Artist to Artist: Bradley Zero and Yu Su

The PPU and Second Circle producer and Rhythm Section boss talk Canada, food and the label's five year anniversary compilation...

Artist to Artist: Bradley Zero and Yu Su

The PPU and Second Circle producer and Rhythm Section boss talk Canada, food and the label's five year anniversary compilation...

The "Canadian Riviera" had a profound effect on both Rhythm Section boss Bradley Zero and DJ/producer-cum-culinary maestro Yu Su; a shared experience that helped foster a friendship between them. 

Individually, both have been making huge movements over the last few years. Bradley continues to helm RS and sub-label International Black, with the help of the rest of the team, whilst holding down a non-stop touring schedule, and Yu Su has charted releases on the likes of PPU, Second Circle and Arcane, as well as flexing her culinary muscles on her dedicated cooking IG.

Their friendship has now moved into collaboration with Yu Su contributing a track for Rhythm Section's five year anniversary release SHOUTS. Bradley first reached out to her in 2018 when they first started working on the release, and two years later the 36-track compilation is seeing the light of day; a snapshot of the past, present and future of the label. 

Ahead of the compilation release, Bradley and Yu Su discuss food, formative musical interests and the scenes in Vancouver and Melbourne...

Bradley: You recently announced your retirement from music to open your own restaurant. It turned out to be a joke but most people kinda believed it, based on your mythical culinary prowess. What came first, your love of cuisine or love of music?

Yu Su: Hehehe that was my first attempt to casually throw my long-term restaurant goal out there half joking half not. The love of food is definitely in there the minute I was born. I can’t think of a single Chinese person who isn’t into food by nature. Music definitely comes after being fed. What about you? I know you are into food, and how do you see the connection between food and music, or to put it this way, the act of sharing a meal and dancing together?

Bradley: You’re totally right - there’s so much in common with music (specifically DJing) and cooking. Sharing discoveries with people, introducing the right elements at the right time, catering for different tastes and finding a happy medium, responding to your environment with the available tools, layering, ordering… Sadly all of my crossover food skills went into DJing haha! I’m a useless cook, but a fantastic eater and I’d like to think a great host - which is at least half the success of any good dinner, right? I think, If we were to team up, you can be head chef and I will be Maitre D’.

Bradley: You got introduced to electronic music later than most people in the scene. What was your way in and how did you take it in all so quickly?

Yu Su: Yes that is true, though I was in contact with classical music before my body was even formed in my mom’s belly. I honestly think it was all just some sort of coincidence coming, the combination of deciding to move to Vancouver, to attend a Love Dancing (hosted by Mood Hut back then) party, hearing them and Floating Points playing music I had no idea even existed and wanting to emerge myself in it also. If any of these things did not happen I don’t think I will be doing what I do now. I think the fact that I am kind of an outsider to electronic music really helped me to be committed to my true self, if I don’t feel connected to a certain kind of music I’m not gonna even try to make it/like it whether it’s popular or not. What about you? I know you grew up with a music loving dad in Leeds (is it?), what kind of influence did he have on you, and do you think it is significant for parents to have children be in an environment of art and music?

Bradley: It must have been so exciting to be immersed in this totally new sound. I’ve had moments like that when travelling in the Middle East - having your mind opened to a whole new world of sound you didn’t really know existed is mind blowing. As for my upbringing - yes my dad was a DJ and there was lots of music around the house, but I don’t think that much more than the average household. The early influences from my dad were more on the folk and jazz tip: lots of Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob James and Miles Davis… My Dad definitely had one foot in the rave, but it wasn’t played around the house.

The way I got into electronic music was more through friends at school. It started with a CD of “Experience” by The Prodigy that I borrowed off my Dad - and it led us down a wormhole right to minimal techno - which was in it’s golden era around 2003/2004. So yes, musical environment at home is important - that’s the way in - but curiosity and kinship will lead you to find your own sound. Along with friends with older brothers and sisters...

Bradley: I went through some rather forgettable phases, musically speaking. Scooter was a big thing in West Yorkshire circa 2002. As was Happy Hardcore at the High School disco. Any regrets in your musical journey?

Yu Su: I had to look up what Scooter was haha. I mean I’m sure Happy Hardcore exists for a reason, just like any music genre in this world, and I think as a musician, or DJ, it is probably as important knowing what you don’t like as much as what you do like, and the journey of discovering these things matters a lot too. I can’t really think of anything that I truly regret though, I was so into chiense pop music in the early 2000s, which I thought is embarrassing but I listened to this song the other day and think I still really like it! Why was Happy Hardcore popular in high school? Isn't it super intense? We probably had very very different high school experiences, so what was something you were really into in high school that’s still on your shelf? Or what are some of the genres that have really defined the you now?

Bradley: It’s really hard to explain the appeal. I guess after a few too many fizzy drinks it just hits the spot. “We Are The Children Of The Night” was legitatemely a High School anthem. I kinda knew it was a joke at the time, but went along with it. The Hysteria was real. Truth is, by 13/14 we were all getting drunk on Blue WKD and Tropical Reef. A different time, and a very different experience to yours I imagine!

During my formative years at school I was playing drums in rock bands and used to go to Leeds Festival every year. Some early favourites didn’t age so well: Slipknot, Limp Bizkit etc, but the political potential and conviction of music by Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down made a huge impact. That music still sounds great to me, as does the earlier work of Incubus - who were perhaps the only band to come out of the Nu-Metal era with a respectable discography… The way they infused hip hop, jazz, ambient, funk and rock was so delicately done. ‘Morning View’ is a High School classic that stands the test of time and I think we can see a lot of those things coming back together again. “Are you in.”

Bradley: You grew up in Kaifeng in Henan province, China. What were the popular musical styles of your teenage years?

Yu Su: So r&b music of Jay Chou like the link I posted above, but also there was something else going on in Hong Kong, like Faye Wong, who’s hugely influenced by the Cranberries and the Cocteau Twins. Here’s a collab she did with the Cocteau Twins.

Bradley: What was your preconception of rave culture before you moved to Canada?

Yu Su: Zero! I had no idea what rave was, all I knew back then was karaoke gatherings which involved very little dancing haha! I imagine you got in contact with rave culture since you were quite young, and the very community part of it in some way inspired you to start Rhythm Section parties. What are the differences between the raves you experienced back then and now? Are there things that have improved or gone backwards?

Bradley: Yes, going to sub dub in Leeds West Indian Centre was a big inspiration for this. It’s a weird one - a sort of hybrid between techno and dub - in a community centre. A big gathering in a non-club space is something special to me that inspired the early days of RS.

I was exposed to bits and pieces at a young age… My friend's mum took us to Leeds festival when we were 13 - she was a big Gun and Roses fan. Prodigy played before them. I remember someone offering me a pill. I was terrified. At school, they teach you drugs = death and hopelessness. They should really teach us dosage and moderation.

I think things are always going forward and that young people getting involved in the scene are finding new ways to do things. I think the post-corona club landscape will look a lot different and force a lot more people to be a lot more creative.

Bradley: Landing in Vancouver in the mid 2010s was quite a perfect place to be introduced to the global underground. My visit to Pender Street in 2014 was a huge eye opener and massive inspiration - meeting all the Mood Hut and Pacific Rhythm crews and getting the feeling of being at the forefront of something very exciting and super accessible. I bet you couldn’t believe your luck!

Yu Su: I wonder what it was like when you came! Since it was just after your visit that I attended the first party of my life at Love Dancing. I think a lot of the Mood Hut hits that came out way later were already cooking up. I know that all of sudden there was this “Sound of the Canadian Riviera” because of the support from people like you, Ben (UFO) and Sam (Floating Points), who brought the music from here to the other side of the world. Did it sound very unique and new? How did it feel visiting for the first time? That must have been so interesting discovering fresh music coming out of this small west coast town. I mean, honestly if it wasn’t for the move, I really wouldn’t be who I am now.

Bradley: It was super exciting! I mean, they didn’t re-write the rule book but they just presented house music in such a new refreshing way. I think the band background had something to do with it, plus Canadian niceness, and a whole lot of medical grade Marijuana. For most of us in Europe - Vancouver was not on our map - and for me, there’s nothing much more exciting than getting plugged into a concurrent local scene at the other side of the world. What stood out most was the consistency across the collective how fully formed this sound seemed to be - a prolific time for sure!  

Bradley: The last time we hung out (too briefly) was in Melbourne. That’s my home away from home. How did you find it there? How did the Aussies compare to the canadians?

Yu Su: It was very brief but fun! I saw that you’ve been spending some time there since, could tell it’s a special place for you! I loved it so much, both Perth and Melbourne reminded me of Vancouver in different ways, the environment and the people. I had such a great food experience also!!! I think there is something special about places that are a bit isolated geographically. Do you find Melbourne and the west coast a bit similar in some ways? Would you ever wanna live in Oz?

Bradley: I think the Isolation is the thing that makes it so special. If you’re making music in Australia you have to be soooo good to break out - just because it’s so prohibitively expensive to leave! That means you get this pressure cooker effect - where so many talented people are working and collaborating at home until they burst out fully formed onto the global scene. I mean, just look at Sampa the Great, kaiit, Billy Davis, 30/70, Harvey Sutherland, Jordan Rakei - they’ve been at it for years before they had the international presence they do now but they exploded fully formed, or so it appeared from the outside.

There’s some weird, commonwealth ties between Aus, Canada and the UK - we can share jokes in a way that Americans might not pick up on. It’s not a proud legacy but it does bind us whether we like it or not. I think there’s lots of similarities in terms of chilled lifestyle and access to nature - especially for Perth and Sydney - but Melbourne is starting to have that global cultural powerhouse feel about it - which I didn’t feel in Vancouver. I think Vancouver is happily chill. Melbourne wants to be a big player. I’d live there if only it wasn’t so far away. Luckily, I’m happy here in London, but I do miss Australia when I’m away and and it’s always so hard to leave.

Bradley: I Love your track for the SHOUTS compilation! I’m very happy to welcome you as part of the family… How did that one come about?

Yu Su: THANK YOU and THANKS for inviting me to be part of the family! I love all the other tracks on there also, it's almost kind of overwhelming how amazing and diverse the scope of music included is. I basically made the track after your initial invite a couple years ago kind of having a sound in my head, but didn't really know where it would end up. I really really enjoyed listening through the whole thing, I mean there is a lot of music on here, but the diverse sounds on here are so incredible and everything together make a lot of sense as this united sound of Rhythm Section. How do you feel about it? When did you start the idea of compiling the music and what are you trying to present through this compilation?

Bradley: I’m honestly so happy with how it turned out. Most credit has to go to Emily Hill aka MLE who did the majority of the compiling and artist liaison. Obviously I’m hugely biased but I think people are going to be blown away by the quality of the tracks on the comp. Compiling actually started back in 2018. Initially it was going to be for a well-known mix CD/compilation but the idea of having to try to choose the exclusive tracks that would fit in a mix ended up being too prohibitive. There’s such a wide range of styles and tempos, trying to select them in order to make a cohesive mix would run against the point of what we were trying to do - which is to provide an overview of the many sounds and moods of the label whilst looking towards the future.

We wanted to include friends of the label, artists we admire and open up the fold to some new faces who we will hopefully work more with in the future. We never meant to have 36 tracks. At one point, early in the curation stage, it looked like it would be a struggle to maintain quality and quantity - so we cast the net wider and really pushed people to send us the cream of the crop. By the time we looked back at all the submissions, 36 was the absolute minimum number we could cut down to. The standard was overwhelming!

Bradley: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Yu Su: I’m not too sure! Think we might have a similar attitude when it comes to planning for the future? I don’t really have any specific goals since I like to take it step by step; I think that’s how I usually get ideas and inspirations. If I say I’ll do something, I usually end up not doing it (and it's not always good obviously). However, I am hoping to be a better self 10 years from now, from all perspectives. One long term goal that does exist for me though is to start my own cafe/restaurant a couple of decades from now, as long as there isn’t gonna be some kind of superfood replacement in the future. What about you? What kind of vision do you have for yourself and the label?

Bradley: You picked up on my aversion to long term goals - you must have been brushing up on some old BZ interviews! That very much still stands, I’m a big advocate for getting lost in the moment - having a strong direction without necessarily having a final destination. This just keeps things exciting, mutable and most importantly, flexible.

As the last few months have shown - we never know what’s around the corner, and adaptability is key! As for a future long term goal - I’d like to open a bar one day. I always worked in bars from Leeds to London - and one day I’d like to combine my skills as barman, host and record collector to make a really special hangout. But only after I’ve had enough of life pon road. Nice to chat Yu Su!


Follow Bradley Zero and Yu Su. Buy SHOUTS on Rhythm Section

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