The Witch House Debate: Is †he Music Genre Wor†h ∆ Lis†en?

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?

Pro:

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.

Anti:

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.

The Verdict:

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.

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    9 Comments

  1. Katerine Andrews says

    Yes, I have to agree most of the tunes are pretty dark — that’s why I rarely listen to Salem or oOoOO, just a stuff or another.
    But have you ever listened to †‡† (Ritualz)? I think he has some good songs (or noise, as you like to call them). Trie GuMMy†Be▲R, too.

    And anyway, if you like them or not, I think those bands are somehow refreshing. Music today are pretty much all the same, with lyrics that have essentially the same meaning: sex, drugs, alcohool and such — so it’s nice to hear something that completely escapes the standard for a change. That’s why I *totally* disagree with your “If you want to take acid [...], then Witch House is perfect background noise”. Wrong. Myself have never taken any drugs in my life, nor am I a depressed goth and, even so, I like to listen to the tunes.

    You’re thinking too small.

  2. Aaron Simmons says

    Honestly, I think the only good witch house artist is Holy Other. He infuses UK garage into his dark soundscapes. Plus his sound is really clean, a lot more appealing to the ear. I have listened to a lot of witch house and it’s too dirty and distorted to where the bass frequencies hurt my ears (and speakers). I will say I like a couple of Ga$$ T33th’s tracks. Definitely not something I’d listen to on a daily basis, but I listen to Holy Other on a weekly basis. I will say Salem has a good vibe for the witch house genre as well, but I think Holy Other approaches it best to where it’s good enough for standard human ears to listen to. Another decent artist is Ω╪Ω aka SYCORAX. They have a bit more of a dubstep feel to their sound, but the apparent witch house feel is still heavily infused. Still a bit newer to this genre, but it’s definitely interesting and something new.

  3. Stu McButtz says

    I respectfully disagree. True, the novelty of the genre will fade and the mainstream interest will wane, however I don’t feel it will be the “death” of this sound. To me, this musical direction has the potential to establish itself as a legitimate form of underground electronic music, esoteric and made for niche audiences. The reason I say this is witch house (or whatever you want to call it) shares many aesthetics with music like punk, goth, black metal and the like. It is noisy, hard to listen to, often devoid of melody, utilizes occultish symbologies that be discomforting to some. I have to argue that the apathy toward lyrics and song prose is not laziness. Of my entire music catalogue I would say that roughly 15% of it is concerned with conveying a lyrical message. My point is that not all music is written to tell you a verbal story. Not all audiences care about said lyrics or stories. Mainstream audiences primarily listen to lyrics (I believe) because the majority have a basic understanding at best of the art, thus subconsciously focusing only on what they are familiar with, clearly pronounced human language. Similarly, someone who is not familiar with the process of painting when viewing a piece will focus only on the subject and representation where an experienced painter will easily be able to recognize the individual brush strokes and technique. My last point on lyrics is that Fryderyk Chopin revolutionized music and rarely composed with the human voice, he and similar composers rather expressed themselves through musical phrasing and dynamics. When evoking the feeling of the sailing on an ocean, modern pop artists have merely speak the words “on a boat in the ocean”, whereas a classical composer of the romantic era would have to think critically about what musical phrases sound like the ocean, perhaps a rocking, breathing meter to simulate the gentle rise and fall of waves. The same can be thought of an extreme metal band croaking lyrics in german so far from understandable it barely sounds human, yet whose riffs are raging, passionate and full of energy. Lyrics aren’t everything.
    But I digress and return my attention to punk, goth and black metal. How many times have you heard these genres referred to as being “dead”? What is “death” in the music industry? The opinions are jaded by the nature of the industry itself. Punk was considered dead when left the mainstream in the early 80s, however the die-hard fans will tell that it died the moment it exploded. As a frequenter of punk I can assure you the latter is the truth, and to expand, that it revitalized and continued after its supposed death. There are still people forming punk bands and old-schoolers still tour and play to fairly large crowds. The same goes for black metal, in fact the essence of it thrives on its obscurity, underground nature and often unlistenability. The mid 90s, the explosion of black metal, produced the most garbage in the genre I have heard to this day. The same is happening now in hipster communities, utilizing novelties from this genre and post-rock to create a contrived, formulaic sound. Lovers of this music niether want nor appreciate thier music becoming popular. I believe the same will go for the witch house community. Those who love will continue to listen to and produce it, the mainstream may forget but the fans won’t give a shit.
    I hope this didn’t read like I was angry when I wrote it, I certaintly didn’t mean to troll or disrespect anyone. Just some opinions of mine. ;)

  4. sarah says

    As long as artists like Ritualz, The Synthetic Dream Foundation, and White Ring still keep cranking out great music, I don’t really see this genre fading into obscurity at all.

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