Source Material Salem, King Night
Now that chillwave is ebbing, there's a new fly-by-night micro-genre upon us. It's been called "witch house," for its occult iconography and its pilferings from electronic dance music; its artists are sometimes called "triangle bands" for their obsession with the shape, often including triangles, crosses and other charged (and Google-proofed) symbols in their very names: consider Lake Râdio, Grâ LLGRâ LL, or the inscrutable ///â²â²â²\. (The three-sided meme is hardly limited to witch house, however, as you'll see from this gallery of recent record sleeves from all corners of the electronic spectrum.)
Salem are by far the best known proponents of the style, thanks to their sensationalist media presence in an interview with Butt magazine last year, member Jack Holland spoke openly of smoking crack and turning tricks and their onstage nonpresence. Ben Ratliff described their infamous SXSW performance last year as "the kind of performance that you have seen only in your worst dreams"; on YouTube, at least, watching the band's bloodless antiperformance art is akin to rubbernecking a car crash, albeit in slow motion.
Make that very slow motion: glacial tempos are Salem's stock in trade. So much so, in fact, that they call their music "drag," conjuring deadweight friction. That influence comes largely from "chopped 'n' screwed" hip-hop, a style of pitched-down rap music pioneered by the late DJ Screw, whose sluggish tempos and slurred effects were meant to evoke the effects of cough syrup. Salem's music comes complete with its own woozy, narcotic raps. Instead of a traditional boom-bap backing, though, their productions lean on a bizarre amalgam of trance-inspired synthesizers and drum machines, Wagnerian choruses, and so much distortion that it might make even Sleigh Bells wince.
It's easy to write the whole thing off as one of blog culture's inside jokes by hipsters, on hipsters a suspicion that wasn't entirely allayed by the band's listless New York Times interview. Regardless, there's something weirdly compelling about King Night, the band's debut album, which came out last week. What might be most interesting is how they've managed to create a genuinely distinctive sound out of so many well-worn tropes. Here's a look at some of the band's antecedents and influences.
For more music in a similar vein including Salem's peers Balam Acab, White Ring and oOoOO; spooky electronica from Burial and Fever Ray; and '80s creep-out music from Bauhaus, Swans and others check out our Witch House and Beyond playlist.