Friday, 3 December 2010

ISVOLT - A Disaro Witch House Compilation

The Witch House deconstruction posts (Part 1 and Part 2) proved popular with readers, and resulted in contact from God Don’t Like It; a promoter, club night, label and general seeker of experimental and odd music. They heralded the unholy birth of ISVOLT, a nine act compilation from the mind of Robert Disaro (head of Disaro Records) featuring different takes on the witch house sub-genre from self-distributing artists.

I’m still in the undecided camp on witch house, despite listening to many of the genres which contribute to it’s core sound; stuck between the witch lovers and witch haters, I have approached with caution. To help me make up my mind and because the nature of this blog means new features can be added just whenever I feel like it, I’m introducing a new aspect for special review requests - guest DJ reviewers! For this one, and because he was generous enough to lend his time and ears, the Niallist stuck around in cyberspace to delve through the occult and weird with me. Personally, I come from a background of industrial, dark metal and techno, and the Niallist has shown love for experimental and weirdo electronica amongst his house, acid and disco yearnings, so we figured that together we could reach the apt witch house head-space.

ISVOLT - A Disaro Witch House Compilation (Disaro Records)
Release Date: 6th of December 2010
Formats: CD, 12” LP, Digital

1. †‡† (Ritualzz) - Misery Walk

Lo-Q: Ah, like hearing an 80s goth single go through a blender; all fuzz and lamenting guitar wails with an odd rhythm reminiscent of spicatto techniques. Eventually some lo-fi dubstep influences appear and it starts to sound like a damaged set breakdown that sprawls on, but that American accented voice sounds like a nippy complainer.

Niallist: So this is witch-house? Well, it's not very house-y is it? I thought it might be bitch house's evil older aunty but apparently not. I'm not feeling any housiness about this at all, but I am getting a witch vibe. Witch-hop might be a better term. Or Witch-no. Obviously these people are not as adept at making up spurious genre names as we are.

2. Party Trash - Sky Clad

Lo-Q: A bit like Gary Numan on a dark day (which is sayin’ something), Party Trash applies the degraded theme to its beats, rendering them broken for an anti-rhythm thunderkick of drums. That anti-rhythm feeling prevails through a lot of witch house I’ve heard so far. Drones, deep bass, a hint of prog-rock - it gets a bit confusing when the fast, arpeggiated electro dives in.

Niallist: I wouldn't be able to drop any of this in a club, that's for sure. I might be able to use it on a Norave mixtape though. To me this is like a less annoying Sleigh Bells. It seems the producers have thought about the textures of the noise elements more carefully than Sleigh Bells, and it reminds me of 90s groups like Medicine. Gaze-hop would be a more accurate genre title, but it would probably not go down too well in the world of rap.

3. Fostercare - Cold Light

Lo-Q: I’ve been having flashes of DJ Hell mixes throughout this compilation, and Fostercare holds the most similarity with its space age electronica. Not to mention the DJ Shadow and Fischerspooner (if they turned industrial) elements. This is actually scarily close to the doodles of noise I’ve been making on my Nintendo DS Korg, further helped by the bottom-of-the-well rhythms which sound like they’ve been recorded in an adjacent room - this is going in time with the beats filtering up from my downstairs neighbours. ‘Cold Light’ is stripped of the fuzz but not the decay.

Niallist: Fostercare is a great name for a band, and ‘Cold Light’ is a fitting name for this tune. I like the textures of the shoegazey elements so far, and the vocal, which I can't tell is either resampled and chopped, or deliberately badly recorded. Doing things badly on purpose, with a good reason, can be great. And this track has a more interesting beat pattern than the other two so far.

4. //TENSE// - Versus Man

Lo-Q: I’m not so sure this is witch house really - it can easily be captured as industrial Nitzer Ebb style, doing the Bladerunner theme. The chuggy techno hi-hat, the vocals, the industrial grunge, and even taints of Ministry towards the end. This would sit fairly comfortably on an industrial mix - the metal part of me can’t help having a soft spot for this track.

Niallist: Ooh, I like this already - I'm into industrial clanking noises. And finally! A 4/4 beat! Well almost. This is as close to how I imagined this music would sound, though to be honest it does bear more than just a passing resemblance to late 80s/early 90s industrial. Which is not a bad thing. It's a bit of a departure from the rest of the record though.

5. Modern Witch - Your Life a Movie

Lo-Q: Rob Zombie would be proud of the b-movie style drone start. Echoed voices, numb, lispy American male vocals, repeating ‘Julia Roberts smiling a lot’, which is an eerie concept on its own. I don’t know why, but I think a lot of witch house artists have all sat down and watched Heathers and 80s sci-fi, and then set about making electronica. I think there’s a definite opiate feel, but it doesn’t fit with the chopped and screwed sound.

Niallist: This is maybe the best so far. I like all the elements, the beat, the noise and the droney vocal. Droney vocals can be hit and miss (nobody does it better than Farah) but these vocals have just the right mix of detachment and cynicism to work. Pity about the lyrics though. This really does make me think of Italians Do It Better turning their hand to noisy downtempo rather than electro-disco. Great outro too.

6. Mater Suspiria Vision - Ritualz of the Crack Witches

Lo-Q: Mater tend to use more of the ‘classic’ sounds of dance music - claps, kicks, bass - but as if testing them out and pressing the button for the hell of it. The sound is definitely screwed, but it does tend to ‘drag’ on though (har har).

Niallist: Ok, from the name alone I get the feeling this act was assembled to make some filler for this compilation. And sadly the music bears that out - which is a shame cos the names ARE great. All the musical elements you'd now expect are here. This makes me think someone has a vested interest in selling this genre as a concept. And that conversely makes me wonder who will be the Beatles of witch house?

Lo-Q: These are actually one of the more successful witch house acts, but I agree - my preference is for Mater’s remix work.

Niallist: Oh wow, so I was totally wrong! Indeed, perhaps MSV are the witch house Beatles.

7. Horse MacGyver - Nod

Lo-Q: Definitely getting a 90s dark metal feel from this one, with badly wired keyboard drones. The freaked out samples, beat misdirections and clash of instrument wails all fit but there’s a hip-hop swagger to it. I think maybe you’re ‘witch house’ if you say you are; a kind of ‘I think, therefore I am’ deal.

Niallist: Ah, I'm feeling this one! It has elements of John Carpenter soundtracks and skronk going on too, which is broadening up the sound a bit. And the name Horse MacGyver makes me think of Horse Rotorvator by Coil. Which makes sense as a reference. I like the very long feedback delay on the end but they killed it by just chopping it off, they should have stuck with it until it totally faded out, even if that took another 17 hours. Witches need to stand by their convictions.

Lo-Q: Skronk? What genres are you chucking in here now?!

Niallist: Skronk is a sub-genre of post-punk. It makes free jazz sound like N Sync.

8. White Ring - IxC999

Lo-Q: This is thicker hip-hop drag, spiked with glock sound effects and almost childish sing-song vocals. I’d love to see the kind of dance moves people are pulling out to this. And I mean proper dancing; this ain’t an excuse to go back to goth shoe-gazing, which is only appropriate if you own particularly great shoes.

Niallist: I like this one too, it's actually pretty crunky, and the squeaky feedback on the vocal at the start is really pretty cool. Wow, is that a steeldrum I can hear in there somewhere? Colour me impressed! Or maybe I am over-reacting after the limited sound palate used up to this point? Whatever, I like this, I like the rhythm of the beats and the vocal, it creates a juxtaposition with the noise that is cool. So, how long before M.I.A. jumps on the witch house bandwagon?

9. Raw Moans - Nectarine

Lo-Q: Um, is this in the wrong section? I can only perceive this as dreamy electronica over a hip-hop beat. Not as dark as the others, it reminds me of a Smashing Pumpkins ditty.

Niallist: This is not my favourite track on the album, but this genre now begins to make more sense through this track - it's kids that have been listening to crunk and southern hip-hop for the last few years, and trying to take that basic premise somewhere dark and twisted. I don't know how much mileage this genre has, as I can see there being a backlash pretty soon, but there's a few good tracks on this album. But, really, guys, come on... "Witch House"? Even dream-hop would be a better name.

Lo-Q: A rose by any other name, and all that..

To launch ISVOLT on the UK shores, Mater Suspiria Vision and Fostercare play their debut UK show in London’s Soho at The Den on 6th December, organised by Bite London and God Don’t Like It.

ISVOLT - A Disaro Witchhouse Compilation can be acquired on CD or 12” through relatively normal methods - not a spell or rune in sight - by attending occult shops as Rough Trade, Pure Groove, Piccadilly Records, Norman Records, Amazon, and HMV.


  1. Nice review...been getting into some witch house lately, and this compilation is certainly an intriguing window into the genre (or anti-genre, or whatever ;P).

    My background is industrial too, though also with equal parts goth/synth/wave/EBM, and it's pretty interesting to see a new wave of a lot of old-ish ideas re-worked for the times.

    Anyway, enough babbling, just thoguht I'd say thanks for the review, and the Niallist is a funny guy too.


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