SUPER EGO "I'm on my way to play Dungeons and Dragons with a group I just joined," Ben Tundra, owner of the Bay Area's only official witch house label, Tundra Dubs (tundradubs.tumblr.com), told me over the phone. Could the beginning of our conversation be any more hotly nerd-perfect? Oh, wait.
"It's actually a 'faster' version of D&D called Pathfinder. Dungeons and Dragons is usually about who knows all the rules more, but this is easier to play. [The Pathfinder website claims 'players need only the single 576-page Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook to play.'] I usually play a ranger or rogue character — but I'm particularly drawn to dwarves. The Lord of the Rings is my obsession, and in my head I'm always Gimli. If I could be anyone in real life, it would be Gimli."
And that's when my geek pants exploded.
Sorry ladies, Ben's married; he and his wife moved to Oakland from Iowa last year to pursue their creative dreams. ("Believe it or not, Iowa isn't much of a musical hub," he obliterates my cornfield-rave fantasies.) The fast-growing, year-old Tundra Dubs was originally set to be a dubstep label — but the Bay's a bit flooded with those, and besides, this wicked new dubby-gory witch house sound was casting its spell.
Whatever side of the Great Witch House Debate of 2k10 you fell on — is it really a genre? Does it embody the over-nichefication of current music scenes? Who are all these hot goth kids with post-ironic '90s rap-rave gear and fancy computers? — one thing's for certain: witch house, a.k.a. drag, a.k.a. rape gaze, a.k.a. based goth sure ain't going away. (I've been into it. The typical witch house musical template is sometimes only OK, but the visually sardonic, "Why so serious" inversion of Internet culture by way of melted memes, splattered celebrities, crunked swagger, emotion-scrambling videos, and unGoogleable text trickery, accompanied by hectic chipmunking and slo-mo surroundsound fascinates me. Goths were once assumed to be lily-white Luddites and then, later, mindless mall rats — here is a Goth 3.0 culture that embraces technology and hip-hop, often questioning consumerism while slicing open the underbelly of the trashy Web wonderland. Admittedly, Tundra Dubs releases work a more traditionally wistful, melancholic vein,. But still: Hot Topic, RIP.)
"I feel that witch house is perhaps the first true Internet genre — there's such a sense of community that's come up from exchanging music and connecting online," Tundra told me. "I kept finding this great music though blogs and links and I was attracted to the overall aesthetic. It was almost nomadic. And there was so much variety, all under this dark umbrella. We've released things that sound like Berlin-style techno, old school industrial, more ambient textures..."
Despite all the attention it attracted online and in the music press, witch house has so far only been explicitly represented on the SF nightlife scene by excellent monthly party 120 Minutes at Elbo Room (happening this Friday at Elbo Room: www.facebook.com/120minutes), a scattered handful of concerts, and a recently ended series of Tundra Dubs showcases at Truck. (Ben tells me there's another one in the works.) That's too bad, because recent Tundra Dubs releases by intriguing acts like Funerals, ∆AIMON, and Zombelle would sound really great really loud in a club.
But at least there's some local representation, and hometown spooky-tuners like oOOoO and Water Borders are gaining international recognition. (Shouts out here to my fave up-and-coming dark horse, powwow.) And, borderless as witch house may be aesthetic-wise, Tundra Dubs is filtering it through a distinctly Bay Area mindset.