Witch house (music genre)
|Stylistic origins||Chopped and screwed, trap house, dark ambient, noise, drone, shoegazing, industrial music, gothic rock, house|
|Cultural origins||Late-2000s United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, Denmark, Ukraine and Russia|
|Typical instruments||Synthesizer, drum machine, sequencer, sampler|
Witch house is an occult-themed dark electronic music genre and visual aesthetic that emerged in the late 2000s. The music is heavily influenced by chopped and screwed hip-hop, dark ambient soundscapes, industrial and noise experimentation, and features use of synthesizers, drum machines, obscure samples, droning repetition and heavily altered, ethereal, indiscernible vocals. The witch house visual aesthetic includes occult, witchcraft, shamanism and horror-inspired artworks, collages and photographs as well as significant use of typographic elements such as Unicode symbols. Many works by witch house visual artists incorporate themes from 60s, 70s and 80s cult and obscure horror movies, the television series Twin Peaks, and mainstream pop culture celebrities. Common typographic elements in artist and track names include triangles, crosses, and other Unicode symbols, which are seen by some as a method of keeping the scene underground and harder to search for on the Internet.
Influences and style
Witch house applies techniques rooted in chopped and screwed hip-hop – drastically slowed tempos with skipping, stop-timed beats – coupled with elements from genres such as noise, drone, and shoegaze. Witch house is also influenced by hazy 1980s goth bands, including Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Christian Death and Dead Can Dance, as well as being heavily influenced by certain industrial and experimental bands such as Psychic TV and Coil. The use of hip-hop drum machines, noise atmospherics, creepy samples, dark synthpop-influenced lead melodies, dense reverb, and heavily altered or distorted vocals are the primary attributes that characterize the genre's sound. The concept started out as a joke, with Travis Egedy (commonly known by the stage name Pictureplane) and his friends coining the term in 2009 to refer to their style of music. Shortly after being mentioned to Pitchfork, blogs and other mainstream music press began to use the term.
Criticism of the term
The genre was at one point connected to the name "rape gaze", the use of which has since been publicly denounced by its coiners, who never expected it to be used to rename an actual genre, but viewed it as simply a gimmick. Witch house has also been said to be a false label for a micro-genre, constructed by certain publications in the music press (including The Guardian, Pitchfork and various music blogs). These claims have been made by some members of musical acts identified as being in the genre's current movement, as well as by music journalists.
Egedy described witch house as follows:
It’s a joke.
Myself and my friend Shams—he makes house music, too— we were joking about the sort of house music we make, [and we were calling it] witch house because it’s, like, occult-based house music. It was 2009. And then I did this best-of-the-year thing with Pitchfork about witch house, and it was me and Shams and Modern Witch. I was saying that we were witch house bands, and 2010 was going to be the year of witch house, that it was going to get really witchy and stuff. It took off from there. Different people started posting about it on blogs, and it sort of became an internet meme. And someone attached the name witch house to the sounds that bands like Salem were making—the slowed down, spooky, Goth juke kind of stuff." "...But, at the time, when I said witch house, it didn’t even really exist..."
However, Flavorwire said that despite Egedy's insistence that witch house doesn't really exist, "the genre does exist now, for better or worse".
In August 2011, Pitchfork described †††, a project involving Chino Moreno and Shaun Lopez, as "witch house". However, Carson O'Shoney of Consequence of Sound and Daniel Brockman of the Boston Phoenix note that Crosses only shares a resemblance to witch house in aesthetics and imagery, and not the group's actual music. The group's decision to use this imagery stems from Moreno's interest in the art and mystique around religion. Moreno, however, also said:
"I didn't want people to think we are a religious band, a satanic band or that we are a witch-house band. It's difficult using a religious symbol, but at the same time, I think in an artistic way, it can totally go somewhere else and I think we are kind of walking that line."
Bands and artists
Bands and artists with music described as "witch house" include:
- Balam Acab
- BL▲CK † CEILING
- ††† (Crosses)
- Crystal Castles
- ✝ DE△D VIRGIN ✝
- GL▲SS †33†H
- Holy Other
- Horse MacGyver (///▲▲▲\\\)
- Mater Suspiria Vision
- Modern Witch
- Purity Ring
- †‡† (Ritualz)
- Sidewalks and Skeletons
- White Ring
- † vl▲d lull▲by †
- Zola Jesus
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