CVLT Nation Interviews: Presha of Samurai Music/Horo
Presha is the head of Samurai Music, one of the most interesting labels you will find in the electronic music domain, and its subdivisions. Seriously guys, this label has released records from magnificent artists, just some of the latest ones include Pact Infernal, Lucy, Ancestral Voices, The Untouchables, Homemade Weapons and Clarity. Presha has a very interesting story to tell, and discusses his beginnings in the scene, and how the label first started and the other sub-divisions came along. In addition, he provides his insight on the current state of the electronic and experimental scene, the resurfacing of the vinyl format and its allure, and the ethos of his label. Check all this below…
Hello Presha! Firstly, thanks for finding the time to do this interview, it is much appreciated! So, would you like to introduce Samurai Horo? What was it that make you feel the need to establish a sub-division of the Samurai Music Group (SMG)?
I moved to Berlin about 5 years ago from New Zealand and was really enjoying being part of the city’s vinyl culture. I was buying a lot of records and I really valued the effort put into some of them and wanted to contribute something that was a part of keeping that culture alive as well as promoting some more experimental music that didn’t really fit on any of the other labels.
SMG also has two more sub-labels, Samurai Red Seal and Shiro. What styles are those addressing? What separates them from Samurai Horo?
Red Seal is shut down now, as it was a bit unnecessary with the way things have progressed musically since we started it. It was started to focus on deeper drum and bass and music on the edges of the genre. Now if it’s Drum and Bass or straight 170 BPM, it goes on Samurai Music; if it’s outside of that, it goes on Horo. Horo is really anything goes. Shiro is a label for new artists that have never had a vinyl release before, so far it has been 170bpm / DnB, but it could encompass other genres if they sounded right.
I got curious, so I have to ask? What is the allure of the Samurai name and culture? What is it that made you choose the name for SMG, and as an extent to Samurai Horo? Horo is also known as the cloak the samurais wore, unless I am mistaken. What is the significance of that piece of garment to you?
My oldest brother had some Japanese style tattoos and from an early age I was very interested in the art, something just really resonated with me and I continued to follow it and explore. Now I have full sleeves of this same style that tell a story of my life. The Samurai name came at a time when I needed to have a strong self identity in my life as I was battling some powerful inner demons and as cheesy as it sounds, it gave me strength of purpose. The Horo cloak was a respected prize as it was worn by elite guards, so to kill one of these guys and take his Horo was seen as a sign of greatness. I wanted the music on Horo to be treasured and respected and the artists that recorded for Horo to really value their release as a goal in their catalogues.
What is it that makes a producer appropriate for Samurai Horo? What are you looking for in an artist in order to want to release his/her music through the label?
Firstly their music, I really have to hear something that sounds like it would fit with the sound of the label. Then I make contact and get to know them, if it works and we get on, then I see if they feel the same about me and how I operate and would like to work on some projects. Sometimes these days stage 2 makes stage 1 irrelevant and you have to just let the music go. Horo has a family type vibe musically so I really have to make sure anyone involved fits in with the long standing team. We’re all working towards a common goal.
In the past you talked about how you were able to detect a Samurai sounding record when you hear one. I am curious to see whether that also holds true for the Samurai Horo sub-division? Since it is also a more experimental and abstract musical outlet, do you have the same certainty when hearing a more off-kilter piece?
Absolutely 100%. TBH I haven’t found too many people with music that would fit on the label for a few years. I have recently signed a 12” by a new artist to the label – Grebenstein and he is really the first to prick up my ears through his work for another label I really respect – Downwards.
In my opinion, one of the most important releases of Samurai Horo was the Scope compilation. Do you feel that it was that release that left a certain mark on the label? In a sense, that it solidified the style of Samurai Horo from that point on? How did you go about collecting the tracks? Did you approach the different artists yourself with a certain theme in mind?
Yeah, it’s definitely a release that drew a line in the sand for us. There was a lot of straighter DnB on that compilation and we have released less and less since, to the point where we don’t really release any at all now on Horo. It was a pointer to where we were going and I would agree that’s where we solidified our sound for a lot of people. The music we release now wasn’t around stylistically then, and I like to think we have been part of the change in what has happened musically on the edges of 170/85 bpm music since. I basically had a lot of tracks that were meant for 12”s, way too many, and they were coming in all the time, so I decided a compilation would be better and it ended up being perfect timing. At that stage people were really experimenting stylistically with this bpm, and there was some exciting music being made. Once I had the concept for the compilation it was easy to get some more tracks from people to fill it out.
You yourself are a veteran DJ and producer. Can you tell us a bit of your story? How and where did you start out performing live? Are there any advice you can give to people starting out today? I am guessing it is a quite different industry from when you made your first steps.
I am definitely a veteran DJ, but not really a producer as such. My DJ career began playing rock records from beginning to end on Friday nights at the Astoria in London in the early 90’s at the peak of the glam rock years / cusp of grunge. I never took it that seriously until I moved back to New Zealand, and it morphed into me buying a set of turntables to mix funk, hip hop, house and techno. The real change came when I discovered jungle / drum and bass and devoted all my time to DJ’ing. This was in Christchurch, New Zealand. My first DJ residencies were playing all night house / techno sets and ironically lately I have been drawn back into Dj’ing techno records. A 20 year full circle!
Production wise, everything I have done has been collaborations, more recently under an anonymous name so far. I plan to change that in the coming years, but I have been saying that for 20 odd years and my time always ends up swamped by being the organiser of numerous projects, so we will see. My advice to people starting up these days is become a producer first and perfect your craft. Don’t release everything you make and aim high label-wise until you get it right. Labels these days are far less attracted to a producer / name who has released every stage of their musical growth on digital labels. Compare your music to the people you admire the most production wise and listen more to the constructive criticism of those with experience, and not your friends who will always give you a biased view. Also, no one really cares about straight up DJ’s these days, some of people’s favourite DJ’s are just producers mixing records together with no real interest in being a DJ at all so the crowds have become tuned to this approach. Nothing bad about that, but it’s the reality DJ’s have to face going into this field now.
As far as I know, you have worked in various parts of the music industry, from record shop owner to distributor and promoter among more. Which are the areas that attracted you the most? How much do you think that those have changed through the years? Do you feel some of them have evolved, or simply perished (or will do so soon)?
Big question! Tbh I’ve been trying to etch out a living wherever I can while I followed my passion. If it was up to me, I would be DJ’ing and producing full time, but rent must be paid. I have this uncanny knack of being devoted to the very niche music that doesn’t yield the biggest financial returns, so my passion works against me. Probably my favourite of all my daily business roles is label owner / project manager. I enjoy the relationships and goal sharing / achieving this manifests for both parties. Everything has changed really, I started out before the digital market so that has really revolutionised the way our businesses work. There are a lot of negatives, but the glaring positive is the freedom independents have these days thanks to the digital market and software evolution. I don’t think anything will perish, maybe CD’s as a format, but who knows, they have been saying that about vinyl for 10 years now and it’s going stronger than ever.
Something that I find great is that even though we are in an age where the most convenient format is digital (may it be mp3s or wav files,) there seems to be a revival of vinyl. What is your take on this? Why do you think that people today are still attracted to, and buy, records in vinyl format? Horo is releasing exclusively vinyl albums, unless I am mistaken. How was that choice received by the fans? Are you happy with how the sub-label is doing?
My take is really the loyalty factor. People want to feel a part of what you are doing and support you in any way possible. Digital files don’t hold any value at all; records do, and they are like a trophy of your support, almost like a membership card to an exclusive club. Plus, without getting into a the age old debate and even if it is a myth, I feel the listening experience is better. When you put on a record, generally you listen to it start to finish, whereas with digital files you are prone to skip and you can pile up endless amounts of them without even realising. Personally, I often forget I have things and buy them again digitally. It’s very different with records. Horo has started doing more digital these days; we did start out exclusively on vinyl, but times have changed since then, as has my perception of the market, and indeed the market itself. Initially, it was a unique selling point for the music, because when we started at the peak of the digital revolution people were outraged (in our scene at least) by music only being available on vinyl. Horo is about to be broken off from Samurai Music into it’s own label, so there will be 2 distinct labels – Samurai Music (dnb / 170) and Horo. It seems silly (for us) to call it a sub label when it has it’s total own sound and identity in 2016. Very happy with how it’s going and plans for new artists to join the fold in 2016. We have had great support from a lot of producers and DJ’s we admire in other scenes so my plan is working.
What is your take on the current state of electronic music? In an age where everyone has constant access to the Internet, can instantly stream crazy amounts of music and be influenced by them, do you think there is still room to be original? Also, what do you think will be the next step for electronic music?
Everyone has a different perception of originality, and as we discovered recently if you say what you do is original, it’s a very threatening, insightful statement to a lot of people. Instantly, legions of jealous producers spend their days trying to prove you wrong with comparisons that don’t work or prove anything, but the conversation gets so muddied by this spite that it’s just better to not say anything and let people make up their own minds. I think experimentation for the sake of it has become as boring as not experimenting at all, and has resulted in a lot of really bad music being coveted as meaningful and exciting. The next step I have no idea about, but I really hope edm’s influence is eradicated as it’s killed grooves.
SMG is running a podcast through iTunes for a while now. How is that going? Do you feel that in this age it is an effective way to communicate with fans and expose them to your music?
We do 2 podcasts, one for Samurai Music and one for Horo. I see them as promotional tools for the artists when they have their releases more than anything. Let’s face it, producers want DJ work and this is the best place for them to show how good they are as DJ’s and selectors. The Horo podcast is a bit different though, I like to let the producers go free and exhibit influences and tell a story.
Can you tell us what are the future plans for Samurai Horo? What releases should we be expecting? Any new compilations coming our way? Any live events that we should be aware of?
We are about to start a new Horo series where the label drops the Samurai and just becomes Horo. I like to do the releases in batches of 10 although the first batch went to 13 🙂 We will be introducing new artists to the roster, one of which is a fellow German resident (as mentioned earlier) – Grebenstein, and new EP’s are underway by Ancestral Voices, ASC, Sam KDC plus LP’s by Pact Infernal and ENA. There is more but these are the main ones for now. Horo will be 100% focused on artists with a totally unique, individual sound. I have a compilation in the back of my mind but it will have to wait until we have a gap in releases. Live – we just did a Boiler Room showcase for the label which is online and the next Horo related event is a club-night at Incubate Festival in The Netherlands for ‘Grey Area’ which is a label collaboration between Horo and ASC’s Auxiliary label. Myself, Sam KDC, & ENA will be playing Grey Area music all night there.
Alright Presha! Thanks again for finding the time to answer my questions! I am looking forward to hearing more excellent music from Horo!
Thanks for taking the time to do the interview!