LA Vampires meets Zola Jesus LA Vampires meets Zola JesusLA Vampires meets Zola Jesus
So far, the witch house scene is in such a minority, marginal and endogamic, that it would be hard for us even credit it as the hype of the season. It’s following is limited to critics with their antenna set for oddity, or to staunch fans of anything that sounds vaguely like noise, 80s, comatose or cemetery dance, so it will be hard for witch house to break down the doors of consumer pop – it remains to be seen whether Salem will give the definitive blow. But nevertheless, from outside of this turmoil of neo-synth with incursions into EBM and primitive industrial, there is the impression that a sound revolution is being cooked up inside the scene. In fact, this isn’t the case: this collision between a Gothic aesthetic, slow, obsessive beats and improvised music processes within the context of analogue handling (something like the revision of more esoteric industrial music, like Coil, with a basic DIY attitude like “The Blair Witch Project” and a taste for Italo disco and house that isn’t at all ironic) is more interesting for its substrate than for its substance; this doesn’t imply that the music isn’t interesting (let’s not be small-minded). The music has more to it than meets the eye, of course it does, and the brief, but intense career of Zola Jesus (the alias of Nika Roza Danilova, operatic voice, inclination towards bad vibes, something like an ambient disciple of Diamanda Galás) summarises well the why and how of this scene. Following her tracks implies entering the market of cassettes, limited-edition, not exactly accessible records –only 600 copies of this one have been made, and in the UK is costs about £14 pounds (about $20 dollars in the US)– as well as the world of blogs and out-of-the-way forums. The thing that the witch house scene has going for it now is its hermetic quality, its conviction that it is only by and for initiates, like a secret society or a sect. It rests on mystery to increase its projection.
But even if it’s black magic that is used by artists like Zola Jesus or the comparable LA Vampires –alias of Amanda Brown, the leader of Pocahaunted in her less funk version and more in her role of no wave meets suicide girls– all magic has its tricks. This trick, specifically, is very simple: in this case the trace of dance music is vague, but the noise is intense. What she does is meld together different avant-garde essences into a cocktail that has a bitter, but attractive taste. It’s a black cocktail, with a demonic background, or a Wiccan one, but without much real evil in it deep down. Voices emit a single letter, as if singing a liturgy in slow motion, with screwed & chopped southern hip hop techniques, distorted, accompanied by scratchy guitar sounds and synthesisers whose timbres run together ( “In the Desert”). There are heavy atmospheres ranging from gentle to the perforation of the eardrum, a blurry, disfigured texture, like the reflection of a shadow on the surface of a river in the middle of the night. And there are mechanical rhythms, like the murmur of a creeping monster that is dragging itself ever closer (yes, it’s very Lovecraft). If Amanda Brown has been vaguely identified with the hypnagogic scene for her work in Pocahaunted, what she’s looking for in LA Vampires would be just the opposite: not a romantic dream, but rather the stylisation of a nightmare. It’s when reality blurs with the dream, and the dream ends up being one that makes you wake up in a cold sweat, maybe shouting. A transitory, unimportant uneasiness. “LA Vampires meets Zola Jesus” might be uncomfortable the first time you listen to it, but when you listen more closely, you can tell that it isn’t as fierce as it’s made out to be, that is has the same disturbing (and finally harmless) effect as an entertaining horror film.
I wouldn’t be lying if I said that with albums like this one, one’s bowels feel an irrepressible urge to let loose from the terror. I swear on the complete bibliography of Thomas Pynchon, which I do possess, that I wanted to be able to tremble and hide under the bed the several times that I listened to this mini-LP, which many have indicated is the take-off for something big (in the dense branch of witch house, that is to say). But it sounds like an updating of Lydia Lunch ( “Eulogy”), Rhys Chatham (see “Vous”), Suicide (the same with “Looking In”) and other old underground things –Chris & Cosey, for example– passed through the modern sifter with the attitude of youth disconnected from tradition. We shouldn’t forget that another of the ladies of hipster industrial is Sasha Grey, the famed porno actress who dares to do anything, the one who replaced Belladonna as the most extreme experimenter in filmed sex. She prides herself on her culture and reading, a fan of existentialism and the nouvelle vague, of modern art and squeaking music; she is muse to Steven Soderbergh, queen of ass to mouth, etc. The woman who leads the Atelecine project has put her name on strange launches of important labels like Coptic Cat or Pendu Sound, and even on Current 93 albums, so one shouldn’t look down on a certain dose of snob exhibitionism and bourgeois entertainment in all of this necromancy with dub beats and a fine distortion of the stream of sound violence of pseudo-noise improvisation (summarised in “No No No” and the almost trip hop of “Searching”). All of this is what is in LA Vampires and Zola Jesus -the two hyped acts to follow with curiosity- but without fervour. They are called to do great things, but the moment has yet to arrive. Javier Blánquez