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Get To Know: DJ Sun

DJ sun

Texas artist DJ Sun — who owns Houston venue the Flat and recently released his third album, ‘Loveletter’ — speaks to Bruce Tantum about his artistic process, and how he likes to take his time

When Andre J E. Sam-Sin, who produces and spins as DJ Sun, decided to celebrate the release of his third album ‘Loveletter: Red Hook to Rotterdam’, he could have simply hosted a party and played a few records. It certainly would have been easy to set up: Sam-Sin owns the Flat, a venue in Houston’s Montrose neighbourhood that regularly hosts an elite line-up of funk, soul, house and reggae selectors from the city and beyond. But Sam-Sin, it seems, had bigger plans. This past summer, he got a full orchestra together, called a few of his live- performance friends — including rapper Fat Tony, drummer Chris Dave, Houston poet laureate Outspoken Bean and his own two vocalist daughters — and performed ‘Loveletter’ in its entirety in Moores Opera House at the University of Houston, Sam-Sin’s alma mater.

“That was an adventure,’ Sam-Sin says, sitting in the sunshine outside of the Flat. “I mean, I don’t even read or write music. I do everything on a drum machine. When people ask me, ‘Hey, what’s your DAW?,’I point to the MPC 1000. So we needed to take the sounds from that little box, sequenced in that particular unit, and translate it to sheet music — and therein lies the challenge.” Sam-Sin worked with a number of Houston composers to get it transcribed, enlisted the help of conductor Marlon Chen, currently the director of the Manila Symphony and a graduate of Houston’s prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Artists (Beyoncé and Solange Knowles are among the school’s other notable graduates), and met that challenge.

“It had to be right,” he says. “I really wanted it to match up with the sound of my own production. There were a lot of nerding-out moments, and there was a nervousness about it, but it ended up being a great show.” If ever an album produced by loading samples up into an MPC deserved the orchestral treatment, it’s ‘Loveletter’, which has just (finally!) been released digitally. Harkening back in sound to his debut LP, 2013’s ‘One Hundred’, the album merges the aesthetics of its lo-fi production to lushly instrumented source material. Its dozen tracks teem with beautiful old soul samples, with a feel that places them somewhere between the minimalist funk of Visit Venus’s ‘Music For Space Tourism Vol. 1’ and the atmospheric richness of ‘Les Nuits’–era Nightmares on Wax. He had plenty of raw material to work with — the last time he checked, he estimated his record collection to be 20,000 strong, with about a third of them residing at the Flat.

Mastered by Dave McNair, who’s worked with the likes of David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, the album has a pristine sheen, despite Sam-Sin’s back-to-basics production techniques.“He’s also a Houstonian and so he gives love to guys like myself,” Sam-Sin says. “I rely on Dave to really make things really nice.”

Sam-Sin, who was born in Rotterdam before moving to Suriname and then Texas, has been a major force in the Houston music scene since he began throwing parties in the early ’90s; for 20 years, from 1995 through 2015, he hosted the highly respected and much missed Soular Grooves radio show on KPFT. The fact that he’s not more well known outside of the Houston area may be at least partially due to the fact that, as a producer, he works on his own schedule. ‘One Hundred’, is nearly a decade old; before ‘Loveletter’, his only other full-length was 2016’s ‘Qingxi’. (Inspired by a quest focused on his Chinese ancestry, that release’s sound is something of an outlier on Sam-Sin’s concise discography.) The man clearly has an ambitious streak — but he likes to take his time.

“My artistic process, for lack of a better term, is delving into the particular concept that’s in front of me, so it took a minute to get out of the block of ‘Qingxi’, since that one was very personal,” he says. “Then, I got myself into the mode of, ‘Okay, you know what, I’m going to make an album now. And then there’s a lot of listening, lots of records, but also delving into different media forms. I’ll pick up a lot of photography books, for instance, which can be super-inspirational. It’s a matter of finding the thread behind the various songs that I’ll eventually present.”

Hopefully it won’t be another seven years before the next inspiration, and the next DJ Sun LP. In the meantime, there’s a venue to be run — besides owning the Flat, he programs its nights and mans the decks on the weekends. And there are vague plans to take the ‘Loveletter’ live show on the road, albeit in a limited way.

‘Not like, ‘Okay, let’s go on tour,’” Sam-Sin says with a laugh. “I don’t have the resources to do that! But we’re looking at another one here in Houston, and I’m talking to people in Austin, and I have a network of contacts that span from like Oakland to Philadelphia, so...”

Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag's North American editor. Follow him on Twitter