Does Witches of Malibu's Music Make You Feel Queasy? That's the Idea

Witches of Malibu's Skott Rusch
Witches of Malibu's Skott Rusch
Courtesy of the artist

Witches of Malibu — self-described as “violently psychedelic electronics, American Industrial power of suggestion and relaxation through noise-mongering” — might be less a mark made on the cool L.A. music landscape and more a screw punched through its center.

Formed in summer 2013 during a live action at the witching hour in David Kordansky’s Culver City gallery, Witches of Malibu have a sound that is at points startling, frightening, eldritch and raw. Bleak beats give way to yawning maws of utter despair; the spaces between the tracks become rapidly shrinking islands of sanity in the sonic chaos that surrounds them.

The rate of their releases is more like the sprint of a springtime satyr than the movement of a cabal of crones. There’s a 7-inch collaboration with venerable scuzz merchants Bastard Noise; a lathe-cut 5-inch on Barcelona label 8eminis; and a tape on Kitty Play Records out of Florida. A collaborative tape done with sonic sorcerers Amps for Christ is already being reissued on vinyl.

Skott Rusch, the man behind Witches of Malibu, has never actually recorded in Malibu or Zuma or Trancas. His province lies on the margins. He lives squarely in Claremont. He co-founded seminal tribal industrial outfit Hunting Lodge in pokey little Port Huron, Michigan, in 1982. What about South of Zuma, the Witches of Malibu cassette from 2013? “It’s a nod to Neil Young and Slayer,” Rusch says, speaking about Witches over the telephone.

Life on the margins carries with it a special kind of desolation that resembles life in eastern Michigan. Does the same thing that was in Hunting Lodge manifest in Witches of Malibu, even on a subconscious level? “Living out here in Claremont, I hadn’t been listening to noise or industrial or anything for years,” Rusch explains. “When I started tracking stuff for what would eventually become Witches of Malibu, it seemed like I was recording this stuff in a bubble. I know the guys from Wolf Eyes — we did a Hunting Lodge show with them — and still, I stayed away from any outside influences. Isolated, out here — just going out to the garage and doing it and then done; move on to the next thing.”

The words “witches” and “Malibu” possess certain moods and attitudes. Is there a general overall feeling Rusch aims for in Witches of Malibu? “General discomfort. It’s nice when people feel a little queasy or a little uneasy when they listen to it, although when I record it and listen back to the final product, usually [it] comes across to me as: It’d be nice if people kind of found this euphoria — and then general discomfort.” He laughs.

So what makes him uncomfortable? At this he is measured and steeped in perspective. “Well … now that I’m older and now that I have the kids and everything, a lot of the stuff that never used to bother me — imagery or subject matter of dark music — now I don’t even pay attention to it. I can’t. I just can’t. It hits a little too close to home in some respect and I don’t want to promote it, I don’t want to comment on it, I don’t want to look at it ...

"When I was younger, I dug the shit out of that stuff," he continues. "I’m not so concerned [now] about having to make the most brutal, abusive, harsh sounds. I don’t want it to be the most skull-ripping, violent, soul-raping kind of sound." Here he laughs again. "I want it to sound more interesting. It can be harsh …”

But nausea can be a subtle thing, too. Nausea isn’t just about vomiting. He describes the reactions incited by the first Witches of Malibu cassette, While My Guitar Gently Vomits Fountains of Dead Sound. “The thing with the crying babies in the background and just the sound of that doctor — that source material isn’t from a bad thing. It’s a doctor trying to help some mothers out there by diagnosing their babies and why they cry. The way I recorded it, with the underlying sounds — the queasy, sub-bass tones and synthesizers — it elicits that reaction from almost everyone who hears that thing. When I play it live, they all walk away and say, 'Fuck it. I can’t take that track.' That usually puts a smile on my face.”

In the end, it's all about context. “I knew what the source material was — but when I’d finished recording it,” he admits, “it did make me feel a little creeped-out.”

Upcoming Events

Witches of Malibu performs with Bastard Noise, Crowhurst, Black Cat and Wreckage, Vorpal Sword and Sleep Clinic at Honey Trap tonight, Friday, April 8. More info.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Witches of Malibu had an LP out on Kitty Play Records and that Kitty Play is based in New Jersey. The label is now based in Florida and the release was a tape, not an LP. We regret the errors.

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