Cone Magazine has just returned from Japan, where we spent a few days on the road with Yu ‘Ena’ Asaeda, one of the most idiosyncratic and visionary bass music producers and DJs in Japan presently.
I arrived in Tokyo with Bristol Drum & Bass producers Ruffhouse after a 15-hour flight from London. After catching the Skyliner train straight from Narita airport, we’re greeted by Ena at the hotel. Ruffhouse and Ena, labelmates on Samurai Records, are playing that evening at Tokyo’s legendary ‘Back to Chill’ party, set up by Japanese dubstep champion Goth Trad almost a decade ago and still going strong.
Ena drives us through the neon metropolis on the way to Shibuya for the gig, giving him the chance to show us where his music is at right now. He plays us an unreleased project he’s working on through his car’s sound system. The recording is an hour or so score of ambient, genre-defying sonic experimentation made up of unorthodox atmospheric samples, rustling textures and occasional glimpses of percussion.
The unique sound is unlike anything I’ve heard this side of The Sea of Japan and is testament to the extent that Ena’s artistry and production has evolved and developed over the years. His early work – such as ‘Deadstock’, his collaboration with Cardz – could be described as superior yet archetypical Drum & Bass. But with each successive release, through albums Bilateral and Binaural, the sound has entered yet deeper into the void of unique experimentation at 170 BPM via 140 BPM and beyond.
The new soundscape has been demonstrated expressly by the unbroken abstract minimalism of Ena’s latest album, Divided, which came out on cassette on Samurai Record’s experimental Berlin-based label, Samuari Horo. This unique release is intended to be listened to in a continuous mode of play, hence the choice of format.
Ena says the evolution in sound has been an organic process in which he has pursued and crafted the sound that he wanted to hear whilst adhering to a “keep it original” philosophy whereby he has “tried to escape from all formula sounds.”
I am reminded of the Japanese idea of Kaizen or ‘’continuous improvement” when he explains his approach to making music. Ena says that his priority is to always create a totally original and new sound, and constantly push things forward by deconstructing resonances and developing and layering the track’s texture and underlying groove. He explains his desire to incorporate a degree of “strangeness” in the music, using deliberately esoteric and unexpected noises and layers to surprise and stupefy the listener.
“The basic idea [behind the production] comes when DJing, actually what I want to play is the first idea. Then I will build up sound in the studio.”
The producer elaborates that depending on what the intended outcome is, he will typically work from the ground up when creating a track, first of all constructing the rhythm and the groove then layering original samples that he has created from scratch and other aural textures. “The basic idea [behind the production] comes when DJing, actually what I want to play is the first idea. Then I will build up sound in the studio”, he says. Without revealing any production secrets, Ena explains that he uses a variety of unique processes to build up and deconstruct original and unique sounds through various processes, which will often incorporate ‘found sounds’ and modular influences and techniques.
When asked, the Tokyo native says that genre classifications are not necessarily applicable to his work. He says that the Japanese electronic music scene has always been musically diverse and has always mixed between genres, with Japanese influenced Dubstep, Drum & Bass, Hip Hop and Techno often appearing on the same night for instance.
Ena says that that abstract hip hop producers, most notably DJ Krush, have had the most profound influence on him musically. Other hip hop artists cited include DJ Vadim and Company Flow’s El-P and Mr Len. Like these artists, Ena uses unconventional techniques and structural elements to drive forward the frontiers of abstract music production
But equally Ena’s music undoubtedly has its roots in Drum & Bass, which he experienced in his youth via renowned Tokyo parties such as Drum & Bass Sessions at Unit. He duly gives credit to crucial artists in the genre such as Photek and Source Direct.
Alongside his inimitable production style, Ena is a formidable and versatile DJ. His live performances tend to oscillate between music to dance to and music for the mind. For his set at Back to Chill he represents his musical heritage, going back to back with another regular, 100mado, playing a medley of Drum & Bass masterworks from the last two decades. At Unit, alongside Goth Trad, in support of the Orb, he plays a lower tempo, bass heavy eclectic mix, suitable for the large crowd in attendance. But at a later gig, in the more intimate confines of Grind Records Cafe in Osaka, Ena indulges in the more experimental side of his music. Building up complex layers and textures with reflexive melodies, overworked with unique samples.
The pinnacle of Ena’s performances, however, can found during his live set. Using a combination of guitar pedals, Cubase, and a contact mic, the performance takes the listener on a sonic journey through meditative reverberations, via guttural low ends and ethereal synths to create a truly progressive exploration into abstract electronic music.
The DJ has increasingly been playing at eclectic and avant-garde electronic music events. His sound has especially gained a following in Berlin, for example, amongst the techno crowds. He is due to headline the city’s Atonal festival on Friday 21 August 2015 with an exclusive audio/visual live performance. The festival has been at the forefront of progressive electronic experimentations since the 80’s, so to head up such a prestigious event is a testament to the recognition that Ena has achieved across the industry.
Ena is at the vanguard of abstract and experimental underground electronic production not just in Japan, but globally. As such there is much anticipation surrounding his next as of yet untitled EP which is expected to be released on Samurai Red Seal around autumn. Ena also hints at another secret project which will be announced in the near future. Watch this space.