The raw mysticism and darkness of Häxan

By Neshy Denton

Share: Share:

It takes precise brilliance to solidify intricate feelings of what one could call a horror film from the 20s into a musical journey. Yo Diablo, a duo from Valencia, step into the world of trickery and witchcraft to discover its musical purpose. Divided into seven chapters, they perform a visually triggering musical experience of Häxan. How did you two meet? 

I have run a cultural bar in Valencia (La Vitti Bar) for the past two years. It is where many bands and fellow musicians come together, and Víctor turned up one day, just having been recruited as a drummer for some colleague’s band, Los Premios. I had already clocked him on Instagram – I thought the guy was an incredible drummer and had great style. I didn’t have a permanent drummer at the time, so I asked him if he wanted to play an “experimental” concert with me. He didn’t have a clue what I was on about, but he said yes anyway. The first concert we did together was playing live music for the film “Häxan”. 

This year, you land a new version of your creativity, “Häxan”, a detour from your previous release “, Serpientes”. With this album, on what grounds did you write your music? 

This last album came from the first gig Víctor and I did together. We really enjoyed the experience of creating instrumental and experimental music, and after doing this live show several times, we decided to capture this atmosphere into an album. It consists of seven songs because the film has seven chapters, and each song summarises what we do live when we play with the film. 

So, this album is about the soundtrack of the film “Häxan” (1922). What is the film about – what elements of the film did you want to convey whilst composing? 

Häxan is an incredible film and is very advanced for its time. Not only is it technically incredible how a film in 1922 uses its models, chroma keys, stop-motion, and fades as well as breaking the fourth wall, but the film is a clear feminist statement from the 20s and a serious report to the ferocious genocide; which was the witch hunt during the Middle Ages. Alongside this, it’s a horror film. Dark and anti-Christian. I mean, it’s all great. We wanted to transmit its raw mysticism and darkness through the composition accompanying each chapter. 

Being an album based on a film’s soundtrack, do you feel like you’ve moved away from your style in general? And do you think a specific genre has predominated here? 

We started from a blank sheet of paper and were inspired by the film’s images. We directly discarded the original soundtrack. Ever since my first album, I have discovered new styles of music, and meeting Víctor was also a slight change in direction in terms of the band’s sound. Whilst recording “Häxan”, we listened to Ethiopian jazz, Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”, and Gábor Szabó. Thanks to this album, we have expanded towards other styles of music, leading us to grow as musicians simultaneously. I couldn’t summarise it into one genre, but we’ve composed “Häxan” from intuition rather than what is regulated. In essence, the album is more touching towards jazz than rock.

Listening to your music, especially this LP, generates a vivid image in my head. The melodies and combination of sounds almost build something very visual for me. Did you have any specific visual ideas when creating the album?

We projected the film onto a white sheet in our rehearsal studio to compose. So, each song is inspired visually by each chapter. The beginning, for example, is a narrative in essay-documentary mode based on the beginnings of humanity in medieval times, in which the music didn’t need too much information, melody, or rhythm, just an accompaniment to the story. The second chapter was a bit more playful, so we proposed a pasodoble in our style. In Mazmorra (chapter five), the drums recreate the monks whipping toward their subjects. And the guitar played by a violin languishes – just like the actress does at the end of that part. Chapter six stages the possession of some nuns due to the collective hysteria, which we translated into folkloric acid techno. The last chapter resolves the film and honours all the murdered witches by the Inquisition. We support these images with open chords, an unleashed zurna and post-rock distortions. 

I can hear elements of psychedelic rock, rumba flamenca, blues and even a bit of country. But there’s also something very hypnotic and experimental about it. Have you experimented technically when producing this variety of styles? 

Although we never begin composing a song with a specific style in mind, we do use references that come to mind to finish a tune. And, by the way, you have a good ear. All these references are there. Personally, this last year, I’ve been experimenting with flamenco with my own specific tuning (open D), which I’m really enjoying. Obviously, it is not classic flamenco, but it is how I like to play flamenco. I like the idea of giving other styles, which you do not dominate yet, a go – because it’s as if you’re making it up as you go along. 

Did you have a specific audience in mind during the production? 

Yes, I thought it would be an album no one would ever listen to. We considered it a “freak” album and too “artsy”. But it seems like there is an audience that enjoys it. It was quite unexpected, haha.

Have there been any core incidents during this project’s creative process? Any unexpected events?

Incredibly, everything went smoothly. 

If you had to choose any other film to create an album with, which would it be? 

I’d love to make music for any José Val Del Omar films, like “Aguaespejo Granandino”. I discovered this director recently and find him very intriguing, enigmatic and dark. 

After this album’s release, have you played live shows or planned tours?

We’ve performed the Häxan show a few more times, and now, in February, we will bring it to Bilbao. In 2024, we plan to drop our third album and tour around Spain. We will also be playing in Austin at the SXSW in March and Germany in April and summertime. We now perform Häxan every Halloween en Valencia – it has become a tradition. 

A journey started here in Marcos’ music bar in Valencia, with the chance arrival of the potential candidate for Häxan. They perform their album in the ways the images tell them to. In this manner, their instinctive triggers read a melody as if it were sheet music. However, here it was a sheet with a film projected. And the sheet music deciphered beyond this. 

Follow Yo Diablo