Basic Soul Unit
Who are you and what do you do? How long have you been a working musician?
Hello, I’m Stuart Li aka Basic Soul Unit from Toronto, Canada. My first release came out 2003 so I guess you could say officially that’s when I started but I’ve been a bedroom DJ and music collector since the late 80’s.
What is your educational background? Are there any schools, courses, or books you recommend?
I took Architecture at University of Waterloo (ON, Canada) in the early 90’s then followed that with Graphic Design at Sheridan College (my current day job). A lot of my creative & critical thinking was probably shaped by my studies at Waterloo. Architecture is a great course for this but I don’t know that I would recommend it as a career unless you have a passion for it. A lot of toiling with little gain. On the other hand, I never took any music or production courses. I’m a true amateur
What hardware are you using?
As you may notice, most of these items (save the Fireface) are quite affordable. Being a part time musician/DJ and full time graphic designer and dad, I don’t really have the budget for anything extravagant. In any case, I was never really a gear head or had much technical knowledge. For the larger part of my production career I was going in the box with Logic, Reason or Ableton. However, I was curious about hardware and wanted to learn more about them especially as they related to the history of the music I love. Especially the X0XB0X since I had been using a lot of Acid lines in my work, I really wanted to have a piece of gear to tweak that live. The Behringer I initially got to control the Alpha Juno 2 but it’s been playing a large role in my live show as well. Very versatile and nice to have knobs instead of pads. Launchpad I’m using mainly to launch clips during the live sets. I got the Fireface UC because I wanted to use it both in the studio and take it on tour and it’s a great size. It’s as good and reliable as most people say it is. I just got the RMC again to take on tour. My loops and samples aren’t mastered so I hope that will help give it some punch (haven’t taken it out yet). I also take the 707 and X0X on the road with me as well. The next thing I think I need to get is a good small mixing board. I really like having the combination of both software and hardware for home and on the road. My road show is basically my studio minus the Juno & Korg. Lastly, as mentioned I don’t have a crazy studio and list of expensive gear, but sometimes being limited makes you approach things more creatively.
What software are you using?
I am mostly using Reason and Ableton Live. I was using Reason a lot before I started using the gear and still use it in addition to the gear. It’s cool to have those classic sounds from the gear but I also like using software to add elements that sound totally different. Ableton I use to mix things together and for performing my live set.
What would be your dream setup?
To be honest I don’t keep up to date with the latest and greatest of what’s out there. I would love to get more drum machines though. Always wanted a 909 and a Linndrumm. But in the end, I’m probably just as happy without them.
Can you describe your creative process? Is there a particular routine or schedule you stick to?
There’s no specific routine. I don’t usually start off with an idea in my head (and if I do it never ends up sounding like what I had in mind at first). I just get on the gear or computer and start messing about until I come up with a sound I like. Sometimes it’s a melody, sometimes it’s a rhythm. Then I just build the track from there.
Where do you shop for and discover music?
I shop at Play De Record in Toronto when I need a vinyl fix. There is also Cosmos for vintage records (though not cheap). When away, I love hitting up Disk Union in Japan (especially the soul/jazz/raregroove shop in Shibuya, Tokyo). Other cool shops I’ve been to in various places are DMR, Face, Lighthouse, Technique in Tokyo, Dope Jams, A1 in NYC, Hardwax, Spacehall, Rotation and many more in Berlin, Rub a Dub, Phonica, Honest Jon’s in UK. Rush Hour in Amsterdam. I mail order sometimes from Clone, Juno, Gramaphone. If Digital, I toggle between Whatpeopleplay, Junodownload & sometimes Beatport. Yes I still love and collect vinyl but my budget for it is much smaller these days than in my carefree youth. I should mention that I was DJing much longer than before I had any aspirations to be a producer.
Any highlights from your latest musical discoveries?
I bought Louis Hayes “Breath Of Life”, a spiritual jazz LP on Muse at a shop in Singapore. Also finally got Curtis Lundy “Just Be Yourself” LP featuring Carmen Lundy on one of my favourite vocal jazz songs “Never Gonna Let You go” (think it was off Ebay or Gemm). I listen to a lot of Jazz and Soul outside of club music.
What’s brewing in your studio?
Nothing in specific at the moment, just working on new ideas and learning more about my gear. Already done and in the pipeline are EPs for Nonplus+, a new label called Midnight Shift, and an LP for Still Music. Also a few remixes coming soon you can check on SoundCloud (see link below). You can check one of the Nonplus+ tracks here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F-9kWcKMNY
Any production tips & tricks you’d like to share?
Technical knowledge is important to a degree but more importantly go with your ideas and feeling. Make happy mistakes