The blurb of Initiation Rituals, Kristijan Kroupa’s third release for his Alleged Witches project, promises a sound which is “both singular and versatile” and an “exploration into deep, dark, club music.” Naturally, as a deep house enthusiast, I picked up the record and took it home for a listen. Alleged Witches is perhaps Kroupa’s most ambitious project, though he regularly produces deep house influenced techno as Christian Kroupa. As you read this review, check out Kroupa’s A Dangerous Game – it’s truly a banger.
Almost immediately something was off with Initiation Rituals. It’s not the production, which is stellar (Kroupa uses no less than 50 distinct live samples for each Alleged witches track), but rather the choice of samples that is strange, and even uncomfortable considering the artist and audiences these tracks are produced for.
The vocabulary used to describe Alleged Witches hints at the project’s conceptual shortcomings and a tone-deafness to cultural appropriation within the larger electronic music community. Shape Platform has asked Kroupa about his interest in the “occult and mysterious.” SolvdMag has reviewed the album lauding the tracks as “ritualistic” with a “Voodoo vibe” and notes how “shakers and organic percussion [work] nicely with the jungle elements and female vocal[s] which brings deep house [into] the Amazon Forest.” It’s not as if Kroupa is working at the margins either – Alleged Witches has a previous released under a sub-label of R&S Records – whose artists include Aphex Twin, James Blake, and Oliver Tree.
What exactly is so “occult” and “ritualistic” about Alleged Witches? And is the sound really so “singular” to merit a release on one of the world’s most influential contemporary electronic music labels? Does the usage of live congo and tom-tom percussive loops, pan-indigenous style vocal chants, and manipulated ambient rainforest sounds evoke a novel “ritualistic and Voodoo vibe” for mostly white European audiences and artists? When phrased this way, the project and its reception reflect racist tropes.
So I was disappointed with Initiation Rituals, and disheartened to hear that Kroupa considers Alleged Witches his “priority project.” I do not mean to suggest that white European artists cannot be involved in the production of tribal house, but recent social reckonings have yet again reminded us that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Sure, white Europeans should be able to help produce authentic tribal house but let’s do so in collaboration with the cultures from which the sounds find their origin.