The most current love child of electronic music is a genre based on a dark aesthetic commonly referred to as “witch house.” It’s influences run across a wide spectrum of music, from hip hop to industrial. While its not easily definable, the common thread seems that these artists are on a mission to do things their own way, and they aren’t taking no for an answer. They have created a subculture that encompasses all realms of this aesthetic and at the forefront, we find the record labels Pendu Sound Recordings and DISARO Records. For the first time, Anthem got DJs Zane Landreth, BLKRAINBW, and Disaro from Killing Spree, L.A.’s best representation of this new genre, to sit down with New York’s Todd Pendu of Pendu NYC to dissect this cultural phenomenon of all things dark.
How did you each get your start, and do you feel about the term “witch house” as a label for this genre?
Todd Pendu: The New York scene got started with the Pendu Disco that I started over there in Jan 2010, where I did a show with Salem and Gatekeeper. We played projections on the walls and had DJ Harrison, my resident DJ. We were playing all the new stuff that’s now being called witch house but at the time it didn’t really have a name yet and it mixed with all the classic industrial stuff. We thought we should have this curated, contextualized new sound. And of course the word witch house popped up but that’s something that I feel was secondary to the actual purpose of it. I don’t have a thing against witch house but its not necessarily something that I want to promote as a name. It’s not as encompassing as what I want to see. I’m really more fascinated by what I see as a new sound of music made for clubs to dance to that has a dark aesthetic to it. I feel like it’s going to be a little while before there’s really a name for it. A lot of bands aren’t really into the occult that are a part of it so they don’t necessarily want to be affiliated with witch house either. I would still consider it more of an alternative club music. Its growing and changing and mutating into all these styles. People want to hear something really fresh, and that gives us the chance to mix in hip hop and techno and industrial and electro, because it all sounds good in a club. I think that given some time, there will be a better word for it.
Zane Landreth: I also feel like once you jump to use a term like witch house, it pops up on blogs for two minutes, and then it puts an endpoint on the party. Once you put it in big flashy terms you date yourself.
T.P.: I think people will move to the next thing naturally. They’ll go to it when they’re ready to. If we label it, we put it in a box. Then we’ve left it no room to grow.
BLKRAINBW: The term witch house is something that people will make fun of. If people don’t get it, then it’s easy for them to hate it.
Z.L.: Sarah and I started Killing spree almost two years ago. We wanted to do a dance night and originally it was just us playing old classic minimal synth and cold wave records. When we played a new Xeno & Oaklander song it got the biggest response of the night. It’s because its great stuff. It’s current, and it’s exciting and new. People want to see the next thing.
BLKRAINBW: There’s so much information, new music everyday. Its so inspiring to get out and play it. For me, I had a ton of the old Belgian minimal synth and cold wave and a few contemporary acts. And I thought, “ok I like this sound, but I want something that sounds bigger.” I wanted something that would make people freak out on the dance floor.
DISARO Records: For me, when I started DISARO (Records) in Houston in 2007, it wasn’t working. People there didn’t get it, so I moved the shows to Austin with Bobby from //TENSE//, and people really responded. It got to a point where I wanted to move to L.A. to reach more people. I love L.A. So then I met up with Zane and Sarah, and got on Killing Spree. And the parties seem to keep getting bigger and bigger each month.
How would you compare the scene between New York and L.A.?
T.P.: I just played my first Pendu Disco L.A. show with Chelsea Wolfe headlining and people really didn’t know her music but it was amazing to see people come out and be so responsive. I think it was interesting to see that the L.A. crowd vs. NY crowd was pretty similar. It’s eclectic. The Pendu Disco shows aren’t really a scene, in so much as there’s goth kids there and hip hop kids there.
Z.L.: At Killing Spree, we have a lot of regulars and a lot of people we’ve never seen before and everyone is always dancing. You’d see some super goth kid dancing with a bunch of thugs. It doesn’t make any sense, I love it so much!
BLKRAINBW: I don’t think anyone should feel like they have to look a certain way to listen to certain music. So many clubs, especially industrial nights become so much more about the fashion than the music, which is not what we want.
T.P.: Last December I did a thing with oOoOO from San Francisco and White Ring DJing, and every other track was like: industrial track, hip hop track, trance track etc. People were going ape shit. It works. There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing people come around to it.
Is there any correlation between the resurgence of rave culture and this new genre of music?
T.P.: I think were all ultimately headed in the direction of Rave. I’m doing one in the summer I’m really excited about, but with all new sounds, not a retro thing. I also do a techno night called Pendu Acid Disco, where I bring back the 86-93 era of acid and house and what I’m doing is getting peoples ears tuned to what rave was supposed to be, not what it became.
D.R: even the sound we are all pushing out, its all rooted from Rave. It goes back to that club thing. And it just keeps growing.
There seems to be a specific visual aesthetic associated with “witch house.” How does visual art play a part here?
T.P.: The two were married from the beginning. This came from people who saw the full aesthetic. Which is totally unique. The Tumblr, Flickr age, has got people on a visual thinking level. And its so dynamic and quick, and its spreading faster than ever. It’s a more human network now.
Z.L.: Even band names. They aren’t names anymore, they are symbols.
T.P.: It’s great because its not about making it ungoogle-able or being so esoteric. It’s just something that’s not necessary to translate into a word. It’s visual culture thing as much as it’s a sound culture thing and I feel like that is as new as I can even think of.
D.R.: I work with James Owl Eyes, who started creating album covers for me back in 2007. Now he’s collaborating with other artists and he’s sort of become the most distinctive style for the sound that’s going on right now.
T.P.: I’m also a visual artist who does all the work on my record label. So its another sign of how it all works together.
How did the record labels DISARO Records and Pendu Sound Recordings come to, and how did they evolve?
D.R.: DISARO Records started with a lot of this dark witch house thing, but its evolving into a lot of minimal and I don’t know where its going to go from there. I’ll have something like KING DUDE who is neo folk, but his lyrics are so dark, but his sound is nothing like SALEM or Passions.
T.P.: I started Pendu Sound Recording as a noise label, and its moved more into melodic stuff. I work with Sasha Grey, who is a well-known porn star, but she makes more like soundtrack sounding music, to Chelsea Wolfe who is like dark rock and roll. But its cohesive.
Z.L: I think this is so effective because there’s so much strong branding in these record labels. I would buy anything Pendu or DISARO puts out, because I have liked everything they’ve released so far. I feel like these labels have made it so the listener can really trust them.
If this isn’t sound specific, what’s the common motif?
T.P.: Recently I was having a conversation about fog music. (laughs) Everything comes down to fog music! I think that’s the crux of this whole conversation. Everything looks better and feels better, if it’s in the lights and the fog. Our shows are filled with fog. Hip hop sounds good in the fog, and then you could put something heavy like rave or industrial and it sounds so good in the fog too!
Is there an ideology throughout this brand of dark music?
BLKRAINBW: It maybe comes down to escapism and the visual. It’s about creating my own world. People feed off that energy. I just want it to be a virus of excitement and people having a goodtime.
T.P.: We are artists who create an environment; we don’t just book bands. We envision what the entire night should look like. It’s a visual thing. We are interested in people reaching ecstatic. That’s something I use for the Pendu label, I call it “the aesthetic of the ecstatic.” I’m interested in people reaching that level. This music is not about whether its industrial or hip hop based, its about building the tension and release. Its about getting to that level.
D.R.: We want to get those kids who were always too cool to dance to rip it up. And I noticed in Europe, it picked up and they go crazy. Its this whole new sound, and over there, they love American music so much, like Salem was one of the first bands that was putting out this sound that was mixing up electronics with hip hop, and they were eating it up.
Do you think sensuality plays a role in the environment you’re curating?
T.P.: America is reserved and repressed and people are afraid of sex, and dancing is the next best thing to sex basically. Since we live in a puritanical Christian world here, people are afraid to dance. And this is definitely about the sensual, and people are afraid of that.
D.R.: Exactly, leave your inhibitions at the door! People here are confused about it at first, but by the end of the night they’re asking you what records you were playing.
Now that people are taking notice of this movement, what’s the next step?
T.P.: All of us here are sitting down and talking about this for the first time, coming from all these different places, and were all feeling the same thing. It’s all there. And whether its NY or L.A. or anywhere, were not going to go spin somewhere were someone else has control of what happens there. We have decided to do it our way, and our way only.
BLKRAINBW: I will do whatever it takes to play the tracks I want, and its not so much about being a purist, it’s about playing what I’m excited to play. There are so many retro nights now, you can choose any era you want to go live in, but for me I want to live now! In the future even! I think it’s important to always play new music.
T.P.: My next step is to move more into fashion. I have some collaborations coming out soon, to come back into the aesthetic. And I want to do artist development. We all want to hold onto this and make it grow together. We want to be able to keep it where its human, and I feel like were are all working together. We all want our own world, our own way. That’s what we’ve done, and here we are from different coasts doing the same thing. We seem to all have the same motivation.