The acidic lines become more evident and the temperament is clearly undergoing restructuring. We’re in the thick of Basic Soul Unit’s Australian tour and it’ll take some time for the lights to fade away from it. The tangent and approach is certainly refreshing – in his own words he’s (understandably) always felt comfortable conducting records so it’s been challenge from his perspective to settle into a live working headspace as far as performances are concerned, though it’s fairly clear he’s managed more than adequately. As far as studio work is concerned, it’s spanned the likes of Mule Electronic, Ostgut Ton and New Kanada and rightly so. It’s been just over 20 years since the successful promenade commenced with a raw, soul drenched assault on electronica though not before consulting the worlds of Latin, Disco and Jazz. Despite the diverse influences, his sound still has “that” undertone which does the movement justice.
Going forwards from here, Melbourne and the Out of Focus crew plays host this Friday July 20 followed by White Rhino winding up the tour in Brisbane Saturday July 21. Leading up to the weekend we couldn’t think of anyone more apt to host this weeks broadcast – Stuart Li, aka: Basic Soul Unit.
Kn: When you look back was there a specific influential period in music that represents your time growing up in Toronto’s music landscape?
BSU: There were a few as I’ve been into so much different music, but the first and most important I would say was during Toronto’s warehouse & loft party days in the early 90’s. Most people from that era will remember places like 23 Hop, Victoria St, Oxford St & others. I was already quite into dance music by then, but I felt like I finally found a place where people came together for the love for the music and to dance. The music was house, but at that time it wasn’t as divided. You would hear stuff from NYC, Detroit, Chicago & Europe (and some local stuff too of course).
Kn: Music always has contextual links… especially with regard to its geographical origins. Do you feel like your music is highly influenced by the space and place that it’s produced in?
BSU: Definitely, even though it may seem I have a lot of influences from Chicago & Detroit, I was only in high school and never went to Chicago or Detroit in those days. I experienced that music through the dance floors of Toronto. And because we had so many influences in Toronto from all over the place, I think that subconsciously it has an effect on my music.
Kn: Over the course of the last two decades, you’ve worked at record stores, promoted events, held numerous residencies showcasing your versatility, a&r’d for a record label and are also a reputable producer in your own right. With such a colourful history in music behind you, what have been the biggest inspirations for your music and development as an artist?
BSU: More than anything, the sum of my experiences on the dance floor. I think my music is an ode to those days not just stylistically speaking but about that moment in a underground warehouse party when the rawest tune comes on and people are losing it in the deep end.
Kn: You’ve mentioned in the past your passion for a broad range of music. Namely, disco, jazz, soul, funk, latin and brazilian. However, where there specific moments, situations or even records that have played an influential role in shaping your music today or even renewing your perception of what a certain type of music means to you?
BSU: In the early 00’s my friends Jason Palma, Aki, John Kong, A Man Called Warwick and DJ Nav did a monthly night called Movement at Roxy Blu. It was very eclectic, playing anything from Jazz, funk, soul, house, afrobeat, nu jazz, drum n bass. Some of those nights along with the aforementioned Octapus Lounge nights definitely opened my perception of what could be considered dance music. One tune that I could think of that embodies this might be the 4 Hero remix of Masters At Work’s “Black Gold Of The Sun” (actually a Rotary Connection original).
Kn: …keeping the aforementioned musical influences in mind, have you considered producing music that directly reflects those passions?
BSU: Not directly. I think it’s more about the attitude and approach than a specific style or genre. In some ways house and techno embodies a “jazz” approach as far as improv, experimentation and just going with a feeling more than say a “nujazz” or “jazzy” house track (albeit even house and techno can be formulaic sometimes).
Kn: Technology has played an instrumental role in your success as a producer. How do you envisage yourself interacting with new technologies in the future to further develop your sound and broaden your creative capacity? Is this something that your interested in?
BSU: For sure, I was never a gear head or a tech geek. But if it wasn’t for technology I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now. I’m not one to be up to date with the newest and latest in technology but I don’t shy away from trying new things either. I think technology may change my sound or approach a bit but the soul and essence of my work would remain the same.
Kn: The past four years in your career represent a period of development and success. Firmly establishing your sound and name as a reputable artist synonymous with quality output. Where do you hope the forthcoming period of evolution steers you? Is this something that you consciously approach or do you prefer the situation to dictate the outcome?
BSU: In general, I don’t set any direction for myself and prefer to go with the flow. One thing I do hope to do though is to free up my compositions a bit and develop my sound design. I’ll still have my influences but I’d like to take it to the next level to develop my own sound further, maybe even outside of the confines of a 4/4 beat.
Kn: The evolution of an artist can be rewarding, yet demanding. What has been the biggest learning curve that you’ve experienced so far in your career?
BSU: I’ve just recently put together a live set. That took me quite awhile to figure how I was going to do it. What gear to use, how to organize the parts of the tracks and string it together. It’s still at the beginning stages and I have a long way to go, but so far so good. I’ve always been comfortable as a DJ but it’s been quite the learning curve to figure how to be a live performer.
Kn: What projects do you have scheduled for release in the near future both as Basic Soul Unit and Herman? Any new projects that you’re excited about that you’d like to share with us?
BSU: I have an ep out soon on Nonplus+ and an long player hopefully later this year on Still Music. Outside of that a few single tracks for various labels such as Aesthetic Audio, Midnight Shift (a new Singapore label working under Jerome Sydenham’s Ibadan), Darker Than Wax (also from Singapore) and remixes for Alland Byallo’s Bad Animal label, Gerd’s 4Lux, Parages (a friend’s label based in Montreal). The Darker Than Wax is a Herman release, but for the most part I’ve temporarily stopped working on Herman as I feel like the Herman and BSU sounds are starting to merge.
Kn: Lets say for a moment that I could gift you the opportunity to go back in time and relive one event as a performer, and one as a punter. What would they be and why? And what advice would you give yourself?
BSU: Hm, hard to say and hard to narrow down to one, whether good or bad I’ve learn from every experience I had. Maybe my first couple of live shows, although they went relatively well I was a bit nervous. I would’ve told myself to try to relax and just have fun! As a punter, perhaps my first time at “Body and Soul” in NYC at Vinyl or maybe The Three Chairs at the 2nd DEMF, some of my most memorable and inspirational moments on the dance floor.
Kn: Your debut Australian tour is imminent. You must be excited to showcase your sound here at our shores. What do you have in mind for the tour and the shows? And what do you know about the Australian scene that your excited to experience?
BSU: I’m definitely excited about the tour! I’ve heard and read good things about the scene. It seems to be an opened minded and I hope that I can express and experience with the crowd the spectrum of music that represents me as a Dj and music lover.
Kn: Where to from here Stuart? What do you have your heart set on achieving in the next five years?
BSU: There’s no set plan or goal. I’ve just been taking things as they come. I feel very fortunate to have come this far. So I just want to keep enjoy doing what I love to do and we’ll see what happens.
Friday 20th, The Liberty Social, Melbourne
Saturday 21st, Bar Soma, Brisbane