DJ STUART as part of TOKYO DOLL FUNDRAISER alongside AKI , JASON ULRICH and SHINGO at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), tonight (Thursday, September 4). $15 at the door. Also appearing at FOOTPRINTS alongside JASON PALMA and GENERAL ECLECTIC at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Saturday (September 6). Rating: NNNNN
Club-goers have been trained to expect DJs to play the same style every time they go out. Toronto-based up-and-comer DJ Stuart (aka Stuart Li) figured this out after releasing his first single, Basic Soul, on John Kumahara's new label, Iwanai Music.
Many were surprised that Basic Soul was a very electronic-sounding house track, since Li has become known around town for a few years mainly as a jazz-funk and disco DJ.
His first love as a DJ, though, was house, and if you've been paying attention you may have noticed that he occasionally plays out under the name Basic Soul Unit when he wants to drop more four-on-the-floor club thumpers.
"My history has been heavily house-based, but I think most people know me as a jazz or funk DJ," he says. "Unfortunately, as a DJ it's pretty easy to get typecast. People were surprised when the record came out, because they didn't know I like this kind of thing."
The single is a split with John Kumahara on the A-side, which features Gemma Record's Martino on piano.
So why produce a Chicago-inspired house track when more people expect something more based on live music?
"It's partly just the way I produce. I'm not really musically trained, so I try to concentrate on the 'trackier,' more loop-based songs.
"I've been dabbling for a while, and I've let people like Rainer Trüby and Yoshi from the Kyoto Jazz Massive listen to some of it. They were very encouraging, and when someone like that tells you to keep going, you take it seriously."
New labels pop up and close shop quickly, but this one has had a good start, coming close to selling out the first pressing of 500 within a couple of months of its release.
Li also has a release in the works for John Kong's Do Right! label, which is helping turn attention to some of the quality music being made in bedroom studios across Toronto.
We've had a healthy club culture for some time, but there've never been a lot of local labels to help showcase the music actually being made here. This sometimes gives the impression that there's nothing going on, but hopefully that will change as bigger-name DJs start noticing the quality productions coming out of Toronto and as more local labels find their feet.
As DJ Stuart, Li can be heard playing jazz and funk every Saturday at Fressen with Jason Palma, and as Basic Soul Unit he's recently started throwing a series of parties called 4/4 that focus more on house sounds, but not exclusively.
You may have caught him playing at the Sessions parties, which were nu-jazz- and broken-beat-themed events, as well as at the now-defunct Higher Ground weekly at Alto Basso.
Ideally, he'd like to be mixing up the different sides of his musical taste more, which may become easier as "open format"-style DJing becomes more acceptable.
It's traditionally been harder to sell parties that don't have a specific musical theme, but that approach suits Toronto's diversity more than the one-sound events we've gotten used to.