Suffocating the listener in a liminal world drenched in fog, the dampened sound of a pumpjack groans on under a layer of reverb. Rarely about what is, almost entirely about what isn’t, the doom jazz genre has been the go-to for our inner Agent Dale Coopers since Twin Peaks first went off the air in the summer of 1991. Without further ado, here is Resident Sound’s Guide to Doom Jazz…
In many ways, it is anything but jazz. Post-rock at its lightest, doom jazz is a post-metal, dark ambient blend of avant-garde and film-score influences, with jazz aesthetics and associated instruments. Brushed drums and stand-up bass drag us slowly into a shadow in which the only recognizable feature may be the occasional saxophone drudgery. The rare vocal not sung in giallo horror tongues speak is a rare find. So where do we get started?
Bohren & der Club of Gore
An early influence and common theme within doom jazz is composer Angelo Badalamenti’s score for David Lynch’s cult-classic turned pop culture phenomenon Twin Peaks. Debuting in August of 1990, Twin Peaks had only gone off the air the previous year when Bohren & der Club of Gore was founded in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany in 1992. For a long time its members, former hardcore punk musicians, were seemingly the only individuals of this dark ethereal genre-to-be. There was no fashion, no statement pieces, no major-label deals or infamous underground record collecting stories. In a decade defined by x-treme cool ranch and Limp Bizkit, doom jazz’s shadowy grip on dark music would grow slowly over the coming decades.
The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble
TKDE, initially a duo, formed in Utrecht, Netherlands in 2000 as a project for scoring silent films. By 2007, the ensemble had grown to seven members with instrumentation consisting of cello, violin, guitar, trombone, and more. Unlike their peers, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble would have a sparse discography, culminating in the 2011 crowd-funded From The Stairwell LP and a live album that same year before quietly disbanding in 2014.
Being the fractured scene that it is, it can seem as if these groups are destined to return to the shadows from which they once came.
Since the dissolution of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble there’s been no word of them returning, but in 2016, Denovali Records (the closest thing to a scene anchoring point) began to release the TKDE discography on their digital label, allowing for greater accessibility through Bandcamp.
Denovali Records may be the closest we see to a subcultural anchor anytime soon. Started in 2005, the independent label has seen itself curate and release a roster as sonically diverse as ambient, electronica, drone, jazz, and sound art. Thanks to them, doom jazz has become accessible to those who wish to get involved. Denovali is now home to The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, and one of my favorite groups; The Dale Cooper Quartet.
Dale Cooper Quartet
Formed in 2002 at a jazz improvisation night, The Dale Cooper Quartet (occasionally styled as DC4tet) came together over a love of Angelo Badalamenti and doom jazz predecessors Bohren & der Club of Gore. Their first and perhaps most recognizable release came in 2006 with Parole de Navarre on French electronic label Diesel Combustible. DC4tet’s explicit Twin Peaks reference and the accessibility afforded to ambient music and Twin Peaks fans alike in the second half of the naughts helped put them at the forefront of what is now a somewhat-google-able genre.
You can read an interview with DC4tet at Welcome to Twin Peaks, a Twin Peaks fan site.
The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation
Described by Denovali Records as the “much-noticed free-form, drone metal / jazz alter-ego of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble,” The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation is the improvisational spin-off of TKDE. Started in 2007 only as a live project, their early performances were recorded and eventually released as Doomjazz Future Corpses! in 2007 on the Ad Noiseam record label. This was followed up in 2009 by Succubus, arguably the most visually recognizable album in the genre, then three more albums. Mount Fuji disbanded in 2012 having put out more work than the original Kilimanjaro ensemble.
Is that all there is…?
Maybe doom jazz has reached a logical conclusion. An early pioneer of the metamodernist practice of oscillation between modernist and postmodernist ideology; doom jazz oscillates between many of theorist Jonathan Kramer’s proposed characteristics of postmodernist music and the modernist techniques and styles proposed by musicologist Daniel Albright, such as expressionism, abstractionism, and hyperrealism. As more metamodernist approaches to music are explored, doom jazz has a chance to be reignited by newer groups, but perhaps it will be left alone as new styles emerge from the same school of thought.
In a time when nearly all artistic ideas can be easily shared, the legitimacy of an idea isn’t held hostage to any regional scene’s ability to create the cultural cohesion previously necessary (think of the social climates that lead to the formation of punk, grunge, or even free jazz) to catapult a band into any degree of national attention or audience. Neither immediately positive or negative, the loss of this necessity mixed with the hyper commercialization of all niches has lead us to a post-subcultural way of living. In a world increasingly focused on quantitative consumption of content oriented media and a lowered barrier of entry (lower stigmatization, higher accessibility), it could be said we live in a niche-aesthetics cultural society, no longer held together by subcultural community ties.
So in keeping with its metamodernist leanings, where does doom jazz go from here? For a genre whose first wave rose and crashed as slow as its tempo, what will it take for second wave to distinguish itself? It may be another 20 years before we see it in full swing. But now as we speak, the 2030s/40s are already doomed.