Witch house (genre)
|Cultural origins||c. 2007–2008|
Witch house is a dark, occult-themed electronic music microgenre and visual aesthetic that emerged in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The music is heavily influenced by chopped and screwed hip-hop 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, terror and horror-inspired artworks, collages and photographs as well as significant use of hidden messages and typographic elements such as Unicode symbols. Many works by witch house visual artists incorporate themes from horror films such as The Blair Witch Project, the television series Twin Peaks, horror-inspired dark web videos and mainstream pop culture celebrities. Common typographic elements in artist and track names include triangles, crosses and Unicode symbols, which are seen by some as a method of keeping the scene underground and harder to search for on the Internet as well as references to the television series Twin Peaks and Charmed.
Influences and style
Despite the name of the genre, witch house does not bear many similarities to house music, instead applying techniques rooted in chopped and screwed hip-hop—drastically slowed tempos with skipping, stop-timed beats—from artists such as DJ Screw, coupled with elements from other genres such as ethereal wave, noise, drone, cloud rap and shoegaze. Witch house is also influenced by 1980s ethereal wave bands such as Cocteau Twins, 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, distorted, and pitched down vocals are the primary attributes that characterize the genre's sound. The genre rose to prominence in the early 2010s with renewed interest in individually produced electronic music and Internet subcultures, rising with the increasing tide of genres such as seapunk and vaporwave.
Witch house has been quoted as being provocative and transgressive in nature. The genre is characterized as dark, transgressive, and that which blends the line between abrasive and harmonic. Many artists in the genre have released slowed-down and backmasked remixes of pop and hip-hop songs, or long mixes of different songs that have been slowed down significantly.
Origins and etymology
The term witch house was coined in 2009 by Travis Egedy, who performs under the name Pictureplane. The name was originally conceived as a joke, as Egedy explains: "Myself and my friend Shams... were joking about the sort of house music we make, [calling it] witch house because it’s, like, occult-based house music. ...I did this best-of-the-year thing with Pitchfork about witch house.... I was saying that we were witch house bands, and 2010 was going to be the year of witch house.... It took off from there. ...But, at the time, when I said witch house, it didn’t even really exist..." Shortly after being mentioned to Pitchfork, blogs and other mainstream music press began to use the term. Flavorwire said that despite Egedy's insistence, "the genre does exist now, for better or worse".
Some music journalists, along with some members of musical acts identified as being in the genre's current movement, consider witch house 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). The genre was also briefly connected to the term rape gaze, the serious use of which was publicly denounced by its coiners, who never expected it to be used as an actual genre, but viewed it as simply a joke intended to mock the music press' propensity towards the creation of micro-genres.
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