King Night vs Fires In Heaven
O’l buddy o’l housemate Phil dropped me a line during the week.
A quick message to say that Witch House ‘magi majoris’ Salem have a new album out – “Fires In Heaven”. Their first album for a decade.
Phil said it made him think of me. It prompted a flurry of messages between us, our first communication since September.
Until he dropped me a line I hadn’t thought about Salam or their first album King Night in years. I was *really* into Witch House. An early adopter. In 2010 I was a hipster with a moustache, a racing bike, and a permenant hangover.
Burial’s 2007 Untrue is an album that defined a moment for my generation. When Ahmet Sabancı came to visit he told me he finally understood the album having seen London in winter at night in the rain.
Whenever I hear Untrue, I feel a sense memory of 5.30am bus rides to work in the rain. Playing the Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney series on my DS. Inhaling 3 or 4 books a week as the bookshop I worked in let us borrow them like a library service. It was the soundtrack to the Global Financial Crisis, and long train rides back to Kent to see an Ex.
My memories of 2010 are cloured with different hues and tones. The Cameron–Clegg coalition. The student Millbank revolt, The prospect of Endless Austerity. Fallout New Vegas and the Bitcoin Pizza. The Aforementioned Ex was now an actual Ex and I was miserable.
Then along came Witch House or Drag as it was then known.
Witch House oozed into existence through cracks in reality via forums, music blogs, and p2p platforms like soulseek. Made by what we would then called Laptop Musicians disconnected from the ‘club scene’. Its only connection to club music being the paronomasia of the name. All the early musicians cited Burial as a major influence in interviews. Dubstep wasn’t yet what it would become. Hyperdub’s Dubstep Allstars Vol 1 was released the same year as Witch House became ‘a thing’.
Parts of the press met the genre with skepticism and indignation. Incredulous that the internet could just declare a genre a ‘thing’ without any supporting context. Where was its megatextal topology? And also how dare artists choose to have ungooglable names like oOoOO , Gr†ll Gr†ll or ~▲†▲~ or XXYYXX.
They were not barriers to the art. These names worked as signposts, sigils or signifiers. They were the first stirrings of online expression and identity that would go on to become Post-Internet Art.
The world is now dominated by microgenres and subcultures. Shaping perception of reality via niche hashtags and network effects. For better or worse someone at Spotify finds or makes up a genre name and then populates a playlist with content. The idea that people would get mad about an online genre having a name and coming from nowhere now seems quaint. But 2010 was a very different world. People still owned and controlled their own music collections. We carried iPods in the opposite jean pockets to our somewhat smartphones. 2010 was the year we got front facing cameras and the launch of Instagram. We were reading a thousand think pieces a day about selfies and their narcissism.
With the launch of Instagram came filters. I wrote a note on them back in 2012: on filters vs autotune.
Witch House is a musical genre drenched in drones and distortion. Beats chopped and screwed, nerve-jangling samples and gothic content. A tonal or emotional filter applied to the music. Its sonic palette wasn’t the faux nostalgia of an Instagram filter like 1977. But instead a saudadic anxiety for the future.
The title track of Salem’s 2010 album King Night sounds like the bad dream that we are still living though.
King Night’s opening track sounds like the expired film I was shooting on my ’91 Canon Sure Shot Max looks.
Witch House sounded like neighbours having a party next door. It sounds like drowning your sorrows in the bath. It sounds like drug a comedown, ketamine binges and smartphone fuelled technological acceleration. Music by people with cracked versions of Fruity Loops or Reason. The turn of the decade was also the shift from desktop to laptop. Easy access to the tools of production allowed for experimentation. Music that an artist wanted to make, not what an audience wanted to hear.
The supporting context that the press was lamenting was actually the media environment they were embedded in. Pitchfork was still a kingmaker, Blogspots were posting and hosting weird LP rips as zip files, music came from Rapidshare or Megaupload. Twitter and Facebook were still nascent evils – the latter I’d already quit. I don’t think that Witch House would or could become ‘a thing’ today. There isn’t the media environment for it.
Spotify’s algorithms make careers. Not culture.
Grimes was still a long way from making RAXy power pop and dating Billionaires. I like to remind people that Grime’s first album was a DUNE concept album. I still remember standing in a basement in Shoreditch hearing a Witch House remix of Shadout Mapes flowing seamlessly into oOoOO’s Remix of Lindsay Lohan’s – I Live for the Day.
I was a very different person in 2010. The world was a different place too. The doom I felt in 2010 was a different doom to that of 2020. Everything I’ve lived through, the good and the bad was still on the horizon.
Witch (hehe) brings me to 2020’s Fires in Heaven. It … just sounds … so similar to King Night. I don’t feel that the album’s sensibilities are as dark as the first album. Nor is it as wonky, and with my old man crotchety production hat on – there is too much treble for my liking.
This isn’t to say that it isn’t well produced – far from it. The album was mixed by Shlohmo. His 2011 album Bad Vibes remains a highlight of the decade.
It’s not that I don’t like it, I do think it’s really well produced, and the tracks Starfall and Die With Me are excellent.
Salem are clearly still in the same place as they were in 2010. Less lonely perhaps. I mean; Salem’s Donoghue has a production credit on Kaneys ‘Yeezus’, so things can’t be all bad. My dissatisfaction with the album, I feel, is largely due to the last decade of doom that I’ve experienced.
Witch House isn’t in the same place as 2010. During the intervening decade its oozed into pop culture as almost an aesthetic layer. It soundtracked movies throughout the early Twenty Teens. Ryan Gosling’s Drive has defined noir for the last decade.
It’s devastating lo-fi synths and trap beats are now all over mumble rap and hip hop at large. Witch house has blended and fused with Synthwave. Its rode alongside developments in ambient and experimental.
That gave us tracks like XXYYXX’s 2012 track hazy About You. A master piece. A track I posted to Tumblr earlier this year with the note: This is one of those tracks and accompanying video that defined(s) a whole era of indie electronic music production.
It’s certainly present throughout all of Travis Scott’s career. Chance The Rapper even samples XXYYXX. The gothic vibes found in Billie Eilish’s Bury A Friend still ride the edge of Witch Houses’ influence in my mind.
The Tumblrs, Musicians and MySpace holdouts influencing Witch House in 2010 knew the world that we were being led towards was absolute bullshit. It’s aesthetics pressaged the return to Tarot Town we have arrived at.
It’s blown out visuals and sonic landscape announced the coming decades ‘Witchy Fems’, Hex’s on Trump and the occult renaissance. How much conviction its cloak of aethetics had I’m not sure. But it was a starting gun for the rise of astrology and the death of consensus reality.
In retrospect, Drag wouldn’t have been a bad name for it, had it stuck.
Its strange artist names spoke to online performance of self and identity. The theatricality of the live shows (at least in London) suited that original name too. Basement venues draped in black cloth painted with blood red pentagrams. An audience off its face on the last of the legal mephedrone bought off the Internet from China.
Facing the Doom to come together.
When you make a witch house track the drone comes first. Then you chop the trap beats around the oscillations, last come the vocals.
The sonic reality is created around the artist’s desire for vibes.
Just like real life.
Artist, Illustrator and Civil+Environmental Engineer Halima S. AKA Gothlime joins me for an hour of Internet.
We search ‘Nonograms’. Learn about the puzzles history and origins, read the rules, and spend quite some time attempting to solve some puzzles together, we find Nongram Pixel Art and discover the game ‘Bob PicRoss’.
The Ministry Of My Own Labour
- I’m still plugging away at NanoWriMo. It’s really exhausting. Considering I’ve just sold my first short story, this is the first time I’ve done it where I’ve thought that I might be able to do something with it eventually. I already know I need to cut like 5k out of the opening for pacing reasons.
- The next essay in the Dimensino is nearly ready. Its on ‘Permissive IP’s’ and ownership of culture in web3 environments. It’ll be out soon.
- Dimensino has become quite popular looking at my stats. Glad I’m doing it.
All my freelance work is now delivered and I’m looking for work in Dec. Get in touch if you’d like me to do some work for you.
Dipping the Stacks
Finite and Infinite Games arrived from ebay today. But as I said last week. I have like 12 books on the go right now.
I’m thinking of making Sundays a ‘no internet’ day and just reading.
Salem aside I’ve been listening to Hot, Wet & Sassy by Tobacco. It’s a consistent album where every track stands on its own. There’s some abrasive tracks and some droney synth tracks here and there too. I like it.