Saturday, 13 November 2010

Genre deconstruction: Witch House Pt 2

In our last deconstruction we looked at the origins of witch house, and now look further into the artists behind the sound and how they interpret it.

Houston hip-hop drowsy beats provide an underlay to the sound, but the additions are down to the individual artists and include goth, electro, dub, ambient, house, chill-out, synth-pop, psychedelia, 80s, indie and more. Vocals can be present but are used as ethereal side-notes or ghostly voices and the occult themes linger throughout. There’s also a visual trend amongst the artist names also, and commentators have been quicker to pick up on the deliberate use of symbols as band naming conventions - think Prince () then times it by ten, and you can get the unsearchable Google nightmare known as witch house acts.

Journalist Tom Ewing commented that “artificial scarcity is one way of restoring context to music - releasing it on non-digital formats, or never recording certain tracks. In the case of witch house, the scene’s penchant for non-Googleable names (oOoOO or Gr†ll Gr†ll) may be an attempt to create scarcity.” Scarcity has been a known technique used in the techno community to create limited exclusiveness (and handily raise releases to collector item status) and witch house employs it to carve out an underground tunnel with limited entrances. Like something out of a fantasy film, you find yourself trying to identify the passages with geometric shapes, symbols, punctuation; there is a distinct lack of actual words. It's an enforced restriction; perhaps to keep out naysayers, perhaps to keep in exclusivity.

If you want to find witch house artists online you’ll find them, but it’s not a 3 second job - the subtle message is ‘we are not easy access’. And this is also reflected in the actual music - the hooks aren’t instant and the style doesn’t fit in with our natural urge for catchy beats.

The Labels:

Houston’s Disaro and Tri Angle are two of the main ‘witch house’ stables, but the latter is less easy with the ‘drag’ term and more readily embraces the listenable styles of witch house - less distortion and more melodic catch (Balam Acab, oOoOO). Disaro, situated in the middle of purple drank heritage country has reached out to the chopped and ‘screwed’ sounds of witch house / drag artists (Salem, White Ring, Mater Suspiria Vision, Fostercare, //TENSE//, Modern Witch, Gr†ll Gr†ll, /// ▲▲▲ \\\, †‡†).

Some of the Artists and their Sounds:

oOoOO - more commonly known as Christopher Dexter Greenspan, a self-confessed Burial follower. Ethereal, dubstep, mainstream rap / hip-hop, drag.

MP3s for download: NoSummr4u / Seaww


Balam Acab - Alec Koone, got his break over Myspace after being picked up by Tri Angle Records. Dubstep, found samples, drone, low-end.

MP3s for download: See Birds / Heavy Living Things

Creep - Lauren Dillard and Lauren Flax also signed to Tri Angle; Flax is already known on the house circuit, and as Fischerspooner’s tour DJ. Influences come from the likes of Hyperdub, house, UK bass, ethereal dub, pop.

White Ring - Bryan Kurkimilis and Kendra Malia are signed to Disaro, situated in the middle of Houston’s drag scene. Hip-hop and gangster rap are strong influences, but the dark synth pop, horror sounds and weirded-out vocals provide a fuller embrace to the witch house thematics.

MP3 for download: icx999

Salem - John Holland, Heather Marlatt and Jack Donoghue have just released their debut LP on IAMSOUND, composed of sluggish hip-hop, nails down a chalk board samples, fuzzy percussion, and some serious dubstep lifting. A bit like dubstep washed up on the beach as a corroded, raggy corpse.

Mater Suspiria Vision - drones aplenty, reverbed to fuck and incessant knockings of beats. Reminds me of a restrained Atari Teenage Riot without the shouty screaming.

ℑ⊇≥◊≤⊆ℜ - a member of Mater Suspiria Vision, her remix of Lady Gaga reconfirms for me that witch house may be more effective as a remix tool. A corrosion of the present rather than creating from destruction. In regards to the name - I give up, I think pronounciation may involve tongue removal.

LADY GAGA - Alejandro (ℑ⊇≥◊≤⊆ℜ of Mater Suspiria Vision ZOMBIE RAVE REMIX) from Mater Suspiria Vision on Vimeo.

Gr†ll Gr†ll - Atmospheric, similar to choral drones, distinct lack of beats on occasion.

Modern Witch - Bit of creepy electro, playing with softer noises to create psychedelia, beaten on by off-kilter percussion.

Pwin ▲▲Teaks - More like drowning in a sea of distortion, hearing sounds filtered through salt water and very little rhythm.

Tearist - Darker electro pop, there are discernible hooks to grasp onto.

Fostercare - An obvious disciple of Burial taking the name from a Burial track. Clearer vocals, a faster beat, kind of like dubstep turning into spoken-word electro.

MP3 for download: Heat High.

Silent Diane - A male and female duo playing syrupy codeine electronica!

MP3s for download: Harmonikai

twYIYZoNe - more drones, echoes; like trying to remember half-speed dubstep in a dream.

†‡† - I believe this is pronounced ritualz, but then again I may not have decoded right. At this point in the article I've seen enough freaky films to be confused over whether I am actually in an Italian art-house death dirge. Dirge is also a fitting word for their music, appended to purple drank electro-hop (see I'm just making my own genres up here now).


And here's some more artists for you to peruse, with free downloads! 

xix - MP3 for download: Deep Void

///▲▲▲\\\ - MP3 for download: Spit Shine

After all that deconstruction it’s still difficult to summarise in one sentence, but I’ll do my best: building on a ‘screwed’ hip-hop style popularised by Houston rappers in the 90s, witch house is almost completely unrelated to house music and cosier with occult or goth-themed, lo-fi, distorted bass-heavy rhythms with synth pop slathers.

I am genre-spent.

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