like to Move It, a Morillo track with vocals by the Trinidadian toaster Mark “The Stuntman” Quashie. Reel 2 Real released six more hit singles, including Jazz It Up, which reached No 7 in the UK chart, and three albums before The Mad Stuntman departed in 1996.

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Jazz it Up, 1996, by Reel 2 Real (Erick Morillo), was a big hit in the UK

In 1998 Morillo launched the Double Platinum management company and founded a label, Subliminal Records. Under the name Da Mob, with the vocalist Jocelyn Brown, Subliminal released Fun, which reached No 1 in the US Billboard Dance Club chart. Morillo also formed part of a remix team called the Dronez. By 2001 he was touring the world non-stop, and then came the release of the Madagascar films, with his track covered by different vocalists for each movie, and adapted lyrics.

In the last decade, Morillo had homes in Ibiza, Miami, New York and Los Angeles, travelling between them and his many international dates by private jet, but he was experiencing problems in his private life. In 2012 he married an Australian-born model, Yasmin Sait-Armstrong, but they divorced within a year.

The following year Morillo was escorted from a DJ set in Long Island, New York, in apparently poor health. He subsequently spent time in rehab for alcohol and ketamine addictions, which he claimed to have defeated by 2017. Last month he was arrested and charged with sexual battery. Morillo denied the accusations, but turned himself into police when the results of a rape kit tested positive for his DNA.

He was due to appear in court this week, but was found dead at his home in Miami Beach, Florida, three days before the hearing.

• Erick Morillo, music producer and DJ, born 26 March 1971; died 1 September 2020

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