Interview: Soul Square

Interview: Soul Square

Soul Square is a group of beatmakers from France, who had a pretty rough start. They had to change their name ‘Drum Brothers’ due to legal issues, their 12″ and debut album were delayed and the crew was still looking for a record label. Fast forward: their debut album ‘Live & Uncut’ is out now! Reason enough to meet Arshitect, Guan Jay, DJ Atom and PermOne to discuss everything that has happened the past few years.

Soul Square is a group of beatmakers from France, who had a pretty rough start. They had to change their name ‘Drum Brothers’ due to legal issues, their 12″ and debut album were delayed and the crew was still looking for a record label. Fast forward: their debut album ‘Live & Uncut’ is out now! Reason enough to meet Arshitect, Guan Jay, DJ Atom and PermOne to discuss everything that has happened the past few years.

Are you French? Then check out the interview in French!

Music: Soul Square – Take It Back (ft. Blezz)

Can each of you guys introduce yourself and tell what you bring to the table for the sound of Soul Square?

Arshitect: My name is Arshitect, I’m 26 years old and I am the youngest of the group. It has been around 8 years ago since I started making hip hop. Back then that was with a collective in the Nantes scene. PermOne joined the crew later, which enabled us to work together. After a while the collective took a direction that I did not like anymore. That’s when me and PermOne came up with the idea to start a group of beatmakers, now known as Soul Square.

Atom: And there’s me, Atom. I’m originally a part of a group of djs called C2C. We won the DMC world championships (Team) five times. Besides that, I’m in a group called Beat Torrent, which is kind of half of C2C – me and Pfel.
In Soul Square I do a lot of the scratches, but in general I am mostly working on the finalization of tracks: arrangements, productions and the mixing of our pieces.

Guan Jay: I’m Guan Jay, one of the beatmakers in the group. I started as a DJ in 1994, on a radio show dedicated to hip hop. But besides that, I was also active as a dj in a group called SAT (Summerian Atlantic Tribes). In 1996, I expanded my activities by joining Négro Spirituel, and i kept collaborating with the collective Da Wind West – consisting of ten emcees and two djs. In the same year I started with doing some productions, using an old Akai S01 sampler, which is like a dinosaur these days..

I continued working with hip hop, but also did some stuff in the electronic and Drum N Bass fields. In 2005 I met Arshitect and eventually PermOne and me hooked up to make music a few times. The vibes were really good and we were on the same level, so we decided to stick together. Although our musical paths are different, our thoughts are near identical and that creates an amazing chemistry. We all stick to our own identity, so that way each of us adds a unique contribution to Soul Square’s music.

PermOne: PermOne is the name. I’ve started with producing in 2001, when I did some production work for a group in Paris. Me and Arshitect met in 2003 while we were both involved in a crew from Nantes, like he mentioned. This crew permit me to meet Narater Safir, member of Micronologie, a band created around 2004-2005. I produce the majority of their beats. In 2005, I proposed to Arshitect to create a crew of beatmakers. And Soul Square was born!

You had to change your name from Drum Brothers to Soul Square due to problems with another band. Can you tell us what exactly happened?

PermOne: After the formation of the initial trio (Arshitect, Guan Jay and me), we quickly found out about other groups with the same name. But they all had a completely different music style, so yeah…

Guan Jay: Like a group of percussionists from Montana..

PermOne: Exactly. We were both founded between 2005 and 2008 under the pseudonym of Drum Brothers, but for them that wasn’t a problem back then. When we released the Live & Uncut video and track, our buzz became a little bigger, which apparently caused some confusion for the fans of the “original” Drum brothers.

After that they contacted us and forced us to immediately stop using the name, because it was protected by an American copyright agreement. We didn’t want to fight it, because honestly they were on the right side…

Guan Jay: But for sure, hippies are not anymore who they were! (laughs)

Arshitect: It definitely did damage to us. We have been using the name ‘Drum Brothers’ for over four years and it was a part of our ‘identity’. It took a lot of time to think of a new name. And the process pushed back our 12” release for six months! But in the end we are really satisfied with the name Soul Square and people seem to like it as well, so right now we can’t complain.

You guys are French residents. Can you tell our readers more about the (jazzy) hip hop scene in France?

PermOne: There has been a true revival for a few years. At the beginning we decided to work with artists from the French scene, and just for few tracks involve some international artists. But coincidentally on this album, all emcees are international. The other artists are from the French scene. Like Dajla, Elodie Rama, C2C and several musicians.

Here in France projects are often ‘hip hop acoustic’. Artists involve musicians coming from the Jazz scene. If you compare the scene nowadays to five years ago, around the time when we started with this project, only a few artists really succeeded in what they do. But there are still quite a few projects and artists in the “underground” scene now.

Arshitect: Around 3-4 years ago the jazzy hip hop scene started to be bigger and bigger. We really thought it was our time to be heard by a lot of people. But that wasn’t the case. Except the band Hocus Pocus, who succeeded really well and has reached very many people in France, the scene took a small snap throughout the years. But over here we can’t complain now.

Can you share some great French artists people might not know yet?

PermOne: Among the artists who we can definitely recommend, is Fisto, who you guys over at The Find Magazine also know. He was originally in a group called 5th Kolonne. We produced the maxi-single Novo Classic for him and his official album ‘Future Vintage‘ was released two months ago, also with productions and cuts by us.

We contacted Fisto during the creation of our album and together we collaborated on a track. It was pretty good, but unfortunately it didn’t make the cut for our album. In the end it was featured on Fisto’s mixtape Un oeil dans le retro. After that we stayed in touch and kept working together. This MC is definitely, at this time, one of the most talented lyricist of the French hip hop scene, who can combine original topics with effective punchlines.

Guan Jay: For my part I can recommend:

– Our friends of Tribeqa 
Lord Ekomy Ndong of the group Movaizhaleine and Franco Gabonnais
12mé et Raph

Besides the unexpected name change, is there any other reason the release of your debut took so long?

Arshitect: Many reasons, actually. After we finished the first version of the album, which took us several years, we had to find a record label. We eventually signed to one, but only that took us six months! Michael Darmon, the label manager of our current label KIF Records, wanted to get our name established with some vinyl releases, before the release of our debut album. So even though it took a long while, new pieces were created and re-created in that period.

PermOne: In order to bring maximum appreciation, we wanted to bring new pieces on the 12”s. And because of these new tracks, we changed the final tracklist of our debut album many times. As you can see on the tracklist, there are several tracks coming from our maxi-singles, but also a variety of brand new productions. So producing the actual album took a lot of time, let alone the mixing, mastering, pressing and creating of the album itself. Besides the music, each of us has a day job, so that’s why everything had to be done in our spare time.

Arshitect: There even was a gap of one year after Atom mixed the album. He’s a perfectionist, so lots of things had to be re-done – which is a good thing in the end. Even us, we re-worked some tracks. So all of this takes a lot of time, especially because we were fully independent.

Guam Jay: Above that, with the current economy and music scene the international distribution process is very complex. Everything takes a lot of time..

In all these years since the album was finished (2008), what did you do as Soul Square? Recorded any new material perhaps?

Arshitect: With Soul Square, our way of working is to always make instrumentals. Whether it’s for a project or not. It is a passion, so we do a lot of productions for fun and for the heck of it. We never stop making beats. Because of that, we have around three hundred drafts piled up over the years.

That allowed us to do an entire album with Fisto, collaborating with Micronologie and working with rappers as Kay, Justis and Melodiq for example. Besides that we did remixes for Hocus Pocus, Jazz Liberatorz and Wax Tailor. Those are done and will be released sooner or later.

PermOne: We already choose a lot of new instrumentals for the next Soul Square projects. We are also working on a live show for one year now, we have made a lot of drafts and ideas for that, and that will be probably a good base for a new album.

When will this 12” be released?

Arshitect: It will be released in January 2011, like the vinyl LP version of our album.

Atom: how do you combine working on several music projects (C2C, Beat Torrent & Soul Square) and split your time/effort?

Atom: I’m just very organized! (laughs). Nah, I am blessed to live off my music, thanks to concerts and such, and that’s why I can work on my projects each day. And it’s my passion, so I don’t see it as “work”.

Music: Soul Square – Living The Dream (ft. Justis)

You guys work with a few specific artists more often, like Justis and Melodiq. Why do you work with the same artists more often, instead of collaborating with a variety of artists?

PermOne: At the beginning, we planned to do tracks with several MCs. Most of them were from the French jazzy hip hop scene. We had a lot of problems to get the tracks, but and finally Justis, Blezz and Melodiq were the most efficient.

Guan Jay: Actually, these three emcees were really quick to react compared to our expectations, from a quality and velocity point of view. To say it in short, they are three talented guys which we can count on!

PermOne: We got some other opportunities after that, but nothing happened. Most of the time because of budget issues. And we liked the work of the emcees we work with now, so having many tracks with them is pretty normal. We really gave priority to the quality of them in terms of liability, efficacy, velocity, involvement and talent.

Guan Jay: Yes, exactly. At the beginning, don’t forget we didn’t have any label, so we were really limited with our budget. All the artists on this album worked with us with heart and hip hop spirit, because they liked our music.

Why did you choose to sign to KIF Records, instead of another label? And what does this mean for your future releases?

PermOne: To be honest, we didn’t get 20.000 opportunities. You have to know, at the beginning, we were really underground. Besides a free internet mixtape, we didn’t release anything. We didn’t do any shows or collaborated on projects with famous emcees.

But anyway, we came with a professional project, which is finished now. We did all the recordings ourselves, the mixing part is done and we even did a music video by ourselves. So the project could almost be released directly.

Arshitect: And I was in contact with Boogie Rock of Melomaniac, another band signed to KIF Records. It is thanks to them that we got our first contact with our current label!

PermOne: This label was defending a style of music and artists close to us, who are quite successfully as well. Like Jazz Liberatorz for example. That’s why we decided to sign to them.

Guan Jay: But for the moment, we just want to make this release a success, we will see after this what the future brings. I think everything will depend on the aftermath of our debut album.

Can we expect new collaborations between Soul Square and artists as Jazz Liberatorz/Birdy Nam Nam after signing to the same label?

Arshitect: We already worked more or less with Jazz Liberatorz, because we did remixes of two of their tracks. For our second 12″, we wanted to do an instrumental track with them too, but they didn’t find the time to do it, so we gave up this idea.

PermOne: Each production band has his own style. So as beatmakers, we mainly want to work more with MCs, singers, musicians… But for a nice project, why not!

Guan Jay: We never know!

After your debut, what can we expect from Soul Square?

Guan Jay: We are working on a live show as beatmakers right now. It asks a lot of work for us at this moment, and the fact I don’t live in Paris doesn’t really help… We really want to finish this live project before making plans to do any other projects. And we have a lot of instrumentals already finished, so we have a lot of stuff to propose for our future collaborations and a second album. But a live show is our main priority now.

1 – Live & Uncut feat Pfel & Atom (C2C/Beat Torrent)
2 – Living The Dream feat Justis
3 – Take It Back feat Blezz
4 – Know I’m Saying (Interlude)
5 – It is All In Your Mind feat Melodiq
6 – That Swing
7 – Change feat Justis
8 – Get Together feat Melodiq & Elodie Rama
9 – Trippin’feat Blezz
10 – Fresh Air feat Justis & Mantis
11 – I.R.U feat Voice
12 – Love Break feat Fazz
13 – Spades feat Hus (Tha Connection)
14 – Get Into it feat Melodiq & Dajla
15 – Jazz Lesson
16 – Too Short

Out Now

More info: Soul Square

Just an ordinary guy always on the hunt for extraordinary music. Not just as the founder of The Find Magazine & Rucksack Records, but also as a freelance music journalist (bylines at Tracklib, Bandcamp, Wax Poetics, DIG Mag, among others) and—above all—out of love for all kinds of good music.