Local musician Kraftwitch finds inspiration in nature, experimental sounds

Kraftwitch. (Photo: Courtesy of kraftwitch.com)

The close of 2023 saw Philadelphia-based musician Kraftwitch marking career milestones, which included launching a record label and the first in a series of three nature-inspired EPs. The first half of 2024 will find the artist performing locally, in addition to road-tripping for further retreat and inspiration.

Growing up outside of Philadelphia, the city initially felt like a site of expansion for Kraftwitch. After more than two decades away, including a stint in the mountains of Colorado, moving back to Philadelphia brought some culture shock, and required a reset.

“When I was younger, Philadelphia was sort-of my queer city, where I went out and came out and started discovering things about myself,” they said. “When I moved back, I was fortunate to end up near the Wissahickon, but felt like I didn’t have the access I once did to vast, outdoor landscapes. I was starting to feel very stuck and was getting burnt out, and I knew I needed to do something.”

That something was a cross-country road trip in summer 2023, during which Kraftwitch mixed tent- and car-based camping with backpacking and writing the first in a series of three planned “Field Notes” collections. Vol. 1 blends acoustic and electronic music, and samples, with field recordings from camping and backpacking excursions well outside of Philadelphia’s city limits.

The cover Kraftwitch’s debut EP,  ‘Field Notes Vol. 1.’
The cover Kraftwitch’s debut EP, ‘Field Notes Vol. 1.’ (Photo: Courtesy of kraftwitch.com)

“Field Notes Vol. 1,” released Dec. 26, 2023, is not only Kraftwitch’s debut, but also the first release from their DIY label, Three Wands Records. Tracking the artist’s movement through Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, Vol. 1 also traces Kraftwitch’s route through a frustrating period and into a hopeful one.

“2023 was very trying for me,” they said. “I didn’t have the soft landing I thought I would by moving back to the area, and it threw me in a variety of ways. I just knew I needed to be in a vast landscape, staring at a skyline with mountains, interacting with animals. I felt like this trip was an opportunity to break out of that.”

The end result is an EP that is tied together more by its inspirations in nature than to any particular genre. The song “Badlands” is highly ambient, while tracks like “Iowa” and “Saltmine” borrow elements from intelligent dance music (IDM).

Kraftwitch is no stranger to experimental music. Having previously worked under their given name, John Moletress, they returned from a musical hiatus in 2020, performing early-pandemic livestreams using found objects in place of traditional instruments.

“The thing that got me back into music was that I’d been making instruments from found objects and using coding to incorporate small computers into them so they would sound when you got into proximity with them, or they’d do different things,” Kraftwitch said. “I used copper and would ramp up the conductivity of it. I wouldn’t even need to touch it, but if I put my hand in proximity to that copper, it would start sending music notes everywhere. It was a lot of ambient and really randomized music.”

They will bring a found-object performance to the Feb. 17 ambient music show, hosted by the community arts organization Great Circles. Kraftwitch is one of several performers participating in the show, which begins at 7 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, 2139 E. Cumberland Street.

In spring, Kraftwitch will head out on the road again, working on “Field Notes Volume 2” from California. Their full itinerary on the West Coast isn’t yet set. Instead, they’ll continue to follow their intuition.

“I don’t even know what the final product will sound like. It’ll be whatever I come to terms with when I’m out there,” they said. “Every once in a while, I feel like I need to put out a club banger, and then I’m like, ‘Why am I trying to make other people’s music?’ and I stop, and I trash it.”

Readers can find Kraftwitch and Three Wands Records at kraftwitch.com. “Field Notes Vol. 1” is streaming on Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp.