Read: Best of 2018 List
The way time moves in our modern culture, 2010 already seems like an eternity ago.
A lot of things from that time in our recent past might seem a bit foggy by now, but a few items of relevance still float to the surface on occasion. Personally, among these scattered pieces of nostalgia in my grey matter, the sounds of “witchhouse” are very prevalent, yet still mysterious.
“Witchhouse” (or any of it’s other descriptive variants like “screwgaze” or “dragwave”) was a bastard spawn of the underground electronic music scene & a redefining of creeped out aesthetics like no other. Eccentric bedroom producers teamed up with reclusive sirens & outsider rappers alike to make moody audio manifestos, often focused on the occult & the darker side of dance music.
The unholy sound was somewhere between lo-fi goth & dragged out hip hop, with hints of noisy industrial & dreamy shoegaze elements mixed in for good measure. The music itself was like a soundtrack to a drug fueled underground rave held in an actual haunted house, and for a brief moment, it was seemingly on everyone’s radar. Anthems of the genre were featured in big movies & tv shows, as soundtracks on fashion runways & many artists even made the leap to producing tracks for big name rap acts who wanted to switch up their sound for a track or two.
But flash forward to present time, and the genre seems to be mostly forgotten by the masses, replaced in the public eye by whatever electronic movement was the trendiest next (vaporwave & dubstep spring to mind as examples) & relegated to tiny glimmers of those familiar elements peppered in remixes & mixtapes from the occasional forward thinking pop producers.
Was this actually a blessing in disguise for our beloved dark arts? Were these sounds ever really meant to leave the underground or be embraced on as large of a level as they were for even that brief moment in time?
Last year brought a small revival that included a few of the acts from the original movement.
Ritualz, oOoOO (w/Islamiq Grrrls) & White Ring all released new albums over the course of 2018 & while they were all incredible explorations & variations on the classic sound, White Ring’s “Gate of Grief” leans the closest to the glory days of yore while never painting itself into any one corner either. This beast dropped over the summer & marked the first full length from these pioneers of the dark arts.
Back in 2011, they blessed us with a defining banger of the genre (the EP “Black Earth That Made Me”) & rumors since then suggested they were working towards a full album.
It took a few years, but it was well worth the wait. I decided to interrogate Bryan from White Ring on their activities over the years & find out what the future looks like for some of the darkest stars of the electronic underbelly, regardless of what the fuck you want to call it.
(interview conducted with Bryan Kurkimilis of WHITE RING via email on January 21st 2019 by Revenge Technician)
RT: This album has been in the works for literal years, how much of the material included has been around in some form since then?
Are the final results close to what you envisioned when you started working on it?
BK: The songs are from all over. When Kendra and I started recording for the album in 2010 everything was changing around us pretty quickly. The momentum of our choices and our own past demons were starting to overwhelm us. K and I were addicted to opiates by 2011 thats around the time when the concept and name for the album came. You could call what we were doing “witchcraft”. We never called it that but we do believe in the power of spiritual purity while creating. We made a mistake trying to use drugs as a shortcut to that spiritual oasis. We knew the the main themes we wanted to explore were loss and acceptance, the build-up to the fall and the immediate aftermath were what we were looking for and I think we captured it pretty true to real life. The themes are true to what we were originally trying to express and more in a strange meta way.
RT: “Gate of Grief” has a familiarity in sound to your previous EP, “Black Earth That Made Me”, but also isn’t anchored to any one particular style, was this an intentional choice or just natural evolution?
BK: WHITE RING I think exists to live on the fringes of pop music. Like making songs that could technically be played on an FM radio station – it just never will though because its just a little too weird. We just want to do our part in shifting the Overton Window just a little bit closer to the ethereal, heavy and spiritual.
RT: How has the addition of Adina effected or shaped the new material & the project in general?
BK: It’s really harmonious. She really gets the idea and doesn’t mind being vulnerable with the music. I knew for a few years that we needed a third member – it took some trial and error finding someone that works in the context of WHITE RING.
RT: I know the seeds of this project were originally planted online, as many are these days, but do you all currently live in the same area
& work on ideas together?
Maybe this is an easier way to summarize: could you discuss your creative process from initial idea to final product & how each of you add to that process?
BK: It almost always starts one of two ways. Either it begins with noticing that I’m feeling some-type-of-way and I try to record or grab a guitar or it starts as an earworm. Either way – I let the mood and general melody sink in. Then I record everything to Ableton and send the raw idea off to either Adina or Kendra. We usually discuss the song or the vibe that we want for it then they will come up with a rough idea and send it back to me. From there we usually bounce the idea back and forth a few times until its done.
RT: Are there any overarching themes to the new album?
BK: Longing for things that never existed.
Having your soul castaway.
RT: How would you describe the music of WHITE RING?
BK: I think WHITE RING is like emotionally heavy music to comfort people who seek relief.
RT: How do you feel about the term “witchhouse”?
Do you think it’s a restraining tag to have put on you or do you embrace it?
BK: I don’t mind those words as a name for a genre but I don’t embrace the idea of genre in my music or the music I listen to.
RT: What are some of your influences?
Musically, of course, but also any movies/books/art or anything else you draw inspiration from…
BK: David Bowie’s Berlin years have really been inspiring me lately. Ditching the drugs and committing to life without becoming some cheesy fake positive type is like the ultimate goal for me. I like a lot of cultural history stuff- i’m reading a book called “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” its about how black and white culture are intertwined in the US. Like most Americans, I grew up around this and have always been very interested in and surrounded by black culture.
RT: Every time i listen to the album i find a new favorite, right now it’s “Puppy”.
While i’d love to discuss every track, i won’t ask that of you, but could you give some insight into that one in particular?
BK: “Puppy” started as a song to do live to give the set a little boost in energy. I freestyled the words til it became that song. That song is meant to be kind of like a purely nihilistic half-formed anthem of childish self destruction.
RT: Do any of you make music or art in other projects?
If so, could you fill us in?
BK: We are all-in on WHITE RING. We have another project we are working on boundmfg.com – the site is live now and has WHITE RING records and merch for now.
RT: Any other plans for the future you’d like to share?
BK: We just started recording our next LP “Show Me Heaven”. We have a mixtape “Chaind vol. 2” and a new single coming out on our record label Rocket Girls 20th Anniversary compilation with a bunch of people I never thought we would be on a release with.
RT: ok last one, I know you’re Twin Peaks fans, and I love the subtle nod to the music in “Do U Love Me 2?”, so if WHITE RING were in that universe, would you be playing at:
1) the Roadhouse/Bang Bang Bar in Twin Peaks,
2) The Pride & The Glory, sleazy Canadian bar, featured in Fire Walk With Me, or
3) Elk Point’s #9 Bar, where Sarah Palmer removed her face & killed that dude in The Return.
(say what you will, but i bet #9 bar has a sick house PA hiding in there)
BK: I would probably setup some type of Woodstock 99 situation on Leo’s property.