Kmag touches down with Samurai Music's label boss DJ Presha as he prepares to unleash the massive 22-track 'Way of the Samurai 2: Code of Honour' compilation LP in celebration of the imprint's fifth year of dropping those deep and heavy Bushido beats.
First off, it's hard to believe it's been five years since Samurai Music was formed. Looking back, what was your original vision of the imprint and how has that evolved in the past five years?
Originally its focus was mainly New Zealand acts and helping new guys get a leg up beside some of the best producers around, as well as letting larger names who were friends stretch out their sound a little and put out tunes they wouldn't normally on their other labels.
In five years it has obviously become more of a global entity, especially since my moving to Europe 18 months ago. The core goals haven't changed drastically, I still see it mainly as a dragnet for the sound or strain of drum & bass that I love, which I hope is unique when I pull it all together under one banner.
A huge part of that vision has been allowing your interpretation of the Samurai/Bushido code to influence the vibe and spirit of the imprint. Talk a bit about where this impulse came from and how you see it expressing itself in the music.
I have long been a fan of Japanese art; mostly its domination over tattoo art for the last 30-odd years. I investigated what was behind this beautiful art from a young age to decide if these images resonated with me in any way more than visually, and discovered they did, and in particular the thinking of the Samurai was something that came up as a constant theme. Even if a small part of the Bushido code has an influence in your life, it can remind you of some very basic principles we all should aspire to live by.
With the music, I think the label strives to be different and carries a warrior spirit in forging its own name and sound. When I took on the Samurai name for the label, I had been through some hardships in my life, some of which were self-created, and reading about the code helped me come to some self-realizations that were life-changing.
We see this literally playing itself out in the release itself, with five of the 12” samplers from the album being named after an essential virtue of the Samurai code. Walk us through a couple of the samplers and tell us how you see these virtues being expressed musically.
Bravery / Courage - represented by Loxy & Resound / Overlook:
I gave the code to producers to choose their own virtue for their samplers. Loxy chose this one and it was the one I had thought would fit perfectly for their 12" anyways. Loxy in particular is a warrior, and obviously a courageous one who has walked his own path and continues to, aided by a perfect production companion Resound. Overlook also fits into the courageous category as he is forging his own path and 'Slowroll' is one of his best works, although every week he gets better in my opinion.
Wisdom - represented by ASC & Consequence:
This is an obvious one, two hugely talented producers with years of experience both making tunes you would not have thought to come from them at all. It's an obvious display of total talent as they have both taken a style that they have never done before and made it their bitch. 'Noisy Spirits In This Soul' is to me a perfect dancefloor stepper, and 'Snow Wolf' again is a perfect slice of break edit machinery where ASC shows his maturity by making an old sound very current effortlessly. True musical wisdom from both of them.
Speaking of which, we should remind our readers that these samplers are vinyl samplers to be followed by the double-CD full release featuring 22 heavy tunes. Talk a bit about your ongoing dedication to vinyl in a digital era.
It's just something I love personally, and I feel having a unique physical product for people to buy is such an important part of being a record label. I spend all my spare cash on vinyl myself and am still obsessive about limited editions from my favourite artists. These days I mostly buy house, techno and experimental electronic on vinyl and these fields are very inspiring to me in the way they release their music. I try to bring some of that back to drum & bass.
To the uninitiated, this project may seem like collection of deep and meditative tunes, but this is really dancefloor music in the very best sense of the word isn't it?
I guess it's a fantasy dancefloor a lot of the time where all these tunes would work. Of course there are some straight-out floor tunes that would work for anyone, but mostly it's a vision of a night of dancefloor d&b that I would enjoy personally. Some of it may be a bit advanced for what people are used to now, but that's how you keep pushing things forward, which continues to be one of the main goals of Samurai: progression.
In so many ways, the vibe of these tunes transports me back to classic drum & bass years. Is that a conscious effort on your part? What kind of guidance are you giving the contributing artists in terms of keeping with the spirit of Samurai?
I do see it a lot as that classic sound; I think that's just how I pick them with my ear having been through the best years of drum & bass on the front lines so to speak. I think with the older guys I just get to hear most of the stuff they do and often these are tunes that normally people wouldn't pick up on, but to me they are golden treats. I didn't give a huge amount of guidance to the younger guys but I like to think they saw the compilation as an opportunity to make something that stretched them and helped represent them as versatile with real depth and talent.
Dubstep exploded worldwide right around the time Samurai was formed – in many ways the imprint counters the in-your-face impulse of mainstream “edm.” What's your take on the current state of the “edm” scene and how does that influence and/or affect the Samurai project?
I'm not really fully informed on it to be honest. I do realise dubstep helped create some kind of electronic music tipping point and a lot of electronic music is experiencing a renaissance because of the general shift with youth towards dance music. At least that's the vibe I get, as you certainly wouldn't have had a Deadmau5 or a Skrillex in the 80s and 90s.
We had people like FSOL, the Detroit guys, 808 State etc. That music will stand the test of time while I'm not sure the current edm stuff will. There does seem to be more throwaway or musically comical stuff than there used to be; I guess kids are just having fun. Maybe Deadmau5 will be like Right Said Fred in 20 years, appearing on reality shows wearing his mask.
Where do you see drum & bass and Samurai in particular headed?
With drum & bass there is more and more of a split between what's commercial and 'popular' and 'the rest.' The rest is where the best stuff always is in my opinion, and I think it is moving sonically in a very interesting direction.
As for Samurai, we already have a full schedule lined up for 2013. We will open the New Year with a single from Paradox who we have been chasing for some time. It's a really incredible 12" that I am very proud to have signed. I watched Dev perform it live at Sun & Bass, and it was one of those memorable moments where everything comes together. The sound Dev has perfected, especially with this 12" is like a summary of what's always been great about this music. Chuffed, to say the least.
We also have two artist albums signed for 2013. One will be from Tokyo Prose and the other we will be announcing shortly. It's from a person I think to be one of the most unique talents of the last five years of drum & bass, so more on that soon.
2012 has been a great year for us so I think in 2013 Samurai will continue on the same path, albeit with a little more confidence. As far as fitting in, I like to think we have created our own place in d&b culture, soundwise. I've never aspired to be the biggest label but I would like to be able to continue to release interesting music as well as continue to foster respectful relationships with producers who feel comfortable having Samurai as a home for some of their music. The process and the interaction between me and the producers is, for me, the most rewarding part of running the label. That, and getting to hear all this amazing music.
Words: Chris Muniz
Way of the Samurai 2: 'Code of Honour 2' hits the streets 15/10/2012 via Samurai Music. Be sure to hit the online store for exclusive Samurai merchandise and products.
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