Robert Disaro, Witch House Label Pioneer, Speaks
Image courtesy of Robert Disaro
Robert Disaro is an electronic music pioneer who worked behind the scenes giving some of the most important artists in the witch house genre their early starts. Fostering bands like Salem and White Ring in the late 2010s, his Disaro Records stands as a collage of dark electronic artists that defined witch house before it burst into the public consciousness. Now, Disaro discusses his organization and the movement.
Tristan: What is your relationship to music? Did you play in a band or produce music of your own, or were you always involved in some music scenes throughout the years?
Robert: My relationship to music is simple – I look for the obscure. I’ve always been involved in music through DJing, producing, laying beats, playing in bands. I started out putting on hip hop dance parties when I was 15. I got into punk music, but it wasn’t so much my scene. At that point I was listening more to the Seattle sound and was introduced to Sub Pop Records. Then the Domino Effect began followed by Amphetamine Reptile, Matador Records, Blast First Records. I took all the different elements from these sounds that resonated with me and built the sound that I sought to put together for my own label. I doubted anyone would produce the sound I was coming up with, so I started my own label, which is how Disaro Records began.
Did you have a governing philosophy about how you ran the label?
My governing philosophy included witchcraft, the occult, and DIY artists.
Did you produce any events or showcases to help promote your acts?
Of course. I started in my own city (Houston) giving away free CDR samples of bands from Disaro like a dope dealer. The shows did not roll over well in Houston, so I moved them to Austin. My first SXSW showcase in 2007 featured my headliners Ariel Pink and //TENSE// DJing, plus a few other great bands that did a sold-out show. There’s a VHS tape of the entire show roaming around somewhere.
How did you meet your label collaborator Owleyes? How did you split the duties on the daily workings of the label? Did your backgrounds help delineate this?
James (Owleyes) is also from Houston, and we roamed in the same circles. While I was starting the label, he was living in Chicago. I knew was an incredible DIY artist, so I asked him to do album artwork, which was his only involvement with Disaro.
We just did an interview with Mater Suspiria Vision, who released on your label. Speak to your working relationship with that collective.
Mater Suspiria Vision and I shared the same vision and aesthetic for music, and I was honored to release their first CDR on Disaro Records.
You’ve represented some of the most renowned witch house bands: Salem, White Ring, and oOoOO, to name a few. They are also quite different stylistically. Was there a common element in these bands that made you want to sign them?
This is where I fucked up…I didn’t sign them. I was just one of the first to pay attention to them, play them, and release them. With that being said, how do you sign someone on a CDR label in 2007?
Why do you think witch house became popular? I wonder if it’s the result of the economic recession, or instead some other global or cultural trends.
Neither of these. Witch house became popular because it mixed the sound of DJ Screw, industrial music, and indie pop. It was the new sound.
Did you ever have any interactions with the artists in the Russian witch house movement?
None. I didn’t even know it existed.
The very name “witch house” is problematic for some of its artists. What do you think of the term? Did mainstream media taint the term?
Here’s the story about how the name “witch house” started. At SXSW 2007, James and I were riding around Austin drinking and smoking with a writer in the car asking loads of questions. He asked what genre of music we were doing. In a blurry state, James says “witch,” and before he could finish the thought, I said “house.” In my opinion, mainstream media did taint the term, making it hot topic. Just like the store of the same name, it got watered down and wasted…it wasn’t what it was supposed to be, but like all new things, it withers.
Witch house was most prominent from 2010-2013, after which it seemed to disappear. You were on the front lines. What happened? Did people just move onto the next thing?
It was a trend. It got polluted, so I disassociated myself. All those artists you mentioned before have gone on to bigger things.
What were some of your favorite Disaro releases through the years? Favorite witch house releases in general?
Snow in Texas, //TENSE//, oOoOO , White Ring, Salem, o F F, Slowhead, Mater Suspiria Vision, Void, Modern Witch, Water Boarders, The Present Moment and King Dude. [Check out Disaro’s Discogs page for more info on all these bands – ed.]
Who’s putting out awesome stuff now, regardless of genre? Where do you see music shifting to in the second half of the 2010’s?
I don’t know. It’s all over the place right now; every label has a gem.
What other genres, if any, have arisen that build on top of witch house?
I pulled myself out of scene; I went back to my roots. So I don’t know.
Salem’s “King Knight” was one of the releases that broke through into at least the national consciousness. They also released music on Disaro. Could you comment on working with them?
I can’t really. The only encounter with John from Salem was a DJ gig at ShowCave, and we bonded.
Check out our playlist of witch house artists for more on this curious genre.