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A Guide Through the Haunting World of “Folk Horror”

Comus-by-Mike-Rose-600

Comus by Mike Rose

Folk horror is a contemporary term coined to describe a cultural strand running through film, art, literature, and music. Appropriately though, its origins are as old as the hills. The term appears to have entered the lingua franca in Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss’ 2010 BBC documentary Home Counties Horror, where it was used to describe three British horror films—1968’s Witchfinder General, 1970’s Blood On Satan’s Claw, and 1973’s The Wicker Man. Each of these films posited the English countryside as a place of ancient traditions and malign forces, dangerous to outsiders and the unwary. In his essay “From The Forests, Fields And Furrows,” Andy Paciorek notes folk horror’s proximity to psychogeography, the Situationist concept which draws lines between landscape and the human psyche. In folk horror, evil is stamped into the very soil.

The term “folk horror” might have sprung from cinema, but this is a world from which music and sound is inextricable. The Wicker Man—director Robin Hardy’s horror about the pagan community of Summerisle in the Scottish Highlands—was musically driven, with Paul Giovanni’s soundtrack locating a traditional magical undercurrent in English folk. The film’s most famous track, “Willow’s Song,” is a sort of pagan spell of seduction, as a sultry barmaid named Willow tempts the straight-laced Sergeant Howie through the wall of his room.

But it feels important to point out that the music of folk horror is not merely “dark folk music.” Nigel Kneale’s influential ’70s TV programs Quatermass and the Pit and The Stone Tape featured audio effects by Desmond Briscoe’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And many contemporary musicians working in the realms of folk horror—often based around concept-driven boutique imprints such as Reverb Worship or Ghost Box—pick up on this strand, employing analog electronics and concrete techniques that invest their music with an occult power or a sense of the uncanny.

Read on for some of the best folk horror releases that Bandcamp has to offer.

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