In some unintentionally brilliant timing, the few bands in this week’s Future Sounds have all been described as part of a movement called ‘Witch House’. As the name suggests these bands share a common ghostly and sometimes unsettling aesthetic. It is often associated with the term “drag”, a reference to screwed and chopped hip-hop of the 90s which took traditional hip-hop and slowed it to a heavy, syrupy and hypnotic version of the original. There are variations of style between bands, but most take their influences from hip-hop, although also inspired by commercial pop and R&B. This mixture of experimental and commercial sound is best summed up by a compilation released on Tri Angle Records, which partly specialises in witch house artists, and partly in Lindsay Lohan covers.
Apart from the spooky vibes, the name is also a reference to the fact that the genre is made up mostly of women, but that is not to say it is a requirement. What does seem to be a requirement is a band name that looks like it was formed by mashing special keyboard characters. Names include ///▲▲▲\\\, †‡† and GR†LLGR†LL.
One exception is Salem who ingeniously take their name from the Salem witch trials. Their recently released debut album King Night, is a hugely unsettling mix of dark string-synths, brooding bass and vocals that conjure up images of black-robed demonic choirs singing in some grimly-lit crypt. Some tracks also feature pitched down and dragged-out rap vocals that have the effect of being both terrifying and hypnotic. As awful a cliché comparing music to drugs is, it is actually somewhat appropriate to describe their heavily drugged-out aesthetic – their make no secrets about the inspiration with their debut 7” entitled Yes, I Smoke Crack. King Night could be the first album to genuinely sound like an appropriate soundtrack to a witch trial documentary.
Balam Acab, the project of 19-year-old college student Alec Koone, found his way onto Tri Angle records within a day of his MySpace page going live, through a chance listen by label-founder Robin Carolan. His sound is not quite as physically affecting as the Satanic vibes of Salem, with similarities to Dubstep, Koone is more reminiscent of Burial and Flying Lotus. So far Koone has released an EP See Birds that is unusually melodic for the genre, with samples of harps, rushing water with high-pitched female vocals. Underneath these gentler noises is some thick trembling bass and sharp beats that are recognisably dubstep.
Slightly tenuously linked to witch house, but sharing many of its traits is How to Dress Well, which thankfully is not a hipster fashion Gok Wan spin-off show. HTDW is the result of an unhealthy fascination with 90s R&B that attempts to resurrect the genre. Like any supernaturally summoned creation, the result is a disfigured version of the original. Typical R&B slow jams are re-contextualised in a haunting faded way that is infinitely more interesting that whatever the originals sounded like.