In Japanese folklore the word Yokai means strange, supernatural creatures. There is no direct Japanese to English translation for Yokai. A bit like the term Fairy or Fay in English folklore, Yokai, once translated, covers a broad, unspecific range. From possessions, strange phenomenon and even Urban Legends to Demons, monsters and Gods with ghosts, spirits, sprites, strange animals and shape-shifters in between. Yokai is an all inclusive term. For Deadly Avenger and Si Begg Yokai means all that and more still. Yokai means horror.
This horror comes from the twisted imagination of Damon Baxter (Deadly Avenger) and Si Begg, who have collectively over 50 years of experience in the music business. Both gentlemen have been DJing, composing, recording, mixing, producing and releasing music, under various monikers, since the 1990’s. Although Si Begg has the label “Noddle Recordings,” which releases a range of musical styles, both artists are, probably best known for their electronic music. Considering the longevity of their careers, it seems rather amazing that Yokai is the first album the pair have collaborated on, and as far as I’m aware, the first time the duo have practiced the dark arts of Necromancy and Demonology through the power of their music.
Yokai is a 14 song album of deliciously dark synthwave and electronic music with a hint of horror folk. It’s released by the ever reliable Burning Witches Records, a natural home for such an unusual listening experience. Each song is titled after a different Japanese folklore Yokai and, I like to think, each song is a compacted version of that story. The album is rooted in the horror score/soundtrack genre both real and imagined. However, because the pair have recorded the music for various film trailers (most notably Parasite, Midsummer and Hereditary) no song passes the three minute mark. So here we find the concept behind Yokai, its not the full blown score that tightly follows and enhances the visuals on the screen but a synopsis of 14 stories. Hinting at mysterious shadows, unexpected twists and half glimpsed secrets. This makes Yokai more like a collection of trailer themed songs than an imagined soundtrack. Yet the 14, beautifully crafted, cinematic nightmares flow together like a best of Sheridan Le Fanu or
M.R James tales, as in, their style is so unique it could only come from the same wonderfully macabre minds.
For an electronic music album Yokai has a remarkably organic and individual sound. Apparently, some of the samples are made with bespoke, electro-acoustic instruments. There are sounds found in the folk horror genre, like the frantic, demented string snatches on the opening track “Jubokko” or the female vocals on “Rojinbi” and the haunting pipe call on “Kodama.” Yet the majority of samples and effects are so unfamiliar its difficult to draw comparisons. It’s true, you may of heard similar sounds on a handful of other modern scores from composers like Ben Lovett or Mark Korven, but to go from track to track wondering from which level of Dante’s Inferno that was recorded in, is nothing short of a delight.
On songs like “Mara” with it’s ticking clockwork rhythm and constantly building, bombastic drums, you long to be in a giant multiplex cinema, with its enormous surround sound speaker system. So when the bass whoosh finally drops, it blasts your breath straight out of your chest. The bell toll of “Hososhi” with the blackboard scratching strings and hooded disciples chanting leaves you rushing for headphones and the cinematic scale and ferocity of “Gyuki” leaves your neighbours wishing you had gone rushing for your headphones.
Baxter and Begg have created a genuinely unique sound. The concept of making an album around imaginary horror trailers is a fresh and interesting idea. Drawing on their experience of scoring the mini dramas of trailers, the duo have made the concept work exceptionally well, making Yokai a high bench mark in dark electronica. However it is a very intense, though compelling listen, that’s not for the faint hearted. But, if you fancy listening to some music whose intention it is to summon The Cthulhu and the first thing The Ancient Ones do is light a candle, because it’s a little bit dark in here, then Yokai is definitely for you.