Mystery to one: WTCHCRFT's vocal-driven techno will put you under a spell - Music - Mixmag

Mystery to one: WTCHCRFT's vocal-driven techno will put you under a spell

A techno producer with a hip hop foundation, Arielle Lana LeJarde chats to Brooklyn mainstay WTCHCRFT about true crime, going to the toilet at HÖR and navigating hijacked Black spaces

  • Words: Arielle Lana LeJarde | Photos: Dillon Edlin
  • 9 March 2023

WTCHCRFT is like a suburban mom. He calls himself that because he’s smoking Marlboro Golds in the courtyard of The Lot Radio, — which he says are the suburban mom cigarettes — while talking about his fascination with true crime (and the serial killer that was found living in his old apartment building). He also exudes an unmistakable maternal energy, the same energy that made him approachable enough to walk me through my first techno event at the Basement.

In a sea of party goers dressed in all black, WTCHCRFT sticks out in his go-to party uniform: a hi-glo construction jacket, blue Timberlands, a black beanie and his signature round glasses. His infectious, friendly energy only matches the brightness of his outfit — which also makes everyone who gets lost navigating Basement’s maze-like interior go to him for help. “I don’t mind people coming up to me,” he laughs. “If I did, I wouldn’t be wearing this jacket.”

To WTCHCRFT, the live experience means everything. Known for his aggressive and high-energy acid tracks, the artist, real name Anthony McLean, approaches techno with the club in mind. Influenced by his rap roots, WTCHCRFT's sound has a vocal-driven hip hop-like flow that makes your entire body want to move as soon as you hear it. “It’s what I want to hear in the club, but I'm not hearing in the club,” he explains. The New York-based producer has been making music since 2011, but during lockdown in 2020, he made the decision to pivot from making trap, wave, and witch house to creating techno.

He found early success on SoundCloud, releasing an EP at the age of 16 with Cologne imprint Noorden. Since then, McLean knew he wanted to make music, whether he admitted it to others or not. In 2015, his work was in the spotlight again after producing for the then-rising California rapper BONES. Now, WTCHCRFT is a mainstay in Brooklyn’s bright, burgeoning dance music scene, travelling to Berlin yearly to show off his skills in Europe.

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This weekend, he solidified his place as a Brooklyn legend with his first booking at Dweller festival, a multi-day and multi-venue event that showcases an all-Black line-up of artists. Ahead of his appearance, I met up with WTCHCRFT to talk navigating New York City’s complicated dance music scene, mutual love of true crime, and the producer’s recent strides in the techno world.

Check out the Q&A below, and WTCHCRFT's "hard, fast, melodic and groovy mix" below.

Is it hard to get on HÖR?

No, it's actually pretty easy. All you gotta do is email. I don't even think you really have to be good enough. I feel like if you're not good enough, and you play and it's not that good, they just won’t put it up on YouTube. It's in a dilapidated building and then there's a dark tunnel that you go down, you take a left and then it’s “the bathroom.” And there's no bathroom, also.

It’s in “the bathroom,” but no bathroom?

It's so funny that they call it the bathroom. But there's no bathroom. Like, you have to go in the back and piss on some old thing. It’s an abandoned building, and it's kind of ridiculous. But it's a lot of fun.

You’re playing Dweller later tonight. That should also be fun!

Yeah! It’s my first time playing this year. Last year was the first year I went.

Have you seen the Twitter discourse with people saying the crowd is too white?

I will say, the first event I went to, it was really Black. Then afterwards, the party was really Black too, Ragga was playing so it was a lot of dancehall and Jamaican-influenced stuff. I was having a time! It felt like Carnivale in Jamaica. But then when I went yesterday, we got in, and it was all white people. Just felt like a normal Nowadays night with an awesome Dweller theme. But I can't say I'm too surprised.

A lot of the events have been selling out, which is great. But I don’t know how the festival is supposed to navigate trying to sell that many tickets every night at every venue while also keeping an all-Black audience.

Exactly. For lack of better words, I'm so used to it. I'm so used to being Black in overwhelmingly white spaces, spaces that are supposed to be for Black people but just becomes white. I don't know, I'm just so used to things being hijacked. It really sucks, but you just gotta keep pushing and and trying to keep centering Black voices and Black people. I don't really know how we would combat such a thing. There's only so many disclaimers we can put on a flier. What comes to mind is this horrible, horrible, horrible time I had at a Kendrick Lamar concert. Jesus Christ, it was all white teenagers. Everyone was saying the N word. Halfway through the concert. I told my friend I was going to the bathroom. And I stayed in the bathroom.

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Speaking of hip hop. I know you have rap and trap roots. Now that you make techno, do you still use your hip hop background as a reference point for what you’re making now?

100%. Specifically in the vocals. The cadences that certain rappers use, I noticed I [mimic] when I do vocals on my own tracks. I tend to put on a Snoop Dogg voice — the way says things and draws them out, and his weird inflections and shit that make a track pop. It's almost like rhyming without rhyming. The cadences are what's rhyming. So I like to focus on that.

Were you ever worried about the techno scene not accepting you because you were making more trap and wave music?

I wasn't ever worried about that. I just thought: I'll make what I want to make and I think it's gonna be good. So I'm just gonna make it.

You’re very confident! What’s your sign?

I’m a Libra.

Do you even believe in astrology?

It's not that I believe in it, but I think it's a lot of fun. I just think it's a fun way to express yourself and that's what I like about it. So whenever people are like “Oh, it's stupid” I'm just like, you don't like fun? You don’t like to have fun? So do I believe in it? Maybe? Like if you asked me if I believed in ghosts, I’ll say the same thing.

So you don’t think you were haunted in your apartment?

No, I really don’t.

Do you like to do research on serial killers?

I love true crime. For better or or for worse. I find it very interesting. A lot of people think the pathology of the serial killers is what’s interesting, but that's not as interesting to me as the stories and the background of the victims. I feel like the story deserves to be told. I don't think it's very interesting as to why a serial killer decided [to do what they did]. Who cares? I like to watch documentaries and play YouTube videos about true crime, like mystery make-up videos.

You really are like a suburban mom.

Yeah, my mom loves Investigation Discovery and I recognize that it's a little trashy, but it's also very entertaining. A lot of people say,“This is so stupid, we need to care about what's going down right now,” but true crime has been around since the 30s. It used to be even trashy before they had magazines, with photos of e horrible things, totally uncensored. I think a lot of these magazines don't exist anymore. But they were there.

So your name is WTCHCRFT and a lot of our conversation has been about serial killers and the supernatural. Have you always been drawn to spooky shit?

Yeah, always. I’ve always been drawn to spooky stuff. Really it started off as a fear and I don't know when it flipped. But the WTCHCRFT, I literally came up with because in middle school, what was really big at the time was EDM trap. And a lot of those artists had names with no vowels. I was like, “What's the word that would look cool with no vowels, but you would still understand what it is?” It took like two seconds. The first thing that popped in my head was witchcraft. I wrote it out and I was like, “Yeah, that's it.” It just stuck. [My upcoming EP] is called 'The Wych Elm' and It comes from an unsolved 1940s murder case, in Hagley Wood in the UK where these boys were out in the woods. They were looking for bird nests or something — whatever n****s used to do in the '40s. I don't know what they were doing. But they came across a wych elm tree and found a full human skeleton. It was huge news and they have no idea, to this day, who the girl is. But after they removed it and were doing the investigation, they found graffiti in the city saying “Who put Luebella down the wych elm – Hagley Wood.” So I named it after that and the first track is called “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?”

Especially with this EP, I feel like a lot of your work represents streams of consciousness mixed with shit that interests you. Yeah. is all of your music really personal?

Yes. It's always been personal. I still go back to some of my older songs that are not dance music at all. Specifically, I have a song called 'Stay'. It was when I was dating my ex and she went back to Sweden as I made this song. It is a beautiful song. I love it. I wish I got more recognition. But I love it and I listen to it still. And I don't do that often.

How are you able to take criticism on your music when something is so close to you?

Pretty well, you know, everyone has their own tastes. It's funny though, because I'm a people pleaser. Definitely a class A people pleaser. It's been a problem my entire life. But music, for some reason, I just don't feel that way. I don't feel like I need to please anyone other than myself, really.

What do you want people to get out of this EP?

Have fun! I want to hear it out live.

Read this next: New York Rising: How Brooklyn became one of the world's best clubbing destinations

Is that why you usually produce music? For it to be played out live?

It's for me to play. It’s more what I want to hear in the club, but I'm not hearing in the club. So I'm like, “Shit, I gotta make it then.” If no one else is doing it, I gotta do it. If I can't find anyone else who assembled something in the way that I like, I'm gonna fucking do it. That's how I've been approaching techno. At the end of the day, I'm really just experimenting.

Do you consider yourself an experimental producer?

No. I don't even know what that means. I don't know what experimental is, but I'm experimenting.

Tell us about your Impact mix.

I woke up at 10:AM to do this mix. It's hard, fast, melodic, but most importantly it’s groovy; filled with a lot of the tracks that I’ve been playing out recently and two unreleased tracks!

The Wych Elm comes out on March 10 via Noise Manifesto.

Arielle Lana LeJarde is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter


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