The Horrifyingly Named Micro-Genre “Rape Gaze” Explained


Readers of this morning’s Salem review on Pitchfork might have recoiled a bit as the piece’s writer, Larry Fitzmaurice, casually rattled off a few terms commonly used to describe the gothy Michigan band’s sound–“witch house, drag, haunted house, rape gaze, and so on.” Rape gaze? What could that phrase possibly describe? Not knowing ourselves, we called up local DJ Lauren Flax, who along with Lauren Dillard plays music in the frequently-tagged-as-witch house (“I think we’ve graduated from that sound,” Flax avers) Brooklyn duo Creep. They’re the ones who first coined the term, posting it on their MySpace page earlier this year. So what does it mean?

So you guys are the ones who coined this “rape gaze” thing?

Yeah, but it’s basically a joke. I mean, when we started being called a witch house band, it’s kind of, you know, it’s a hilarious term to us, “witch house.” It’s almost as ridiculous to be called “rape gaze,” so we put it out there. [Laughs]

What are its origins? The two of you were joking around?

Yeah, pretty much. It’s funny because in Creep, we make a lot of dark music, a lot of serious music, but really the heart of Lauren and I–our humor takes over for the most part. And that’s kind of where it came from. Because we take a lot of pictures and we look super serious and we kind of call that our “rape gaze.” Some people might call it “bedroom eyes,” but no–we call it rape gaze.

So that’s what the rape gaze is–that generic, bedroom eyes-type of expression?

Yeah, I mean, it’s really just kind of a joke. We never really thought about it. And we thought it was pretty funny when the New York Press pulled that out and put that in the article they did on us. We weren’t really expecting that. Because we just put it on our MySpace page as a joke.

Out of context, the phrase looks terrifying. Offensive, basically.

It can be taken very offensively, because rape is not a light subject. I don’t know, maybe we’re out of line with it, but either way, we don’t take it very seriously. It’s kind of funny what people pick out.

Perhaps one thing that makes it so distracting is that it’s presented in this Pitchfork review without any context or explanation. Are Salem “rape gaze,” in your cosmology?

I don’t consider it a real thing at all. I think all these titles, all these micro-genres that people come up with are absolutely ridiculous. And this is our small little contribution to the ridiculousness of it all. We just wish people would let all that go and listen to the music, you know what I mean? I don’t know why people feel like it’s so important to categorize every small little thing. But at the same time, with people putting us in that witch house movement, we’re not pissed off or upset about that either. We’re just like, “OK, whatever.”

Later in this same review the writer says, “snatches of decipherable lyrics reveal threats of rape and murder, as well as excessive use of the word ‘bitch’,” and concludes, “maybe we’re better off not understanding what they’re saying.” Seems me that if you read this review alone, the inference the reader is going to get is that “rape gaze” is dreamy music about rape.

Well I should probably read this article. I mean, I don’t know, I hope it doesn’t spark some weird crazy controversy, because that is certainly not our intention.

What’s the official Creep line on Salem, anyway?

We’re huge fans of them–they’ve been an influence in the past to us, and I know Lauren and [Salem frontman] John Holland are good friends, and we totally love them. We’ve always kind of been confused as to the comparison, because we don’t really see it. But we’re big fans.

Update: Flax writes, “I just wanted to add something. I definitely didn’t express enough that we do not take the term ‘rape’ lightly and would never want to advocate sexual violence against any human being. It was a play on words which we never expected to be used as an actual genre. If there is anyone out there that we may have offended, we sincerely apologize.”