“As if!” – Ancient proverb, Sweet Valley High
Examining music culture can be tricky when you’re involved on a professional and a personal level. For me, experiencing the evolution of a music scene I love makes me quick to defend its cultural relevance. And that’s especially true in a time when micro-genres proliferate exponentially, when one moment something’s a hashtag darling and the next it’s the target of endless snide references.
Witch house is a prime example of this phenomenon. I haven’t heard it mentioned in any sort of serious way until i-D approached me for an interview about Internet subculture. Discussing the role it played, not only in the context of a culture emerging predominately online, but also as part of a larger and pre-existing “dark” scene, led me to think about one of the genre’s great flag-bearers, willing or not: SALEM, and their monolithic LP King Night.
At the time of King Night‘s release, it was hard to imagine that this LP would be the definitive statement from the trio, and that the barely-formed witch house scene was already collapsing inward on itself with too many triangles and too little imagination. While the witch’s influence can still be felt in certain quadrants of Our Underground Scene™, it never became strong enough to stand on its own outside the confines of the computer screen.
But when King Night first came out, it was as though anyone in New York with a passing interest in sonic witchery was buzzing off the hook. I remember buying a copy of the album with some friends and rushing back to listen to it, our XXXL black hoodies flapping behind us like druid cloaks. Friends called friends. SALEM’s world of dirt, decay, thuggery, and foggery was like sweet syrup. It was like Beatlemania for freaks.
Among the assembled listening party were a few deathrockers, some Burning Man types, and a girl who looked like she blogged about sweaters for a living. By the time the booming nihilist bass of “Sick” began rattling the windows, most of us were swaying together like ghosts. There was a feeling in the air of a zeitgeist being captured, of underground being dissolved and reborn in mutant form: a blackened amalgamation of shoegaze, murky Southern hip-hop, bleakness and noise shaped into melody. It felt new, and as a kid who wallowed in the gothier sides of post-punk without being around in its heyday, it felt amazing to be at the center of something emerging that truly spoke to me.
That was five years ago. These days, it’s rare that the frequencies of King Night pass through my speakers. The last time I was inspired to revisit it was when Fred Durst heard SALEM, which admittedly dampened the excitement a bit (while increasing it in other, more mean-spirited ways). I can’t remember the last time I sat down and thoughtfully listened to the record all the way through.
The time has come once again. I’m going to *in Butthead from Beavis & Butthead voice* “set the mood” in my room, slip on some good headphones and the proper SALEM-listening outfit (Damir Doma Sissy’s Cloak from an opera house garage sale, 17th century calfskin hierophant hat under three layers of black chintz, licensed Gandalf replica pipe, ceramic wading boots with heel-activated strobelights, a plastic bag to keep Doritos farts in because I have a girl over, some other stupid bullshit I can’t think of) and give it my undivided attention. From this sentence until the next, imagine that about an hour and a half has gone by.
There’s something to be said for time-lapse perspective. Upon hearing King Night for the first time, what excited me most was the dichotomy of hearing rap over searing darkwave synths and wailing choirs. As someone who grew up in the goth scene and was drawn to Tupac as much as Virgin Prunes, this combination felt truly vital to me. It was like watching a chapter from my dream diary being born, and what was even more incredible was how close to the mainstream it all was—this wonderful, dreadful stew of sounds being incorporated into pop culture, something I’d never have pictured as a teenager.
SALEM’s hip-hop leaning moments still retain a lot of power simply for how sparse and lo-fi the production is. It’s the same element that drew me to underground hip-hop, particularly Southern DIY cassette culture. Cuts like the slouching, minimalistic “Trapdoor” as well as older material like “Sipitcut” are sloppily enjoyable listens partly because of how blown-out and raggedly punk they feel. It’s as if nihilism festers not only in SALEM’s lyrics, but even in their attitude toward the medium of music itself. While many critics of Jack Donoghue’s pitch-downed rapping argue that it amounts to a form of cultural appropriation or even audio blackface, my stance follows three lines:
1. The pitch-shifting has nothing to do with trying to ‘sound black’, but rather is an extension of his love of DJ Screw.
2. It sounds like shit when he doesn’t pitch it down.
3. It sounds cool when he does.
This time around, what stood out to me the most—aside from how easily the massive drops on “Hound” could be converted into a hellish EDM banger—were the tracks featuring Heather Marlatt’s vocals. There’s a striking elegance and even subtlety to these particular songs that sets them apart, in particular the mildly-named “Traxx.” Skittering hi-hats float awash in a void before being consumed by the looming bass. What sounds like workout weights crash down distantly in a rhythmic beat, like a steel door closing behind you. A high synth melody swirls and reaches out to the ear in a liquid rush. It’s strange; I feel as though “Traxx” is one of the most overlooked songs on the album, but hearing it again makes me feel like it’s potentially one of the best darkwave songs ever recorded. In fact, I’ve been whistling that damn chorus melody for the last fifteen minutes, and I suspect it won’t be the last time I do. Fuck my life and the lives of my neighbors (extremely loud whistling fan here).
Pre-Analysis: Revisiting King Night made me think about how we hype artists and styles nowadays, particularly in the field of music-related writing—only to put them to the side in favor of another drop in the constant stream of new information that we’re inundated with on a daily basis. Contemplating the detritus of hype gone by reveals its lasting influence on newer musicians and its current manifestations, even (or especially) when the rubble seems less relevant than ever. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what drew you to a once-buzzy band or musician in the first place and the transient nature of many modern listening habits. If nothing else, re-evaluating old beloved albums can occasionally provide some interesting samples. That’s why all my Death In June MP3s have DMX barking on them.
Post-pre-analysis: After all this time, does King Night still reign? As an influential album, certainly. I’ve received more SALEM-clone promos than I care to count—which isn’t many, but it would still take a while to sort through the emails and I just don’t care to. As repeat home listening, I’d say it’s best kept portioned out in select doses. It’s still got a lot of great tracks (and a couple of not-so-great ones; I think the liner notes spell “Boar” incorrectly) and to my ears, long inundated by just about any sound you’d care to describe as “dark,” it remains both the high point of a short-lived genre and a beautiful, hateful slice of experimental audio.
Final penalysis: What the hell was up with the video being about a truck.
Rather than operate as a music news source, Electronic Beats operates as a music information source. We want to share with you; we want you to know what we’re hearing, what’s reverberating our cochleas and sending broader vibrations throughout our bodies, and by extension our audio-addled souls. Down with that? Welcome to Editors’ Choice.
Lisa Blanning (Online Editor)
Ben Aqua – “Ass Kicked Later”
The Austin-based producer—you might have heard his track with Zebra Katz “Red River”—comes correct with a fresh-sounding club roller using a Missy Elliot vocal sample as a hook.
Louise Brailey (Deputy Online Editor)
M.I.A. – “Bring the Noize”
Look, I’m as confounded by this as you are. After the iconoclastic mega-pop of “XXXO” and “Bad Girls” nobody really felt like a summer holiday back to 2006. The bone-clattering staccato production and dodgy sloganeering is all well and good, and Switch’s pawprints are all over this thing, but I have a feeling it’s a red herring. Intriguing.
Moritz Gayard (Online Duty Editor)
Vessel – “Court Of Lions” (Prurient Remix)
Extraordinary rework of Vessel’s “Court Of Lions” by Dominick Fernow, better known as Vatican Shadow and Prurient. Roll it, press play, light it up. Relax.
Ashrae Fax – “Pointbreak”
Up for some goth/ethereal/synth pop stuff? Then try Ashrae Fax’s 2003 album Static Crash. You can pre-order the re-release, courtesy of Mexican Summer, here.
Daniel Jones (Contributing Editor)
Kanye West – New Slaves (Brenmar Club Edit)
Brenmar posted this slick, sick remix of Kanye’s politicized anti-consumerist rant (this is the guy whose clothing line sells $300 t-shirts, remember) over the weekend and turned a growling beast into a purring kitten of a track. “For my DJs”, his Facebook page proclaimed, and this DJ couldn’t be happier.
V▲LH▲LL – LIKΣ ▲ NIGHT IN THΣ F0RΣS7 [✞JOhN D3nVΞR✞ C0V3R]
In my wildest dreams of pimping out the idea of witch house around 2009, I never imagined John Denver covers. Is this even witch anymore? What is anything, who knows. Just so long as we can finally move past the ‘post-genre’ term, which is the least sexiest description for music ever. That said, I kind of dig this. My mom does too.
Read previous editions of Editor’s Choice here.
The contrast of disaffection and emotion on their latest EP sets Crim3s apart—it’s honest, touching you in strange ways, giving cold comfort like a record pressed in the Black Lodge, says Daniel Jones.
If you’re a music genreist, blogger, or just on a ‘dark‘ tip in general, you probably know about the much-maligned witch house. You know, the stuff with the triangles and crosses and a dozen articles expounding on the unGooglebility of it all? Yeah, that didn’t really end up so well. As with many underground genres, the inclusion of a definitive sound as well as an overused and inauthentic attachment to occult aesthetics spelled (heh) the end of the mini-movement almost as soon as it began. Those still involved, be it peripherally, erroneously or otherwise, generally shunned the name, considering it a tag for trendy laziness—not without reason. Yet the sound and vibe of it continue to exist and evolve in a variety of different sources even as music writers struggle to pin the idea down (I’m slapping my own hands even as I type). Crystal Castles, for example, draped the shroud over their recent LP III. It was probably the best album they’ve ever made, possibly because it felt so inspired by London-based co-conspirators and friends Crim3s, whose latest EP Stay Ugly is also a harshly searing combination of blown-out electronics and harrowing vocals. The difference being that Stay Ugly also feels more honest.
“Ugly” is an apt description for the five tracks here, which seem to revel in alienation even as the beautiful ache of need and hope seeps through. Sadie Pinn’s voice often hides below the throbbing bass, emerging in sub-decipherable gasps and shrieks. While the vibe hasn’t changed much since 2012’s Crim3s EP, the production feels fuller, and Pinn never more sure of herself. It’s hard not to be swept away when she wails, “I miss you! I need you here!” on “DOSE”, sounding only moments away from a breakdown. It’s this contrast of disaffection and emotion that truly sets Crim3s apart—it’s honest, touching you in strange ways, giving cold comfort like a record pressed in the Black Lodge. There is hope here, though it struggles thin and weak beneath the thickly-spread layer of garmonbozia. “Stay Ugly” plays with the idea of being caught between emotional states—“Keep your soul/Burn all hate/Take, plead and cry with the saints”—while the crystallized rave bounce of closer “stress” finds Pinn’s throat sounding ready to split in ecstatic agony.
There’s no escape from labels; it’s simply human nature to ascribe roles and names to ideas. Whether it’s accurate or not often depends on perception, and even more often makes little difference. To my ears, the witchy influences here are obvious, but the people making it (and this is the important part) are pure punk in the truest sense, possessed of a strong DIY spirit and a no-fucks-given attitude. Ugliness is antithesis to mainstream society—whatever ideals of kindness and acceptance society may espouse on the surface, in practice it shuns the aesthetically “unpleasant” in favor of whatever happens to be beautiful to the eyes and ears of the masses. Whatever you chose to label them, Stay Ugly proves that Crim3s go beyond trends and names. This is a soul laid bare, stripped raw and given voice. One has only to listen.
Stay Ugly is out now via Crim3s’ Bandcamp. Stream the full EP below.
So, I’m at Berghain, dancing away to Cut Hands. William Bennett’s shirt is open and he’s bobbing his head to the rhythm when this young guy standing behind taps me on the shoulder. “Who is this guy?” the stranger asks. I blurt out something about him being in a fairly well-known noise project. Which of course is a gigantic understatement.
Whitehouse gave birth to a whole genre of noise—power electronics—and redefined the landscape of extreme music forever. With the explicit intent of creating “the most extreme music ever recorded”, they tackled fascism, violence, child abuse and misogyny in a way that left their real motives perfectly open. While they pick up the torch from earlier projects like Throbbing Gristle, the inspiration came from what—in Bennett’s opinion—P-Orridge and co. didn’t achieve: creating a non-music so abject that it was sure to alienate most potential listeners. Besides the constantly repeated story of how punk led to new wave led to indie, there’s the (much more true and important) story of how the nihilism and confrontation of punk lived on in the industrial scene only to reborn in to genres like grindcore and black metal. Whitehouse didn’t piss off your mother, because your mother had never heard of them. Whitehouse pissed off intellectual scenesters who had no way of coping with the onslaught of obscenities hurled towards them. By not only using offensive imagery, but reveling in it, Whitehouse took aesthetics of power, abuse and violence to a level which makes provocateurs of the coming generations look about as confrontational as lolcats. Sure, whole scenes like Rock Against Communism were to follow but musically that was mostly semi-literate street punk with Nazi lyrics. Besides, there was no ambiguity, no mystery and therefore no real immersion in those schools of music. Only shitty politics and shitty music.
In the ’90s Bennett’s interest in Haitian and African music seeped into Whitehouse and infected it with new rhythm structures. Two of the songs from the first Cut Hands LP were even released under the Whitehouse banner before this new persona emerged. But even if the progression from Whitehouse to Cut Hands was a gradual motion, it still represents two separate eras of music: the subcultural and the post-subcultural. For while Whitehouse might have broken more new ground in a musical archivists eyes, the audience dancing to the feverish beat inferno that Bennett projects at Berghain represents a generation for whom imagery is skin deep, subculture is cosplaying and identification is a completely fluid feeling. My husband, who grew up in ’80s deathrock and industrial culture, in act-up and queer nation, told me a while ago that subculture was dead: “These kids don’t invest in it”. I think he’s partly wrong and partly right. Subculture is most certainly alive but subcultural allegiance, being true and following the rules is becoming a thing of the past. Hashtag genres like witch house and seapunk appear and disappear before the general Mojo-reading public even learns what they are. And while subcultural purism has an attractive uniformal vibe, the dissolution of subculturalism opens the doors to far more interesting crossbreeds.
Simply put: like any time in history, music is at its peak right now. The music industry is a drip-fed dying giant, and your only two choices as a young musician is being on a TV talent show or being alternative—the only alternative. You’re either Burzum or Katy Perry; the in-betweens are disappearing faster than you can say Arcade Fire. In that context, rather than being the property of a few hardline subculturalists, Cut Hands belong to anyone interested in rhythmic, trance inducing music. You can’t dress like a fan of Cut Hands, and by saying you are into the music of Cut Hands you are not implying that you might be into any other band of the same ilk. The only unity or sense of belonging you will find in the music of Cut Hands is when you find yourself dancing to their music at Berghain and someone taps you on the shoulder and asks, “Who is this guy?” ~
Cut Hands’ Black Mamaba is out now on Very Friendly.
Pi?a z hoven is a name that is bound to raise several eyebrows, a combination of two of the most vulgar words in the Czech language. This may be related to the secrecy of the genre that they have been associated with (remember witch house?). Even though, as evidenced by their latest well-received record Doom na kraji lesa, a cute wordplay (phonetically “doom” means “house” in Czech), they have transgressed the stylistic boundaries of the genre and spread their sonic wings into synth and doom pop territories.
1. Your most memorable show?
A high school ball in Hodonín. There were two rooms there – the main one had a party band called Jama who played for 200 people. And in the other, we played for one guy on crutches. We like gigs like that, with a certain inherent comicality in them.
2. What goes in your coffee?
Moustache and lipstick.
3. An album that changed the way you thought?
Mama Bubo – Planeta Háj, 2Unlimited – The Very Best Of, Death in June – All Pigs Must Die.
4. Should music be free?
It doesn’t really matter, since there are always ways how to get music for free. What’s more important is to support live gigs.
5. Indispensable outfit?
Moustache and lipstick.
6. A film or book that greatly influenced your music?
Liquid Sky, Cool as Ice, Transformers 3, The Fly.
7. Your current favorite song?
Anything by I Love 69 Popgeju – our favourite Czech band.
8. Are you interested in politics?
Not as a band. Personally it varies. Some find elements of humour in it, others don’t, so it’s pretty difficult to follow politics as such.
9. Raging or chilling out?
Girls raging, boys chilling out.
10. One thing you can’t live without?
Moustache and lipstick.