Witch house is a hybrid genre that was most prominent between 2010 and 2013. It integrates influences from goth, shoegaze, industrial, chopped and screwed hip hop, trap, and aggressive rave styles to comprise its sound. Often, tracks contain chilling synth lines overwhelming the mix; mangled, slowed, or incomprehensible vocals; and cold, electronic percussion. Witch house artists are also fascinated with occult and horror imagery. In other words, it’s the perfect Halloween music. Check out our list of witch house tracks for more.
Though many witch house artists have since ceased production, Mater Suspiria Vision has kept the tradition alive. Formed in 2009, MSV is not a band in the traditional sense. It is a worldwide artistic collective that revolves around filmmaker Cosmotropia de Xam. MSV also manages label and storefront Phantasma Disques which provides a platform for an impressive number of artists dwelling inside the witch house.
As with much of witch house, MSV’s music is unsettling. Part of this tension arises from a dizzying variety of music videos supporting the tracks, but also that the collective is intentionally shrouded in secrecy. We got in touch with this prolific artist in an effort to clarify the dark corners surrounding the sound and the witch house movement as a whole.
Check out the “Theme for Amacabra” video or a hundred others on MSV’s Vimeo channel before reading the interview…if you dare.
Tristan: Tell us about some of the influences that feed into your aesthetic.
Mater Suspiria Vision: There’s a lot of influence from various kinds of experimental music like industrial, early electronic music, Kosmische Musik, and the avant-garde. Around the time of Inverted Triangle III in 2012, we made a list of albums which influence the sound of Mater Suspiria Vision. This list was published in our Vogue Witch magazine.
Are there any particular audio techniques you employ that distinguishes your sound?
When we recorded at the “House of 7 Witches” in 2012 for Paracusia/Crack Witch II, we built a complex echo/delay chamber connected with different analog and digital synths. Nearly nothing is sampled from classic horror movies. Most sample material comes from obscure Italian sources and from real life.
Was there a central place on the internet where the witch house community would meet to discuss and share music and visuals? Does anything like that exist now?
When witch house began in late 2009, the important sources were Myspace and last.fm groups, which were a precursor to the social networks we have today. In 2010, the focus was more on discovering atmosphere and sounds. There was less “producer talk.” A lot has changed since 2011 which also took a lot of the original charm out of witch house. The original tracks in 2010 were not as structured or produced, and had a certain zeitgeist charm.
Another witch house convention was the use of Unicode symbols like triangles and crosses in track and artist names. Were these symbols a way to intentionally obscure artists and songs by making them harder to Google, or is that part of an inside reference from somewhere else? Maybe creating this insular, secret society was part of the aesthetic.
The use of Unicode symbols became trendy in 2011 and then got overused. The original use of an obscure language became much more occult than it was after. These days Unicode language appears more like a tattoo.
To what do you attribute the popularity of witch house? Was it a musical expression of the global recession, or progressing the sound of bands like Crystal Castles, who could be seen as one precursor? What makes a piece of music witch house, and what excludes it from the genre? Is the genre fluid?
The original attribute of the witch house sound had to do with an “end of the world” feeling between 2009 and 2012: paranoia, angst, monitoring in the surveillance state, and later, war. Important musical precursors are “mash-up/bastard pop” back in 2001 – the first form of morphing context and questionable copyright use, as well as internet remixing. Also more creative genres like new weird America and hypnagogic pop (which later became vaporwave), as well as nu rave with bands like Justice and Crystal Castles, and a new kind of neon-influenced fashion style which you can still find in synthwave, but less radical than 2007 nu rave.
The early listeners of witch house were not goths. They were hipsters interested in odd sounds. The flirtation with hipsters had its high peak in early 2011, when witch house had a lot of press hype. Shortly after, it was called “dead” and considered a short-lived genre from the view of the press, but every genre is short-lived from this point of view. Punk, psychedelic, krautrock, and hip hop all had their extremely important era of about one to two years. Though witch house became a global phenomenon, the precursors were dependent on specific countries. For example, DJ Screw is a more known name in America than in Europe. In Europe I also saw Fever Ray and The Knife as a precursor.
What do you think happened with witch house after it became popular? Did you see a lot of musicians jumping on the trend to make the music once the term was widely used? Was the name itself, said as a joke and appropriated by the media, the beginning of the end?
A lot went wrong after witch house became popular in late 2010 and everyone thought it was as easy to make as putting trap beats to a sawtooth synth. At this time, witch house was still primitive and the main bands where not super-talented musicians, but creative heads with their own vision. They were originals, pioneers. When a slew of new bands and Facebook groups jumped on the bandwagon, it caved in on itself. Goth images and inverted crosses were being used to illustrate witch house, and the main focus was laid on trap beats. It lost its identity. Trap also won a lot of popularity due to its incorporation into witch house, and was seen as less experimental and dark – witch house with a hip hop attitude (hip hop was quite dead when witch house started). The name witch house was always a problem, maybe more to an English speaker than to a foreign speaker. Salem called their sound “drag” in interviews and avoided the witch house moniker. Other musicians avoided it too, but they knew after the hype they’d still be labeled witch house – so it would be regressive for them from a music industry point of view. I liked the term from the beginning – even the sleeve of Second Coming in 2010 had “file under: witch house • haunted disco trance • ghost drone” on it.
What were some of your favorite witch house releases during the prominent years? Who is putting out great stuff now?
Mater Suspiria Vision:
- Crack Witch (showcases the most interesting era when witch house was growing)
- Zombie Rave mixtapes
- The Witch House Tribute To Twin Peaks
- GL▲SS †33†H / ℑ⊇≥◊≤⊆ℜ (pronounced “Doppelganger”) – Split
- How I Quit Crack – Untitled (she is an often overlooked pioneer of the genre)
- Ritualz (AKA †‡† and Rrritualzzz) – Untitled (he started as a last.fm witch house group admin in 2010 and brought new influences in there with the more aggressive rave style)
- Salem – King Night
- White Ring
- Crim3s (a big influence on the Russian witch house scene. Nice people, we played three London shows with them while the first two still under the pre-Crim3s name Story of Isaac. His first track can also be found on the first witch house compilation Tarot we compiled in October 2010)
- Blvck Ceiling – †eenwvff
- Bathaus – Bastien
- ɪɲ ʕʰɘɼɾʏ ɟȺɱɨʟʮ – Album (later renamed to Радость моя)
- Morgve – テロ42Ø
- ▼▼◯ ▛ ◣▷ T◯▼▛ – Album
While 2010-2012 stood more for the “end of the world,” from 2013 onward these feelings were mirrored in Russian witch house following political events going on. Phantasma Disques signed one of the first – or even the first – Russian witch house artists (~▲†▲~) in 2011, followed by more Russian acts like Crossparty in late 2012. The Russian sound was more focussed on rave elements which can be heard on the Zombie Rave mixtapes, though theirs was faster and more aggressive.
MSV released on Disaro Records, a prominent witch house label. Speak to your working relationship with Robert Disaro and his philosophy toward the genre. If you know the reasons why the label folded, I’d appreciate that insight.
Disaro was led by Robert Disaro and visual artist Owleyes. Owleyes comes from an art and psychedelic background, and Robert is steeped in an experimental electronics background, which made Disaro very special. When I discovered Disaro in late 2009, they represented only a handful of artists which now can be labeled as witch house – Salem, White Ring, oOoOO, Horse MacGyver (recording as ///▲▲▲\\\ at the time) and Gr†llGr†ll. They all represented a druggy, surreal sound which were completed by weird, obscure images like stills from Blair Witch Project or burning churches. In mid to end of 2010, there were too many new “signed” bands for the Disaro label, and Robert couldn’t keep up with the hype anymore.
Around the same time, I started Phantasma Disques, which was a follow up to the CDX label more focused on releasing Mater Suspiria Vision. The early PD releases could also have been Disaro releases – it was much influenced by this.
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Tristan Kneschke enjoys traveling to places his mother warns him about. Visit www.tristanwrites.com.