Fusing delicate electronic atmospheres with the slow but hard-hitting beats of Southern hip-hop, Salem is one of the pioneers of the style alternately called drag, witch house or haunted house.
The trio features Traverse City, MI’s John Holland and Heather Marlatt, and Chicago's Jack Donoghue, all of whom trade vocals over sometimes-blissful, sometimes-nightmarish tracks that borrow equally from DJ Screw and Dead Can Dance. Holland knew Marlatt from their studies as art majors at Interlochen Arts Academy, where they honed the fascination with dark imagery that would eventually shape Salem's aesthetic. Holland began what would become Salem in 2006, during his time studying drawing and installation at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute while he was also working as a prostitute and using drugs heavily. He met Donoghue, who was creating his own electronic music, while studying at the Institute, and the pair became friends and collaborators. The project officially became Salem in 2007, when Marlatt lived with Holland in Chicago for a few months. The band’s music was released on CD-R that year and in 2008 by Disaro Records without the band’s full permission; their first official release was the Yes I Smoke Crack EP, which arrived in 2008 via Acephale Records as a limited edition of 500 copies. This EP and the Water EP, which Merok Records released as another limited edition, cemented Salem's reputation as one of the underground’s fastest-rising acts. They were also one of the most prolific, issuing singles on Big Love and Audraglint Records, as well as a split single with Tanlines, several mixtapes and remixes of Gucci Mane songs (one of which was featured on Diplo's Free Gucci mixtape). A disastrous show at 2010’s SXSW Festival dampened the buzz surrounding Salem only slightly, while the Frost single and the I Buried My Heart Inna Wounded Knee mixtape heralded the arrival of the band’s full-length debut King Night in September 2010. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi