Next week, Pendu Disco celebrates its one-year anniversary. As dark music is a mainstay at Pendu Disco, and the music of the bands who have performed at the series have been grouped under the term “Witch House,” we think this is a good time to give you a primer for being a Witch House poser. The creator of the concert series, Todd Pendu, has had beef with the term since the music it claims to represent draws on a variety of styles and sounds, including but not limited to hip-hop, industrial and goth. But Pendu can’t deny that the term has staying power (as evidenced by the publication of this New York Times article). If you plan on going to any future Witch House events, in New York, Los Angeles, or perhaps, someday, Beijing, study this primer to get yourself up to speed and fit right in with the Witchy crowd.
Listen to Horror Scores for the Dance Floor Vol. 4: To get a quick idea of the sound and bands grouped under the Witch House umbrella, download the mixtape, Horror Scores for the Dance Floor Vol. 4, that Todd Pendu created featuring of some of the big acts who performed at Pendu Disco in 2010. It includes music by bands who have become almost synonymous with the term “Witch House,” like Salem, Gatekeeper and White Ring.
Deny the accuracy of the term “Witch House” but admit it has staying power: Remember, you’ve been listening to dark music for a long time and are slightly peeved that some people have just decided to like “dark” music because it’s cool to do so now. Recognize that people are using the term, but deny its value in a measured and even-handed way that suggests you’re not afraid of being co-opted by latecomers because your interest is sincere and runs deep and is not threatened by these other posers. For more in depth study, read Todd Pendu’s article “Genesis on Naming a Genre Witch House,” or watch this nifty video, “Witchin’ with Mario Zoots.”
Know Your Disaro and Tri Angle: Disaro Records — the label of †‡† (Ritualz), White Ring, and oOoOO — and Tri Angle are two of the biggest labels that put out music commonly grouped in the Witch House genre. Throw around Robert Disaro’s name in conversation, using “Disaro” alternately to mean the label or the man behind the label. Call Robin Carolan, of Tri Angle records, simply “Robin.” Know that Tri Angle put out that Lindsay Lohan mix that contained some great Witch House finds (find this one yourself and see what you discover along the way).
Bookmark 20JFG: Robin Carolan’s blog 20jazzfunkgreats, or 20JFG for short, was essentially all about Witch House before the term even existed.
Get a tattoo: Get a small tattoo bearing Egyptological or okkvlt (occult) symbols.
Have an opinion on Salem: Salem is the best-known Witch House band. It’s important to have an opinion on them. Be able to debate whether they’re the best band on the planet or completely talentless pop musicians who were rightfully booed off stage at SXSW 2010. Love them or hate them, but please be able to say something about the band, even if it’s only a comment on Jack Donoghue’s hair.
Recognize the subtler differences in the music: Be proficient in some of the differences between Witch House bands. Know that Salem’s style is “slowed-down, chopped, and screwed,” whereas White Ring is more dark-bass acid-club.
Know the origin story: In 2009, the phrase “Witch House” was concocted very consciously out of whole cloth by two men: Travis Egedy of Pictureplane and Jonathan Coward of Shams wanted to create a genre for their music, dance music with dark, occult vibes. It didn’t catch on until Travis did a best-of-the-year thing with Pitchfork in late 2009.
Emphasize the importance of the Internet: After the term was coined, someone went out and started tagging bands as “Witch House” on various music sites. Todd Pendu believes that this had an effect on the creation of the genre. This should further your understanding that the phenomenon of “Witch House” would not have happened without the Internet.
Don’t forget drag and rape gaze: Know some of the other terms for this “genre” that have preceded “Witch House” but didn’t stick. For example, drop the phrases “drag” and “rape gaze,” put forth by the bands S4LEM (“Salem”) and CRE3P (“Creep”), respectively. Have an opinion on whether the term “rape gaze” is in horrible taste or if it was simply a bad joke that got blown out of proportion.
Don’t mispronounce the names of bands: Mispronounce the name of a band and be instantly outed as a clueless neophyte and earn deserved disdain from the Witch House establishment. If you’re unsure of how to say a band’s name, do your research or you’ll wind up sounding like an idiot. Do not call the band †‡† (Ritualz) “cross upside down cross upside down cross cross,” as Flavorpill staffer Russ Marshalek once overheard at a Zola Jesus concert. Here’s a hint: the band “oOoOO,” is pronounced “Oh.”
Create Witch House music: Take your fandom a step further and use Travis Egedy’s list to create your own Witch House music. But do this all in good fun, of course. It’s a joke after all.
Wear baggy clothes and jewelry: More precisely, super baggy T-shirts (a Hanes XXXL Beefy T works well) over skinny jeans. Don’t be afraid to drop as much as $700 on a t-shirt as long as it looks like a Hanes T-shirt. Wear hoods and jewelry that looks like it could unscrew to store drugs but in fact doesn’t.
Remember that Witch House is more than just music: Understand that Witch House is as much about the music as it is about the visuals that accompany a music video or a live performance, like smoke machines, strobes, and macabre collage art.
Witch House is so 2010: Sure, 2010 was the year of Witch House. But it’s 2011. Embrace the term and move on. You know how music genres evolve, so once you’ve mastered Witch House, claim you’re already over Witch House and onto the next thing.