Autosea Interview: BASIC SOUL UNIT

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Suart Li AKA Basic Soul Unit was born in Hong Kong but raised in Canada where he made his first release in 2003.

From then on, Li has dropped releases on labels such as Ostgut Ton, Dekmantel and many more including his own Lab.our Music.

Li has performed across clubs and festivals throughout the world where crowds are captivated with genre-spanning sets, featuring anything from melodic techno, heavy hitting and industrial sounds to deep house and even disco.

His show at Boney on March 2nd with Autosea will not disappoint and we were lucky to get in touch before he lands in Australia.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us ahead of your Melbourne show! It's been a few years since you were last here, how are you feeling about coming back?

Australia was good to me the first two times, so I’m really looking forward to my return.

Having played in Australia before, and funnily enough at Boney where we'll be hosting you on the 2nd of March, how does the Australian audience compare to that of overseas?

Speaking from my experiences, the crowd’s been great. Up for it on the dance floor and some knowledgeable heads too.

How do you think the Australian electronic music scene is compared to Canada? Are there any Australian artists that you've been getting around lately?

I have heard of some artists such as Francis Inferno Orchestra, Tornado Wallace, Tuff Sherm, Inkswel and Mall Grab and enjoy some of their music. I’ve also recently done a remix for Trinity on Nightime Drama. That was great to be part of as I am familiar with all the artists involved (Trinity whom I played with in Sydney, Steven Tang and Daniela La Luz). It was a nice family affair and everyone’s musical contribution was on point. As far as the scene, it could be me looking in from the outside but I feel like the Australian audience generally provide great support to their local talent. In Canada and specifically in Toronto at the moment, it can be a bit of an uphill battle with the lack of infrastructure and platforms for exposure in the general public. But there are dedicated artists, promoters, and venues trying to make it work. It seems like the younger generation is about to step it up and show the world too. Watch out for some new local labels about to pop up like Forth or Parallel Minds. Another thing is that the Canadian cities could be more connected then they are at the moment. I think Australia is similar in that the cities are quite far apart geographically but the lack of cheap flights in Canada perhaps deters more connecting than there should be.

Being born in Hong Kong, do you go back and visit your hometown often? Do you draw any inspiration from the different culture?

I was in Hong Kong until 8 years old and in Toronto there is a huge Hong Kong community so subconsciously I’m sure that I’ve been influenced by my upbringing. If anything maybe the tenacity and work ethic of the people to succeed in their endeavours. I have also been back many times and made some good friends in the local scene. Especially in the last couple years, it seems like the underground is gaining some momentum.

You grew up listening to Toronto's college radio stations and attending after hours parties. Was it here where you were first exposed to electronic music? Were there any particular artists that caught your attention early on?

Yeah, the radio stations introduced me to the music (via my older sister) before high school and then I went to the parties when I was in high school. This was late 80’s to early 90’s so everything was fresh to my ears. Todd Terry, Lil Louis, MAW, Marshall Jefferson and all the names that became big was just coming out at that time and all blew my mind. In Toronto we had Nick Holder, Abacus, Strobe Records, The Stickmen, D’pac, 83 West and more holding down the fort. If there’s one artist that’s influenced me the most though I would have to say Larry Heard. Deep, soulful and jacking at the same time. As soon as I heard the pads on “Can You Feel It”, that was it.

You released your second album, Under The Same Sky in 2015 on Dekmantel. Was the writing process taken different to that of your first album, Motional Response? When piecing together an album where do you draw your inspiration from?

It was similar in the sense that I didn’t plan it out or have a theme in mind. The music was a snapshot of my creative thoughts during the respective periods of time. I’m generally the kind of producer that goes with the feeling and flow, and see what comes out. The difference is just where my mind is at the time. I do feel that the tracks on “Under The Same Sky” do gel together more coherently than the first album.

In 2013 you co-founded the label, Lab.our Music alongside Jason Ulrich. Tell us a little a bit more about how this came about!

Aside from our friend Chicago Skyway, all of the music released has been from Toronto based artists. That was part of the reason for us to start the label. We wanted to create a platform to get local artists music out there. The other reason was to have more creative control over what I was releasing myself. It took me awhile to decide on starting the label as I did not have the resources and finance to start a label when I first put music out there. I was lucky enough to have been working with a plethora of great labels that I respected and followed. But it was definitely an eventual goal to start the label and when I did start it I brought in my good friend Jason to help out whom I trust entirely as a person and also musically.

Although many may be unaware you also perform live. Do you prefer DJing or performing live? In regard to reading the crowd, how do they compare?

I definitely consider myself as a DJ first and foremost even over being a producer. After hearing the radio shows as a kid, I went down to the record shops and tried to buy all of the music I was hearing on the shows. My sister’s boyfriend at the time lent me a belt drive Technique BD22 (I had one myself) and a cheap Radio Shack mixer and taught me the basics in beat matching. This was before even being old enough to go out to the parties and clubs. It’s been my passion since way back.

In regards to the question about the crowd, I definitely feel more at ease when DJing. I guess partly because I’m more experienced with it. When DJing I do have a wider range of music to work with and can change the mood and pace more easily. When doing live, basically all you have is your own music so people are either gonna like it or not. Of course, if you’re skilled enough you can work the crowd through your live set building things up and down.

Finally, what has Basic Soul Unit got in store for the remainder of 2018?

First thing is the aforementioned compilation. It will include a BSU track and also the 2nd outing for my partner Jason under the moniker J-UL. Also on it are veterans like Adam Marshall and Pursuit Grooves, Labour regular Maxwell Church and as slew of new and young artists too. Aside from that I am working on another EP for my home away from Lab.our which is Dolly. So glad and humbled to have Steffi’s continued support for my work. There’s also a couple remixes in the works.

Thanks for having a chat with us Stuart! 

This interview has been condensed and edited.