So Trendy (Salem and Balam Acab)

Posted in Witch House/Drag/etc by jawillisetc on August 30, 2010

As the guy on the blog that isn’t that into guitars, I’m investigating this summer’s pseudo-genre of questionable legitimacy: Witch House. To make a long an boring story shorter but tragically no more interesting, Witch house is essentially the confluence of Industrial and Chopped-N-Screwed. Industrial, birthed screaming in the late 70s by Throbbing Gristle and refined in the 80s by bands like Einsturzende Neubauten(there’s an umlaut in there somewhere), Skinny Puppy, and a bunch of other bands that I embarrassingly loved in middle school, contributes the harshness and dissonance that characteristic of the genre. Chopped-N-Screwed, created by DJ Screw with his slowed down and “screwed” remixes of popular hip hop, provides the genre’s most recognizable technique, slowed vocals. Although there is no set formula for a witch house track, they tend to pull a little from industrial and a little from Hip Hop, typically featuring a slowed and pitch-shifted vocal that combined with some industrial noise envelopes the listener in a haunting atmosphere.

There are a lot of acts that could be called witch house, so I’m going to do quick profiles on the ones that stood out to me. This certainly isn’t a comprehensive survey, and new groups are springing up all the time, so I’ll try to post on some of the better ones if I can.

The biggest names in witch house right now are Salem and Balam Acab.


King Night// Salem

Asia// Salem

Redlights// Salem (EP Version)

Although essentially all of these groups owe major debts to hip hop, particularly the syrup-screwed sounds of South Houston, Salem in particular wear this influence proudly on their sleeves. “Bury My Heart Inna Wounded Knee”, a recently released mixtape, shows Salem screwing and pitchshifting vocals and instrumentals until they’re cold molasses slow. “King Knight”, Salem’s most well know release so far, begins with an eerily slowed sample before they let loose the drum machines. The drums are classic southern 808s, frequently employing snare rolls that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Weezy track.

Having released “Water” and “Yes I Smoke Crack” in 2008, Salem are considered the founders of the genre, but they only began to blow up when imitators arrived on the scene in late 2009. “King Night” is not only Salem’s debut album, but actually the first true Witch House album. Fortunately for fans of the music, the tracks that have been released are promising. The titular “King Knight” employs powerful drum machines, chopped up synths and some traditionally spooky vocals to produce an overwhelming atmosphere. Redlights, a track originally on “Yes I Smoke Crack” again features a hip hop beat combined with contrasting vocals, but it adds an industrial sounding distorted guitar that add weight to the track. Finally, Asia sounds the most industrial of all, featuring mechanical percussion, dissonant, buzzing synths, and reverbed-into-oblivion vocals. Salem’s hip hop heavy approach makes them one of the most approachable bands in this genre, and I think one of the best.

Balam Acab

See Birds// Balam Acab

Heavy Living Things// Balam Acab

There is (relatively) considerable debate over whether Balam Acabs music even constitutes witch house. For many, Balam Acab is too dubstep influenced, too danceable, too fucking fun to truly be witchhouse. I disagree. While Balam Acab may not be as slow as Salem or Mater Suspiria Vision, they still manage to create a dark, oppressive atmosphere. Consider a track like Heavy Living Things. The beat grinds and creaks more than a haunted house door, and the vocals sounds plenty ghostly. See Birds is certainly faster, but it too creates an oppressive atmosphere with sparse, overdriven bass and an otherworldly moan that mutates into a ghostly chorus. Like Salem, Balam Acab have less of an industrial influence than some witch house artists, but they certainly don’t suffer because of it.

Be sure to read my next post Wednesday, when I’ll discuss the bands †‡†, ///▲▲▲\\\
and why this genre’s naming conventions are fucking idiotic!


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