Proving itself as one of the most consistent and versatile labels in drum and bass time and time again, the latest venture from experimental Berlin imprint Samurai Music comes inspired by the mythical masks of a Noh drama (a form of traditional Japanese theatre).
A vinyl series called Samurai Hannya, Hannya masks capture the stages of transformation of a female character as she undergoes a metamorphosis into a demon / ogre, with each one of the three 12″s named after a different stage of the transformation.
Across Hannya White (Ghost) | 葵上, Hannya Red (Snake) | 道成寺 and Hannya Black (Demon) | 黒塚, label regulars like Homemade Weapons, The Untouchables, Torn and Artilect feature next to new Russian artist Roho and the first two two collaborations from big chief Presha (with Homemade Weapons & Ancestral Voices).
To celebrate the release, we catch up with the Presha and some of the Samurai family, as they break down the ideas behind the project and share the thought processes behind each track.
The Hannya story has been intriguing to me since my teens and I had a Hannya (Demon) mask tattooed on my bicep many years ago.
I discovered the imagery through researching popular tattoo imagery and realised there were many slightly different interpretations in Japanese culture and even more as these stories were distorted through an English lens. I was very lucky to have a knowledgeable guide in Japan to help me navigate the various interpretations to put together the Hannya series. Big thanks to Maiko Okimoto (aka Lemna) for her invaluable help with this.
The music on the compilation was paired as closely as possible to the mood of each mask
I knew I would like to get Defames interpretation of the various masks as the well known flash versions are classics, but without any unique slant on them our design would have been pointless in this context.
Japanese mythology is dense and very rich and continuously fascinating to me. I already have an idea for the next theme.
01. The Untouchables – Bushi Ronin
When we write a tune, we usually get inspired by what’s happening around us. It could be anything, from a movie on the TV or a tune we hear. But in this case we were getting ready for the Rupture vs Samurai night. We were listening to old breaksy tunes & we heard the apache break & we were like yeah let’s use it! That’s how she was created – Untouchables
Loxy dropped this on me in our b2b at Rupture vs Samurai last year. I knew it was The Untouchables instantly and I knew it had to be Samurai – Presha
02. Ancestral Voices & Presha – Niflheim
Liam has always been up there as my favourite producers and also been constantly supportive and encouraging of my attempts at creating music. We actually constructed the bones of this tune in about 2 hours here in Berlin in 2017 but it sat unfinished until recently. We didn’t have a set idea going in, just a bunch of sounds I had prepared and went with the vibe as everything was sifted through. We both love distortion, and I’d say that shows. I hope to make a live visit to Liam’s studio to get on more tunes – Presha
03. Last Life – Rotterdam
Made in 2018 exclusively for the label Samurai Music. Progressive tribal percussions in a dark horror atmosphere – Last Life
Mauro always comes with fresh approaches. Some tunes take me a while to really know they’re for Samurai but this one was instant. The early Tech step years were very influential for me and still are. This tune carries the same feeling, but updated – Presha
04. Antagonist – Ministry
I wrote ‘Ministry’ last year and it was a piece purposely built for Samurai, in a way built off the back of my previous track ‘Below’. I wanted the mysterious soundscape whilst keeping the mood dark, a candlelit ministry ritual was the image in my mind. Being part of the Samurai family means a lot to me for a few reasons. However, Presha knows his artists well and leaves us with full creative freedom, he has the right ear for what tracks will work and that shows in the releases. In the studio I’m all about the moment, my music takes shape as I write, I rarely plan anything. The Hannya concept is top tier imo and the artists involved are all at their best ! Antagonist
Mike has a very meticulous, thought out approach to construction and Ministry is one of my favourites from him. Ominous depth – Presha
05. Homemade Weapons – Omen
Originally intended for the Gravity LP. Omen was pushed aside as the album started to take shape – HW
This sat on the track-list for Gravity until it was almost finished, then we both realised it really stuck out but it was one of the first tracks we knew would be perfect for Hannya – Presha
06. Torn – Dance On The Bones
This track was written at the moment when you want to release the energy that is trying to trample you. Dancing on the bones, as a moment, when you realise for yourself that it is time to crush something old, bury this and move further. The biggest inspiration for me is life itself, it pushes you at some point to dance on what you once loved. If we talk about the sound – it is partially recorded sounds on my favourite Shure SM58 at home, as well as the energy of one of my favourite labels – Samurai, which creates in me the desire to create something original – Torn
Ivan and I have a shared love of bongos / percussion and this track came after me pushing him to make me a new bongo soaked tune for an upcoming gig I had. He came through! – Presha
07. Homemade Weapons & Torn – Isolation
Also a collaboration considered early on for Torn’s Weaponry EP, but better fit for the Hannya presentation. HW
I actually thought this was also for Gravity ha ha. Anyways it didn’t fit Gravity or the Torn Weaponry EP but I found myself drawing for it a lot and it grew into one of my faves from Torn and HW. It marries their 2 methods of progressive percussion perfectly – Presha
08. Roho – Totemz
At the heart of the idea of the track lies the strength, energy and atmosphere of ancient Indian rituals. The rites of the shamans allowed to influence the physical phenomena of nature, and the energy of this tune should affect you. The tune was born thanks to the main percussion, which sets the entire dynamics of the track. It allows you to exorcise evil spirits from your head and make you dance. Totems perfectly fit with its history in the Hannya collection. I hope people will remember this collection for a long time! – Roho
These are actually the first Roho tunes ever released which I am really happy about. Sometimes it takes sets and crowd reactions to really have a tune hit home. This one had it’s moment in my set at Rupture vs Samurai last year that sealed it’s power for me. The kick in the breakdown gets them every time – Presha
09. Artilect – A Message
I tend to move between making more break driven heavy compositions to more minimal and left-field takes on the genre. With this track I was in the mood for making a straight up banger that’d work well in a club. It’s a fairly simple track in this respect, a modern take on the hardcore sound. Samurai is a melting pot of everything cutting edge and progressive. I feel it stands on its own within Drum & Bass and currently seems to be in the midst of one of its greatest periods with a whole host of like-minded artists hitting their stride who are all unique in their own way – Artilect
Dylan makes so much music, it’s often hard to keep up. He is extremely gifted in updating classic approaches to DnB with proper breaks and making them sound fresh. Usually I hear this stab and it’s an instant turn off, but Dylan made it work amazingly. A lot more to come from Artilect on Samurai! Presha
10. Presha & Homemade Weapons – The Claw
This is the first of our collaborations. Knowing Presha’s extensive musical background I’m stoked to see him writing music. HW
Homemade Weapons has been one of the main reasons I got some tunes finished. I have been lucky enough to have many close friends who are also gifted producers over the years offer to collaborate and even finished a few tunes, but this time it all seemed to click. As you can tell from this, the early Tech Step / NUT years are an enduring influence on both of us, and The Claw aims to capture that approach and remodel it in a 2019 style – Presha
11. Homemade Weapons & Roho – Kifuka
Began as a collaboration intended for Roho’s Weaponry debut scheduled for late 2019. HW
Homemade Weapons has been nurturing Roho as an artist and his debut EP for Weaponry is shaping up to be immense. Great to hear these two collaborate, and even greater to have the first collaboration on the label.
12. Torana – Amok
The track was made on the premise of perpetual energy; we attempted do create something that was hypnotically driven, layering organic breaks that pushes the rhythms in both the physical and mental realms. Switching percussive elements against the pounding backbone seems to work in this case. It all came together organically and resulted in the track finding it’s place in the Hannya series. Samurai Music have been at the forefront of curating the beats that encompass the darkest edges of our genre, and we are extremely grateful to be a part of this journey alongside the future legends from our scene – Torana
Another strong new force in our micro scene, I was waiting for a Torana tune that Weaponry hadn’t grabbed to sign for Samurai. Amok got me straight away, pure momentum.
Samurai Hannya is out now.
Buy it here.