//TENSE//, White Ring, Modern Witch, Party Trash, Mater Suspiria Vision - What is Witch House?

Tiffany Daniels 12/01/2011

According to those in the know, the sound of the next decade is already in hand. Something came a- knocking in 2010 that few could predict, and even less characterise. Witch House is the new kid on the block. A slew of internet critics are hammering its name into every nook and cranny available, and more artists still are using it as a tool to strengthen their credibility.

...But what does this elusive tag entail? No one's sure. Drowned in Sound's Paul Stephen Gettings calls
it, “Homebrewed, unpolished [...] minimal wave, the woozy, veering textures of dream pop backed by scuzzy hip-hop beats”. Pitchfork's Joe Colly opts for an even vaguer description; according to him it's “a group of young, geographically scattered artists concurrently exploring ghostly, slow-moving electro-pop, each with their own unique spin”.

That unique spin can differ to the extreme. While some waver towards tradition, others go off the chart into the realms of sonic noise. The only common affirmation in sound is the use of samples, and even that isn't guaranteed. A cynic might point out the persistent use of irrelevant punctuation and the fact that most involved choose to wear the latest fashion, but that doesn't differentiate the genre from any other up-and-coming scene.

Such ambiguity is a cunning ploy. A large part of the hype Witch House enjoys is down to the mystery its name exudes. Because of its internet origins the scene could include anyone, anywhere: but its refusal to assert itself makes it very exclusive. Any band can claim they're part of the movement, but in doing so they put themselves in front of an unspoken board, who ultimately don't know what or who they're fighting for. How can something that's yet to be defined become cohesive?

ISVOLT attempts to tackle the problem. London based label Robot Elephant and Los Angeles' Disaro have collaborated to release nine tracks that help to underpin the genre's staples.

The compilation opens with a band that will always command a cut and paste. †‡† use a sample straight out of an American Bible program, layered on top of a repetitive loop. While “Misery Walk” lacks in depth, it demonstrates a typical disregard for convention. Party Trash, Fostercare and Mater Suspiria Vision follow suit, putting rambling, incoherent noise to record. Whether their attempts constitute actual music is questionable. When they're good, it's interesting. When they're bad, it's static interlude.

Thankfully there are far more affective tracks elsewhere. //TENSE// posses a haunting vocal reminiscent of Joy Division's early material, and the child-like chant of White Ring's “IxC999” is disturbing and unusually catchy. Likewise Modern Witch's “Your Life a Movie” maximises on a droning narrative and pummels a hypnotic synth. Unfortunately it's not that modern. Le Tigre did something similar in 2004 with their track “Dude, Yr So Crazy” - a song that ironically mocks the avant garde. Regardless of their disputed integrity, Modern Witch's arrangement makes for a welcome change in an otherwise perplexing cycle.

All in all, ISVOLT defines Witch House as such: a sprawling group of musicians who challenge conventional listening. In some cases, this produces something quite unattractive. Elsewhere, there are examples of greatness matched by the kind of thing you might find at a School Science Fair. Those that defy calls of pretentious behaviour can easily be compared to projects and subgenres that existed well before the creation of Witch House.

While ISVOLT successfully demonstrates what Robot Elephant and Disaro consider to be this new thing, neither label is the almighty. They didn't come up with the idea, so why do they get to name the theory? If this genre really is a coincidence conjured up by an international and nameless community, then who does get to name the theory? Considering it takes blatant influence from that which came before it, is it even a theory in its own right?

It's a horrible mess that pulls at our DIY strings and attracts the side of our brain that calls itself anti-establishment. That's why we'll buy this record, obsess over countless bands that could easily be pigeonholed elsewhere, and continue to talk about this scene until we go blue in the face. ISVOLT,Robot Elephant and Disaro are best off disassociating themselves from the chaos, before they become engulfed.

ISVOLT by Robot Elephant Records