Attention, unshaven hipsters! I will now introduce you to the music that will choke out your iPod diet for the next three months. I’ve been going back and forth about writing about this stuff for a couple of weeks now. I’m not sure if there’s much to say and not entirely sure if it even qualifies since Witch House isn’t directly related to horror. I’m not even sure if you’d call it a genre of music since Witch House doesn’t mean shit to anyone. The problem with Witch House is that most of the participating acts deliberately make it difficult to track down anything of value about them. They actively repel media interest and take extreme measures to keep things on the down low, which is pretty cool, if you ask me but finding new groups can be a real chore since they all use cryptic symbols found in the outer reaches of your system’s character map. Save the “Artist formerly known as…” jokes because shit is about to get real.
To get an understanding of what’s going on with Witch House, I suppose I have to dive into some suspiciously bullshit territory and start tossing around abstractions about post-modernism and all that but stick with me because it actually makes sense. See, back in the day, rock music was driven by a few key ingredients: raw teen angst, the primal need to party down and an unquenchable thirst for sex. Right from the get-go, rock music satisfied and urged some of our most primal instincts and the social systems that support us weakened, those themes were refined and intensified. However, since the 80’s, those forces driving us and the music that influences our cultural attitudes have weakened and intense, emotional music has given way to complacent pop bullshit. I don’t want to act like I’m above all that, either. I actually enjoy some of that complacent pop bullshit, it’s just that as much as I like junk food music, the sort of thing that really stimulates me and leaves me satisfied is the sort of music that challenges the very idea of what I consider music. In my never-ending quest to be thrilled, musically, I’ve put my ears to some seriously abrasive crap and very little of it actually ever sticks. Going into the 90’s we had music produced by the children of baby boomers, singing self-centered anthems about how much it sucks to be white, middle class teenagers and this astonishing degree of entitlement was about the most insulting thing to me yet it went on to define rock music in the 90’s. Things haven’t gotten much better. That stupid shit gave way to even stupider, ignorant jock rock before disappearing through the cracks and leaving in its wake the most tepid, tea-drinking, American Spirit smoking, iPad fondling dog shit the world had ever heard. If there was one thing to be said about Limp Bizkit, at least it was compelling nonsense that inspired people to do something, even if it meant setting fire to an outdoor concert venue. Belle and Sebastian makes me want to pull on a cardigan and read Steinbeck.
This is where Witch House steps in.
Witch House takes the modern notion of keyboard and drum machine driven dance music and combines it with a few of my favorite genres of music to create a monster of sound that in any other context would sound ridiculous. Consider, if you will, gothic rock or darkwave joining forces with corpse-painted black metal, locked-groove power electronics and syrrrrrup-slinging dirty south rap cliques. What you get is whatever it is that happens to fall under this umbrella of horrifying Witch House. It’s a cynical form of avant garde which celebrates death, horror and the occult and just when you think it can’t possibly be any more pretentious than it already sounds, the people creating this stuff throw up a smoke screen and boldly declare that nothing is as it seems.
Do not believe in everything you see – the owls are not what they
seem. Same thing is to analyse a David Lynch Movie – sometimes a triangle is
not a triangle but a mountain like in Twin Peaks.
– Cosmotropia de Xam of Mater Suspiria Vision
It’s not certain what electro-indie genre of the week that Witch House evolved out of, but the popular understanding is that it’s brand new in meatspace terms and old-as-dirt by internet standards. Though the Michigan trio, Salem, has been producing dark, slowed down tributes to dirty south hip-hop and funeral dirges since 2008, the mainstream wave of Witch House started popping up in late 2009 and by January of 2010, some solid foundations for genre conventions had begun to crystallize. A Youtube search for Mater Suspiria Vision, my particular favorite of the bunch turns up dozens of hits for songs accompanied by the unsettling video collages culled from old-school pornography, nunsploitation, Jean Rolin’s erotic vampire movies and giallo. These videos are produced by Cosmotropia de Xam of Mater Suspiria Vision, just one of the group’s members, especially remarkable when you realize that the equally prolific sister-project, ℑ⊇≥◊≤⊆ℜ, is by the same people as well as the possibility of related Witch House acts, Pwin Teaks and twYlY<ght>ZoNe. Want to be impressed even further, Mater Suspiria Vision and the possibly related side projects are all products of the last six months!
You’re probably noticing an abundance of unpronounceable symbols in some of these band names. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. While it’s fashionable for newcomers to the genre to christen their projects with names crammed with symbols so as to be immediately recognizable as Witch House, there’s a core group of performers for whom the symbolism holds some significance. Cosmotropia de Xam tells me, “You can consider that symbolism as a piece of art – art should not be analysed too much – either it functions or not. Mater SuspiriaVision’s side project’s name ℑ⊇≥◊≤⊆ℜ is such a piece of art – Doppelganger of Mater Suspiria Vision let it stands all alone without pronounciation with that sentence: ℑ is the sign for fictive – ℜ is the sign for real… Do not believe in everything you see.” And so it also goes for †‡† (apparently pronounced Ritualzzz), oOoOO (pronounced Oh) and ///▲▲▲\\\ (aka Void). Frankly, I think it’s a deliberate attempt to stump search engines and keep the music underground, a true feat in these days when anything you could possibly want to find is only a Google query away. Thing is, it seems to be working. Of all the symbols in these groups names, none is more common than the triangle. There’s even a label dedicated to the dancier elements of Witch House called Tri Angle and a group whose name is simply ▲.
The triangle is that image which gets people fixed – if you are once in the centre of it you cannot escape (like in the bermuda triangle) – you are addicted. Now your perception will change into a higher state ofconciousness. You will see god and the devil in one person.
– Cosmotropia de Xam
I’m not entirely sold on this idea. Mostly because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but as Cosmo keeps telling me in their cryptic messages to me, the owls are not what they seem and even if it’s a load of shit and I’m being taken for a ride, the intrigue that tends to ride on the darker edges of Witch House is very important and compelling.
Though I tend to gravitate to the nigh-unlistenable, sonically jarring groups of the bunch, Mater Suspiria Vision,Gr†ll Gr†ll and Modern Witch (actually makes me physically uncomfortable to listen to), which prominently feature droning electronic soundscapes, slaggy drum machine beats and loops of women screaming in terror, Witch House is a rather poorly defined genre of music. Tearist falls into the category and sounds nothing like its contemporaries. Rather, Tearist often sounds like three different Siouxsie and The Banshees songs playing simultaneously. Rosemary sounds like Klaus Nomi singing for a sci-fi Italodisco band and Gatekeeper skates dangerously close to industrial/ebm territory before falling back into synthy Italodisco convetions. In the end, they resemble Goblin in that Simonetti-only lineup that made up the Tenebrae soundtrack. Finally, there’s the duo White Ring, who are just fucking chilling. I’m selling it short here, but there are many Witch House groups and each sounds nothing like the others.
Here’s the best part, not a whole lot of this Witch House stuff is released commercially and that which is is released under very hazy terms by labels whose only internet presence exists on Myspace. Most of the music is released to the internet for free and if it’s not explicitly clear that you can just download this stuff, the groups and labels don’t much seem to care. Below you’ll find a collection of Witch House that you can taste and enjoy. Bear in mind, if one of these groups doesn’t appeal to you, and it’s entirely likely that none of them will since this stuff is most definitely not for everyone, then there’s a good chance that one of the others will. Enjoy it while it lasts, though. Witch House is part of an obnoxious cycle of musical evolution that phases out ideas in a matter of months. This time next year post-Witch House will be all the rage.
Gr†ll Gr†ll CD-R (Home to what is probably the best reinterpretation of Lil Wayne’s Lollipop, like, ever.)