Triangles and crosses and slashes, oh my. Years since the initial awkwardness of saying !!!’s name out loud, we now have a whole new slew of bands to worry about: B▲L▲M▲C▲B, †‡†, //TENSE//, oOoOO, and the list goes on. My first thought was, “Oh, some kids discovered the special character palette and decided to start a band”, but after listening to the music, it’s clear that there’s also a shared musical sensibility: processed loops, lo-fi beats, shadowy textures, indecipherable vocals, ambience and distortion. Syrupy Southern hip-hop and Factory Records doom-pop seem to be equally influential, which sounds a bit odd, but not so surprising, considering the last decade’s hybrid-driven trend starting with Kid A and “B.O.B.” and mashups. And while many of these cryptic bands are still finding their voice, there is already a good deal of compelling sounds circulating, thanks to indie labels like Houston-based Disaro and Brooklyn-based Tri Angle (whose logo is also a triangle — isosceles, if you simply must know).

Other band names like Modern Witch and Salem thankfully stick with the traditional alphabet, and they also clue us in on the occult imagery commonly found in this phenomenon. But what we need now is a legit term for this psuedogenre! “Drag” has caught on, which makes sense insofar as it describes a characteristic sludgy pace, but the word’s other connotations bring to mind boredom, car racing and transvestism. “Witch house” is equally popular, and while “witch” well reflects the spellbinding moods and magickal imagery, “house” doesn’t fit, as house music has always maintained a joyous connection with the dancefloor, something definitely absent here. This music sounds like the product of introversion and disconnectedness — maybe that’s why many of these acts have no (or very few) upcoming shows listed in their MySpaces.

If we are really making it our goal to find a proper name for this whole sound, might we suggest incorporating the word “dub”? Most of these beatmakers are manipulating pre-recorded sounds, a technique whose origins are rooted in dub music. What’s more is that “dub” purportedly comes from the Jamaican Creole word for “ghost”. “Witch dub”? “Swamp dub”? “Dubschlepp”? Then again, maybe “dub” is already too associated with reggae. “Monsterclash”? No, that will never do. It has to be something simple and catchy. “Murk”? “Crafty”? “Hexcore”? “Ouija”? OK, let’s just forget about that human urge to try to categorize everything into neat, marketable labels.

Although one noticeable aspect is the bands’ emphasis on images (AIDS-3D, for example, is more of a multimedia art entity than a band), they tend to keep their own likenesses and identities hidden. If a head appears, the face is probably obscured or artistically mangled. Fewer fashion shoots and press photos; more nightmarish collages and satanic signifiers. This all seems to be part of the willful obscurity as seen in the esoteric band names. Google yields “Your search †‡† did not match any documents.” But there seems to be an element of camp as well, almost like dressing up for Halloween. (So maybe “drag” is an appropriate term after all.)

Although no artists we contacted admit any connection to this apparent movement or the term “witch house”, we reached out to eponymous label owner Robert Disaro to see what he thought. “I like the term ‘witch house’, it kinda fits the whole dark heavy sound. I’ve also seen it spelled ‘haus’, so I guess it’s how ever you wanna take it. Keep in mind, Disaro isn’t specifically a witch house/haus or drag label. We’re just a label.” He summed it up the uniting factor as “independent music by mindfucked artists all working together to bring music back to where it should be. Right now musicians are so controlled by labels with what they should do and what they can’t do… All this high gloss shit on TV and radio (even college radio) that’s the new now next, that shit isn’t indie to me. Art and music need to stay together and it hasn’t been like that.”

As many of these acts are female-led or have female members, and as “witch” is obviously a gendered word, we asked Disaro if gender had anything to do with it. “There are lots of women on Disaro that are banging out the based-out beats and doing vocals, like White Ring, Passions, //TENSE//, Crones, The Beauty, Pregnancy Pact, Modern Witch, How I Quit Crack, along with all the others on different labels: Creep, Salem, Sleep ∞ Over, etc.”

While we’re still trying to digest that list of suggestions, not to mention all the other acts we’ve discovered by clicking around, here are a few that have captured our interest for the moment:

Passions: sounds a bit like Joy Order remixed by Afrikraft Bambaatwerk
The Beauty
: spacious electro-shoegaze
Salem: Nine Inch Nails meets Enya, chopped and screwed
Modern Witch: danceable paranoid dissonance
Sleep ∞ Over: lo-fi dirge ballads
Pregnancy Pact: squiggly noise and tapefuckery

Let’s see where this trend is headed. In the meantime, we have some new material for the next episode of Expatriarch Radio

18 Responses to Trying to define “witch house” can be a real drag

  1. lital says:

    and I wonder what will come next…

  2. devon says:

    yes! don’t forget crossover. they are witch house pioneers.
    http://www.myspace.com/crossoveranticvlt

  3. HIQCC says:

    HOUSTON MOTHERFUCKERS

  4. H.I.Q.C. + //TENSE// ARE *NOT “WITCH HOUSE” BANDS… HAVE YOU LISTENED TO THEIR MUSIC? NO TRIANGLES THERE…

  5. Bree Davies says:

    How boring. Instead of going into this thought process with the idea that maybe there is a lot to learn about this “genre” and I don’t know, talking to the artists themselves (they aren’t inaccessible) you take the dated route of complaint. If you don’t like something, just say that and own it.

  6. Isaac Linder says:

    lol. future music ethnographers pay heed: the term ‘witch house’ was coined by Travis Egedy aka Pictureplane from Denver (home to Modern Witch as well) in tandem with SHAMS (NYC)
    see:
    http://plainpictures.blogspot.com/2009/12/some-favorites-best-of-2009.html

  7. D says:

    ‘Witch’ is not a gendered word.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_%28word%29

  8. marko markovic markovivivic says:

    House in Witch House is really important and present… I completely disagree with you…this genre is tightly connected to all commercial types of music, in some cases it experiments with house (and it is danceable ass well)… its not just goth, thats the whole point…

  9. Texas Love says:

    I think there should be separate categories for these different acts based on their sound. A lot of them are basically just EBM bands, and are possibly best classified as such.

  10. Joey Hansom says:

    Happy Halloween, my pretties! Here is MY DEFINITION OF WITCH HOUSE…

    Joey Hansom – My Definition of Witch House by joeyhansom

    Enjoy and please try not to take it too seriously.

  11. Malcom Bliss says:

    This “Witch House” genre sounds like the stuff that THEATRE OF ICE was doing in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their first 3 albums were all supposedly recorded in haunted houses and were oft times more mood than music. They obviously didn’t have the same type of equipment available to them 30 years ago, but check out this for an sample of what I mean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwpjG59pZKk&feature=related

  12. Tomi says:

    I like to call it CRYPT HOP.

  13. Nick kane says:

    Awesome article Joey Hansom, definitely an interesting read.

  14. [...] friend of mine helps run it.  Trying to define it without simply listening to it can be a drag (as this blogger puts it).  There’s elements of chopped and messed-up Hip-Hop mixed with Electro and dreamy Shoegaze [...]

  15. [...] and R&B…and I thought ‘Why can’t these sounds come together?’ Then witch house became a [...]

  16. [...] Un court article sur Expatriarch qui explique bien le bordel à tenter de cerner ce genre. [...]

  17. [...] route with darkwave-esque witchy sounds (the categorization of which has been articled to death) and parties like New York’s Pendu Disco, FILTH† and S!CK, where you were likely to hear [...]

  18. [...] route with darkwave-esque witchy sounds (the categorization of which has been articled to death) and parties like New York’s Pendu Disco, FILTH† and S!CK, where you were likely to hear [...]

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