Ron Like Hell is a New York City DJ. A promoter, record collector, and musician, his tireless work in bringing together seemingly disparate strands of disco, acid house, techno, new wave and rock epitomizes the eclectic, unifying spirit of the nights he’s thrown as a member of Wrecked. A fixture in New York since moving here in the late 90s, he’s been booked alongside the likes of Steffi, Horse Meat Disco, The Black Madonna, and more. Below, he speaks to the roots of house music, its potential as a universal music, and the obstacles and opportunities of being an artist in New York. He’ll join Gay Marvine, John Barera & Will Martin on Saturday, November 12 on the decks at Trans-Pecos.
The influence of Paradise Garage and early NY house overwhelms dance music history; it’s been canonized in documentaries, books, and even in the genre-names of other club musics, East Coast and abroad (NJ garage, UK garage). How do you feel its legacy of togetherness through music has held up over time? How might we seek to maintain it?
Music produced, composed and performed by our Soul, RnB, Jazz, Experimental, Psych Rock and Disco forefathers and mothers can never be overlooked as its profound message of open-mindedness, togetherness and praise of love is uniting no matter what region, ethnicity or religion one may abide by. We all know of loneliness, anxiety and a desire to be heard…going out to dance helps a person step out of their heads a bit to move their bodies in front of other people doing the exact same thing. Dancing is so important as the focus is on the sound, composition, the beat…it takes very little imagination to move your feet and just feel how your senses are compelled to sway, leap or stomp along. With all that said, the age of mixing music of all styles as an art demonstrated by The Loft’s David Mancuso, Larry Levan of the Paradise garage and the legendary story telling of Chicago’s Ron Hardy will always be praised as they were the first of their kind. The respect of producers sampling, re-editing or compiling old club music maintains the glimmer of old teaching future generations that there was a very different style of music industry pre software or pitch altering vocal tracks.
DJing in a pair can result in the successful synthesis of two disparate tastes and a wonderful shared experience, but can also give rise to competitive attitudes (“who’s gonna drop the next banger?!”) not suited for partying. As a member of a Wrecked, how do you maintain what seems to be that first, overwhelmingly positive experience?
DJing in a duo is all about respect for each other’s music whether both members of the duo agree on the track or not. My goal every time I DJ as Wrecked is to honor what my partner’s music has done for the crowd but continuously take them to familiar and unfamiliar territory…a journey in the music. If my partner and I thought 100% alike on purchasing music, it would make the party quite uninteresting and bland. It’s better to take risks, play old tracks with new tracks…for me, there’s just too much music out there to stay solid in one genre. When it gets too instrumental, I go vocal, and my partner luckily agrees with that. It’s a fine combination.
You’ve said in an interview, when prompted to explain what you do in your free time, you answered “I’m a New Yorker. I am always working”. You work as a buyer at Academy Records, so it’s safe to assume that you live a music centered existence, but how do you feel the working ethos of the city affects underground artists who may not be able to profit much (if at all) from their gigs or record sales, and also might not have a job in the industry?
Even an underground artist is always working on their music even if they are working in a cubicle, riding their bike or local subway line to a non-music related 9-5 job. They are always connected to their creativity by being influenced by sounds, lights, conversations or even when awkward, surreal moments the city can display sometimes is what keeps the creative process going, and I hope that the unfortunate lack of acceptance for their art does not get them down or cause them to sell out. I don’t knock anyone who has the patience and talent to play an instrument or get up in front of people and tell a joke or sing or recite poetry at all. The financial return be it low or high is not the goal, the reality is that a person is turning people on to a moment of release and that is a gift. New York City is an infinite place of opportunity. One can go somewhere and perform in public going beyond the salty reality of the internet experiencing first hand how their craft can evolve with likability and bittersweet reaction all at once. I should also note that the beauty of this city being very multi-cultural is very inspirational too. Hopefully such exposure to foreign sounds offers struggling artists a bit of relief as well as it does for me.
Coming up, you’ll play the Ray Ban x Boiler Room Weekender Festival, along with troves of other New York talent. The festival includes fellow NY house/techno DJs like Volvox, Anthony Naples, and Sagotsky, but also ballroom, club, and dancehall DJs like Venus X, LSDXOXO, and Dre Skull. Do you feel, given the variety of electronic music in Brooklyn and Manhattan right now, the genres are in conversation with each other?
Absolutely. I moved here to create a musical experience consisting of all kinds of genres creating happiness and sanctuary for people to free themselves from their troubles. Living in NYC ain’t easy and every hard working successful NYC promoter and DJ knows that for a fact. Each participant involved with RBxBR Weekender has accomplished so much by delivering solid events with entertaining their longtime fans to recent newcomers. Being inclusive and giving the kids something to live for when they hit the dance floor every single time is what Wrecked shares with everyone else in the lineup.
What lies on the horizon for Ron Like Hell?
To continue learning how to play musical instruments and release a few eclectic EPs sometime soon.
– Ben Ritz