Dance Macabre

Salem Brings Witch House to the Stage

Salem is one of those bands that would rather no one know their face.

The Chicago-based trio has been making internet waves with their 808 clapper-heavy electronic darkness, and seem to make an effort at remaining aloof.

Their sound is a combination of decelerated hip-hop, juke house, and the kind of mood you’d expect from a Slowdive record—a mix that will suck the joy right out of the room.

“None of us think of music as a social outlet,” said percussionist/MC Jack Donoghue. “We make music together, but how we experience music, even our own, is very personal.”

And it shows, at the very least on their disinterested faces in videos of their live shows. The singing of Heather Marlatt and John Holland is shoegaze to a tee, buried in the mix with inconsequential lyrics. The music is an emotional setting, evoking the darkest possible kind of bliss.

Salem are something like the electronic equivalent of Black Sabbath, and not just in their obsession with crosses. Salem create downer music for the depressed kid who just wants to dance.

Their 2008 EP Yes, I Smoke Crack showed promise in its down-tempo haze, and September’s professionally produced King Night made Witch House sound bigger than ever before. Salem became even better at extracting serotonin through your ears.

Since the hype around King Night the band has been playing more live shows and are gradually finding comfort in their live show. The Salem on record comes from working in front of a computer, and as such it’s taken the band a while to find their performing legs.

“Like anything, you get more confident the more shows you do,” said Marlatt. “I feel like we’re in a pretty good place with our show, but we’re always trying to be better.”

As for the imposed labels of Drag or Witch House, the band isn’t sure what to make of them.

“I’m not really sure what that means, since drag means slowed down. People have been doing that for a long time, maybe DJ Screw first made it popular,” said Holland. “I don’t really know if there’s a scene or not. Me and Heather live in the woods in Michigan and I don’t think Jack pays attention to that in Chicago.”

Regardless, a culture of blogs and message boards have birthed micro genres of music. Salem’s name is commonly written online in Leet speak.

Leet, or “1337” is an alternative alphabet for the English language that is used primarily on the Internet. It uses various combinations of ASCII characters to replace Latinate letters. For example, leet spellings of the word leet include 1337 and l33t.

But,­ fortunately for them, a lot of people are paying attention to Salem. They’ve added a light show to their live setup and are working on new material, so with a bit of luck the group may end up being more than just a passing trend. It’s better than the alternative for John Holland at least, who was reportedly turning tricks in Chicago cabs to support a heroin addiction before forming the band.

“I want them to feel something so strong, or to be changed after listening,” said Holland.

Salem / Le Gymnase / 4177 Saint-Denis St. / Fri., March 18 / with Silk Flowers and Prince Club / Door $15.