If you haven’t heard of Witch House by now, then you probably won’t. Despite being covered by Pitchfork, the New York Times, and a handful of indie blogs, the esoteric genre will be a music meme by next year. Witch House, also called drag, haunted house, grave wave, and rape gaze, sounds like tranquilizer-loaded Gucci Mane if he was killed, raised from the dead, and then chopped and screwed by post-heroin-addicted hipsters (seriously). Stemming from the Midwest, bands like Salem, oOoOO, White Ring and Balam Acab combine drum machines, synths, and Lil B to make songs that should have been on the soundtrack for, well, the Blair Witch Project. The question is: should the gain more popularity or be buried in the graveyards where it was recorded?
The hazy mysticism that shrouds the genre most certainly adds to its appeal. To some extent the music is only as good as its story. Knowing that Salem in particular is composed of three bored (ex-) junkies with an affinity for paganism and a fixation on nature allows me to appreciate their rebellion against the Internet and having a public identity. The ethereal whispers and dirty raps riddled throughout their debut LP King Night spark a certain haunting curiosity, which I find necessary in order to shock our jaded generation. With the increasing accessibility of music via the Internet, it has become harder and harder for me to recognize and be disturbed by a new sound. Yet the creepy samples and offbeat chops and screws of witch house tend to make me cringe with content.
While the genre itself has been questioned by our generation, it serves as a mirror to our collective apathy. It’s the kind of music that will make you want to turn off the lights, lie in bed, and think about nothing. Perhaps in 20 years the stigma will be long forgotten. However, when it’s remembered, how will it be remembered? As hymns of the Midwest? As Satanist anthems? I doubt that anyone will bat a lash at the spooky combination of bass and synthesizers that seemed so progressive late in the first decade of the 2000s.
The musicians in bands like Salem and oOoOO do create a style of music that works well in certain situations. If you want to take acid and play with an Ouija board, or get fucked up on horse tranquilizers and dance, then Witch House is perfect background noise. At the end of the day, though, the genre is just noise. Everything about these bands feels like a gimmick, from the way they spell things with †’s and ∆’s, to the way the guy who coined the term Witch House wrote a blog post about how to make a good Witch House song.
Salem got blog attention after remixing some Gucci Mane songs. In “Bird Flu,” the lyrics have been slowed down so they sound drowned in a cough syrup-induced haze. It’s funny, not good. The Lil B remixes are just as ridiculous. The only time I’ve been impressed by a Witch House band is the terrifying video for Salem’s title-track off last year’s King Night. I don’t want to listen to music that’s called rape gaze, even if it’s a joke.
Chill Wave, a genre that some also call transitory, sounded like the musicians actually cared about what they were creating. Witch House sounds sloppy, and the live performances are even sloppier. The singer of Salem was even quoted saying “it doesn’t really matter to me whether people know what the lyrics are or not.” The apathy tied to the style comes across as laziness.
I believe that in twenty years, the people who went out and bought Witch House records will find the LP’s stashed in their closets covered in dust. The response will be “what was I thinking?” rather than “Oh my god – I forgot about Witch House!” Any fanbase the genre did manage to garner will disappear completely by the time it warms up outside, even though Salem just announced a spring tour.
Witch House may be a music fad, but its worth at least trying out due to its uniqueness. It will probably be forgotten soon, but the creators are obsessed with death to the point where a Witch House tombstone could be considered a blessing to them. For some Witch House fun (a word most would never associate with these bands), check out the Chill Wave/Witch House name generator.