Crunk Witch to play Winston-Salem
You could reasonably assume — given the bubbling petri dish of pop-culture nomenclature and the state of rapidly evolving names for genres, subgenres, micro-genres and nano-genres — that Crunk Witch is some new permutation of dark hip-hop house and regional electro all fused together in a tangle of melted circuitry and pulsing subwoofers. You’d be partly right. Crunk Witch isn’t in fact, a new twisted club-jam genre taxonomy. It’s a band. A duo. From Maine. They do actually play a giddy hybrid of electronic music that draws on elements of hip-hop, techno-pop, industrial, chiptune, glam, and a flurry of other (mostly) dayglo styles that get flung together in the band’s party-centric musical particle collider.
Crunk Witch play a show in Winston-Salem on Sept. 20 at Monstercade. The duo are a couple, and that seems to allow them to live the full-on road-warrior traveling-band lifestyle that they maintain, spending much of the year on tour, traversing the country, playing gigs all over, without suffering the pangs of isolation and romantic ping-ponging that makes the life of the gigging musician so excruciating for many.
The pair, made of up of Brandon Miles and Hannah Collen, just released their fourth full-length record earlier this year. The album, simply called Crunk Witch, is bursting with hyper arpeggiations, twitchy beats, bottomed-out synth bass sounds, and the big ecstatic and dramatic vocals of Miles. The music draws on the slightly retro-futuristic visions of Tron and Knight Rider, but the singing tips its spangled hat to arena belters like Freddie Mercury and Jon Bon Jovi. Miles and Collen are not afraid of kitsch and humor. Over-the-top is basically right where they aim everything.
Crunk Witch operate out of Presque Isle, Maine, which is only about 20 miles from the Canadian border. Not only is it really far North, it’s remote, giving Miles and Collen a peculiar vantage point from which to view the rest of America. The location might help shape their idiosyncratic approach.
“Being removed from a big music scene has helped us to be more creative and willing to explore styles of music we might not normally touch,” wrote Miles in an email exchange with me last week. “I would also say it’s inspired a better work ethic, as there is a lack of opportunities. We instead have to create our own.”
One of the opportunities Crunk Witch has created for themselves is a cyclical schedule built around writing, recording and touring. Their professional calendar is programmed like one of their tunes, with its own drops and double-time surges.
“Finishing an album takes a huge mental toll, as we do all of the recording, mixing, and mastering ourselves,” Miles wrote. “So it’s like a year focused on touring, a year split writing and touring, then a heavy six months wrapping it up, rinse and repeat.”
Their other releases — Heartbeats in Hyperspace, Faith in the Thief, and The Legends of Manicorn — have all maintained that mix of video-game aesthetics with a whoosh of otherworldly Star Trek-style dystopian pizazz. Crunk Witch can go from vaudevillian crooning to warp speed barking, all of it sounding as if it were remixed by ultra-caffeinated androids. If there were pagan robot strip joints, this might be the music that would get blasted there.
The effervescent vibe of Crunk Witch’s music and their visual style — a protein shake of fake-fur onesies, encrusted jewelry, Golden Girl-ish rayon wind suits — masks a straight-up commitment to the core principles of showbiz. The duo works to radiate their own energy and enthusiasm.
“We like to keep it light, but real. We live for passion,” Miles wrote.
That’s another theme that their status as romantic partners allows Crunk Witch to explore: the subject of self-contained and fully realized attraction and gratification. If a lot of pop music is about longing or loss, yearning, lust or heartbreak, Crunk Witch often write songs about having someone and being satisfied. It’s not as blase as it might sound. They still generate heat and intensity, but there’s more of a sense of certainty to the dynamic. Though even when they conjure the sparks of attraction, like on “Drive,” off the new record, they do so using the language of delirium and losing control.
The two met — in true retro-futuristic fashion — on Myspace, originally coming together to swap nerdy song ideas, and only forming a band three years later. Crunk Witch’s music is made for a fizzy virtual setting. They’re riffing on the world in which they were spawned.
With their DJ-ish setup of backing tracks and preconfigured backgrounds, Miles and Collen can abandon the confines of the stage if need be, taking their show directly to the dancefloor for maximum crowd connection.
“The job of performing isn’t to fill time or inflate your ego. It’s to entertain.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.