What all the artists on ISVOLT do share is a strong strain of the Creepy. Distorted, barely human vocals are the norm, as are cold synth sounds and mechanical samples. Industrial music has always seemed to me, on some level, to be a way to musically embrace the mechanization of our lives while still recognizing the violence of that revolution. Perhaps Witch House fills that same musical role, but in our contemporary, digitized culture. Instead of shying away from the coldness and inhumanity of digital life, it embraces those aspects completely.
The songs on ISVOLT also share a link to a common ancestry. Although the sub-genres at work here can be endlessly debated, it’s plain that they evolved from music where the beat is everything, music made by DJs for clubs; dance music. Beat still reigns supreme, although on a few of the tracks its hold is slipping. On the opening track, “Misery Walk,” the beat is steady and strong, almost a march, but the weight of the fuzzy, reverb-drenched material surrounding it is heavy enough to overwhelm the listener and make them forget that a steady footing exists at all. Party Trash’s “Sky Clad” features a wheeling synth line that throws the whole thing off-balance. Instead of doing its damage with inescapable four-on-the-floor grooves, ISVOLT surrounds you in a vast aura of sound and noise, absorbing you into its twisted world.
What, then, is the right venue for this music? On first listening, I felt strongly that I was only half-experiencing the CD, that to truly feel it you have to be on the dance floor. But while it still feels wrong to listen to it by myself on iTunes, I sometimes can’t imagine dancing to it either. There’s so much to listen to, so much other than the beat, that I suspect I’d find myself sitting down in the club to listen more closely. Maybe the most successful “Witch House” tracks are infectious enough to dance to, but go deep enough to be equally enjoyed in your own room with the lights off and noise-canceling headphones on.
Highlights of this compilation include “Nectarine,” a beautiful song by Raw Moans. This track is, by far, the most friendly on ISVOLT. The noisy ambience stays in the background as the sultry beat and soft synth lines form a warm bed for vocalist Joseph Vorachack’s reverb-drenched falsetto. It’s soft, sexy, and addictive.
Modern Witch’s “Your Life A Movie,” is a enthralling, two-chord song full of creepy synth tinkling, cold drum samples, and a layered, otherwordly voice listing contemporary sights and phrases as if they were ingredients for a magic spell. It ends with several sudden texture shifts underneath the lyrics “All is one/All is one/one one one one.” This is the creepiest, most effective track on the release. Its effectiveness has a lot to do with the relative clarity of the lyrics, allowing the listener to get a fuller sense of what’s going on. It also paints most convincingly the idea of music as a sort of spell, an enchantment that takes over your body, making you listen, making you dance. This idea permeates the entire release, but it’s only in “Your Life A Movie,” that these “Witchy” subtleties are made clear.
ISVOLT is a truly fascinating release. For people like me, who had never heard of Witchhouse or Drag before listening to this compilation (or reading this article), ISVOLT is a must-have exploration into a dark corner of contemporary dance music. Even if you happen to be a Witchhouse insider, it’s still a worthy release, as the tracks aren’t lacking in quality. As I mentioned above, if you were lucky enough to pre-order ISVOLT, it’s being shipped out today in Vinyl, CD, and via digital download. If not, you’ll have to wait until December 6th to get hold of it. And if you happen to be in London, you can check out the release party on the 6th at The Den.