Tag Archives: witch house

Dragged out of the witch house: Tri Angle Records

The Internet killed the major record label business. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, the Warners and Universals of the world are already dead (spoiler!) – they just have to come to terms with it. As the majors wander aimlessly, searching for answers that won’t come, indie labels have never been stronger. With a seemingly never-ending stream of genres and sounds to mine, record labels can plant their flag, carve out a niche, and make a name for themselves.

That’s exactly what Tri Angle Records has done. They’ve been on the forefront of the drag / witch house scene since last year’s compilation of re-imagined Lindsay Lohan songs Let Me Shine For You. Tri Angle is the brainchild of Robin Carolan of 20JazzFunkGreats, one of the leading proponents of witch house, in conjunction with techno label Kompakt.

After Let Me Shine For You, Tri Angle got serious, releasing Balam Acab‘s See Birds EP. See Birds is a nocturnal journey in all phases, from nightmare to dream to hazy awakening. Throughout the EP, echoes of horror movie drums are juxtaposed against airy, wistful strings and keys, a style epitomized by its book-ended title tracks. “See Birds (moon)” rumbles with murky bass blasts, while “See Birds (sun)” floats with bubbling aquatic sounds that give way to an upbeat, chiptune rhythm.

I’ve written about oOoOO previously. oOoOO is the easiest Tri Angle artist to fit under the witch house umbrella. His eponymous EP is more energetic than See Birds due to a preponderance of programmed beats. It also brings dream pop vocals higher up in the mix, whereas Balam Acab uses vocals to shade and color his compositions.

The most critically acclaimed Tri Angle artist, How To Dress Well (Brooklyn’s Tom Krell) fuses the ambiance of his Tri Angle compatriots with a deconstructionist’s take on R&B. Love Remains is haunting and romantic, with Krell’s breathy falsetto a counterpoint to the full-throated opulence of contemporary R&B singers. Like dance-focused rhythm and bass producers, HTDW feeds off nostalgia for 90s R&B, as Krell’s borrowed melodies leave the listener grasping at half-remembered dreams.

Combine the R&B of HTDW and the dance music of early industrial and you have Holy Other. Pneumatic beats keep time while synths and ghostly vocals fill in the blanks. “Touch” is Holy Other’s take on Burial-esque atmospherics, with “I’ve been looking for your touch” a weeping refrain.

The latest release in the Tri Angle catalog is Rainforest, by Clams Casino. As the title suggests, it is a technicolor nature symphony, with track titles like “Treetop” and “Waterfalls.” Clams Casino (real name Mike Volpe) has a background as a beatmaker for based rappers such as Lil B and Soulja Boy, but his tracks work better instrumentally. His diffused soundscapes and chopped & screwed samples melt and sway over left-field hip hop beats.

Next up on Tri Angle is more Balam Acab and the debut of San Francisco’s Water Borders entitled Harbored Mantras. Press materials cite industrial pioneers Coil and the dance music of Rinse FM as the inspirations for Harbored Mantras. “What Wiwant” delivers on that vague promise, with an undercurrent of sub bass, a collage of tribal effects and decidedly Gothic chanting.

Also keep watch for material from Ayshay, Tri Angle’s latest signing. Ayshay is the stage name of Fatima Al Qadiri, a Senegalese artist who was raised in Kuwait. “WARN-U,” both in song and video, seem to match the witch house sound and aesthetic, albeit with a distinctive Eastern vibe.

Call it witch house, drag, or chillwave, but when these ephemeral trends are over, Tri Angle Records will be left standing.

The Weeknd gets chopped and screwed

While many are vying to tag The Weeknd’s music with a genre name, not many were clamoring for slower, meditative versions of his already down-tempo jams. Despite this, two chopped and screwed takes on the House of Balloons mixtape have cropped up, with mixed results.

Swishahouse co-founder and chopped and screwed pioneer OG Ron C gives his trademark treatment to House of Balloons, as does Odd Future member Mike G. Both versions provide the syrupy (in more ways than one) sounds for which the genre is known, but as expected, OG Ron C’s comes out ahead.

The veteran does more chopping than a sous chef; his sample twisting on mixtape standout “What You Need” manages to make the tune even more hypnotic.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/WeekndOGRonC.mp3″ text=”The Weeknd – What You Need (OG Ron C version)” dl=0]

Mike G, on the other hand, opts for a more straightforward BPM drop. Sometimes that’s enough: the sinister “Glass Table Girls” coda on the title track doesn’t need much work before sounding like witch house.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/WeekndMikeG.mp3″ text=”The Weeknd – House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls (Mike G version)” dl=0]

At first glance, chopping and screwing House of Balloons seems redundant and unnecessary. But the inspiration seems to be drawn straight from The Weeknd’s lyrics.

From “Wicked Game:”

Bring your love, baby I can bring my shame
Bring the drugs, baby I can bring my pain
I got my heart right here, I got my scars right here
Bring the cups, baby I can bring the drank

Or more succinctly, from “The Morning:”

Codeine cups paint a picture so vivid

Download: OG Ron C – House of Balloons (Chopped-up not slopped-up)
Download: Mike G – House of Balloons (Screwed)

The Verge: oOoOO

From the sonic graveyard of crosses and triangles that is drag/witch house comes oOoOO. Pronounced “oh,” oOoOO is Christopher Dexter Greenspan, a San Francisco-based producer and pioneer of the nascent sound. Over two EPs, he has staked his claim as the most accessible artist in the intentionally-underground scene.

In January 2010, oOoOO released No Summer4U as a limited-run CD-R on Disaro Records. The disc spun familiar dance pop into macabre soundscapes. Formerly sugary tunes like Nocera’s “Summertime” and Space Cowboy’s “My Egyptian Lover” are transformed into the skittering, synth-heavy “No Summer4U” and “EGYPTYNLVR,” respectively. His remix of “Poker Face” chops and screws the Gaga hit into a detuned funhouse track.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/PCKRFCRMX.mp3″ text=”oOoOO – PCKRFCRMX” dl=0]

His first proper EP, a self-titled 12″ on Tri Angle Records, built on the sounds he established on No Summer4U. Throughout the EP, oOoOO’s songs have faster tempos and more structure than those of his contemporaries, without betraying their gloomy nature. Even under waves of static and a fog of uneasiness, melody is still king. The juked percussion of “mumbai” (which also appears on the CD-R) is a highlight.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/mumbai.mp3″ text=”oOoOO – mumbai” dl=0]

The drag/witch house scene has been percolating for a few years now, and the cream is rising to the top. oOoOO recently did a podcast for FACT Magazine, previewing a new track and moving into unusual but understandable territory (ie Cat Power). Similarly, don’t miss his remix of Marina and the Diamonds’ “Obsessions.” For fans of both pop music and the darkness of drag, oOoOO is the man for all seasons.

Download: FACT Mix 227 – oOoOO

Album Review: Salem – King Night

Due to the nature of how we listen to music in 2010, there are few surprises left. Before an act releases a proper album (a medium whose time may very well be up), they are dissected and analyzed like a frog on a 9th grade biology table. And just as sure as that frog has sat on its last lily pad, musicians are rarely afforded the chance to make a second impression.

On their debut LP King Night, Salem doesn’t seem to care about that. Or about anything else.

If you’ve heard them by now, you know what to expect. Chopped-and-screwed drum machines, epic synthesizer melodies, spooky moans and drugged-out raps. Salem’s distinct brand of drag is what sets them apart from countless witch house acts, more eager to insert triangles and crosses into their names than to make interesting music. But if you’ve heard Yes I Smoke Crack or their symbiotic remixes of Gucci Mane and came away unimpressed or turned off, King Night won’t change your mind.

Throughout the album, Salem gets deeper, darker, and more intense than ever before. For music that revels in drone, it is addictive in its dynamism. The title track opens the album, with bits and pieces of “I Love You” and “O Holy Night” fused to minimalistic trap beats and the echos and feedback of a mournful melody. “Asia,” the second single (I use that term lightly) off the album continues the death march with a drum corps’ intensity. The faux-snuff clip picks up where “Skullcrush” left off.

The heavily processed vocals of Jack Donoghue could pass for Gucci on songs like “Sick,” “Trapdoor,” and “Tair.” John Holland and Heather Marlatt stick to singing (again, loosely), exchanging groans and whispers on “Release the Boar” and “Frost.” On the latter, Marlatt’s vocals waft over footwork-inspired beats and waves of synths that hold – wait – is that a sense of “hope” amid all this darkness?

Arguably the group’s strongest song, “Redlights” is back yet again; the shifty, stuttering anthem is revamped for The Big Time and sounds great. “Traxx” plods along with an industrial sample that can’t help but evoke the “Law & Order” sound, but with off-kilter percussion that again references footwork. By the time the last jangly guitar chord drones on closer “Killer,” the listener is left with a sense of foreboding dread that they can’t quite put their finger on.

Salem knows what they are and what they do best: gothic trap music with a hint of mystery (even if unfortunate interviews and even more unfortunate live performances have lifted the curtain a bit). King Night succeeds by being a pitch-perfect set of upsetting mood music. Even if that’s what you expected.


Mixtape Monday: Drag the lake

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Inscription at the Gates of Hell, or another post about drag and witch house? You decide! Today’s Mixtape Monday takes us to the darkest reaches of the Internet, with new mixes from Salem and the sick folks behind (the NSFW) Put.A.Spell.

Salem’s I Buried My Heart Inna Wounded Knee is a nearly-unlistenable mix of Goth crunk – and I mean that as a compliment. There’s no tracklist, but would one really make a difference? Salem drags and screws tracks until they are barely recognizable ghosts of the originals; mixing in the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” is brilliant. Salem continues to make the i-dose version of purple drank. Their debut full-length King Night is set for a September 28th release, and this mix should stave off the tremors until then.

Put.a.spell (what I’ll be calling the force responsible for these mixes, since they’re only labeled with the quintessential witch house symbol ‡) recently released two equally disturbing mixes, Summus Exussum Ervum and Beasts in Drag.

Summus Exussum Ervum, which roughly translates to “burn the high weeds,” touches on everything cold and industrial. From Throbbing Gristle to Fever Ray, the mix is the perfect soundtrack for your next invocation or ritualistic sacrifice. Compared to Salem’s mix, it is practically Top 40.

Beasts in Drag is more crunk than Goth, relying on drag versions of Gucci Mane and Playboy Tre (from the Adult Swim x Beaterator ATL RMX album), among others. As the mix closes, it fades from GR†LLGR†LL’s gloomy “Lollipop” cover “Slowlickin” to “If You Are But a Dream,” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the bluesman best known for “I Put a Spell On You.” That inclusion alone shows that the musicians behind drag and witch house have a sense of humor, even if it is sick and twisted.

Tri Angle drags pop music (and Lindsay Lohan goes to jail)

Tri Angle Records, along with Disaro Records, is at the forefront of drag and witch house, with a line-up that includes Balam Acab and oOoOO. So while we wait for a VHS-versus-Beta resolution in regards to the genre name, Tri Angle has released a few mixes that stake out new territory for the developing scene.

In recognition (honor?) of Lindsay Lohan’s recent incarceration, Tri Angle has assembled Let Me Shine For You, six reworkings of Lohan’s regrettable dance pop “hits.” The mix includes tracks by oOoOO, Babe Rainbow, and Stalker and offers a very meta look at the downward spiral of Lohan’s life and career.

Tri Angle also compiled a mix for the French magazine Wow. In similar fashion to Let Me Shine For You, the mix abuses and mangles songs by Justin Bieber, Alicia Keys and Ciara, including a dark gabber edit of “Empire State of Mind.”

Dragged and Screwed (or, witch house cover songs)

The latest development in electronic music is the sonic darkness known either as drag or witch house. Equal parts chopped-and-screwed hip hop and gothic industrial, the mysterious scene is all over the internet yet difficult to pin down, due in large part to glyph-filled band names that are both unpronounceable and unsearchable.

With new releases from Disaro or Tri Angle dropping seemingly daily, it’s getting difficult to keep our triangles and crosses straight. So apart from Salem, where should you start with drag? How about some macabre makeovers of pop and hip-hop songs?

San Francisco’s oOoOO has released an EP that features several gloomy cover versions of formerly-upbeat dance tracks. The title track, “No Summr4U” is a a reworking of Nocera’s 1986 hit “Summertime, Summertime” which replaces the freestyle melody with a stark beat and hypnotic synths. “PCKRFCRMX” is short on vowels but big on dissonant keys and cut-and-paste Lady Gaga vocals.

Witch house heads must see something they like from the Haus of Gaga, because oOoOO is not alone in reworking the pop star of the moment. Mater Suspiria Vision has turned her songs into delay-heavy drone-fests. Not only have they given a mindfuck remix to “Alejandro,” but their take on both the song and video for “Paparazzi” is truly twisted, and not for the faint of heart.

SALEM proved that drag and hip-hop are a natural fit with their Gucci Mane edits. ? NO VIRGIN ? takes a shot at some trap music with a version of Gucci’s “I’m the Shit.” NO VIRGIN’s appropriately titled Downer EP is full of similarly pulsing scarefests and is available for free. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Whether you call it drag, witch house, or goth crunk, this music is not for everyone. Sludgy drum machine beats, grim synth lines, and samples of everything from gunshots to child-like pleading (!) may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But sometimes it pays to not be afraid of the dark.

Salem keep pushing that Goth crunk

Salem makes scary music. Music that exists somewhere between chopped-and-screwed, industrial, and dubstep – a dreary, grating, drugged out amalgamation that is challenging and unforgiving. And I can’t stop listening to it.

This week, Salem released a mixtape for DIS magazine, an art outfit that fits the Salem worldview. The mix, entitled Raver Stay Wif Me, is 32 minutes of both familiar and obscure tracks, twisted and manipulated to the edge of recognition. The titular raver is paid tribute by classic tracks like “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay, “Sandstorm” by Darude, and “Can’t Stop Raving” by Dune, trance tracks whose hypnotic affect is still apparent, even if the music is better suited for cough syrup sipping than Ecstasy popping.

Download SALEM – Raver Stay Wif Me (courtesy DIS magazine)

It may be an act, but only Salem is twisted enough to include a track by a convicted sexual predator: South Park Mexican‘s “Vogues” is a record-skipping center piece of the tape. Too sick for you? They include “Unchained Melody” and “Young Forever,” classic love songs that just seem wrong in contrast to the rest of the mix.

Not much is known about the Michigan trio of John Holland, Heather Marlatt, and Jack Donoghue; they don’t give many interviews, or take photographs, or humor the social media crowd. Instead, they keep a public image that mirrors their music: dark, mysterious, unnerving. Their music videos don’t give many clues, either, except that the band may need psychological help. Check out the NSFW clip for “Skullcrush,” a video that makes M.I.A.’s “Born Free” look like a Disney film.


Raver Stay Wif Me is another required listen from a group whose limited press EPs Water and Yes I Smoke Crack are equally challenging and rewarding. And if all this is too dark for you, check out their remixes of Gucci Mane, a match made in Hell.