Dungeon Synth Compendium #1



The Weirding Ways of Windkey Tapes

Over the past many years, I have written numerous things about Evergreen. From reviewing releases from Fableglade Records to the projects of Fogweaver, Snowspire, and Keys to Oneieria there are many points where I have something to talk about. I feel I shy away from new releases for fear of seeming like a fan with restricted interests. Perhaps this is why I am publishing it on my blog instead of elsewhere. I feel particularly drawn to most of the aesthetics of Evergreen’s projects and how it relates to dungeon synth. There is an esoteric nature of their music to raw ambience which is fascinating and engaging to the genre. The handdrawn nature of many releases exudes a bedroom aesthetic. Windkey Tapes is just another step towards the things I enjoy. Windkey Tapes is the venture of Evergreen to release projects in the same universe along with special splits with other dungeon synth artists. I was aware of Windkey only because I follow a few of their social media accounts and by the time I even checked into Bandcamp, the few tapes made were already gone. I knew I wanted to cover this micro label in an already micro genre of music if nothing else than to document what amounts to quiet magic.

Windkey Tapes follows in the tradition of labels who lean on the aesthetic of mystery but not as any method of gatekeeping but rather another layer of esoteric flair. In the past labels like Order of the Weeping Willow would distribute tapes only after a user solved a puzzle and paid the price of a “tape.” Weregnome records did two series of mystery sealed tapes only available for a certain time and the only picture you had was a plastic sealed container. Stench of Death Productions does wild crafts to go along with their releases which usually arrive in some enigmas of packaging. Verdant Wisdom does a series of short run tapes from obscure UK(?) based artists with scant announcements on social media. There is an excitement which comes from not only discovery of hidden music but also the acquisition of mementos from a weird experience. These arcane souvenirs are not even really sold on a secondary market because of the extreme niche the music falls under. They are small little prizes for people who play a game.

During the North East Dungeon Siege, Evergreen passed around a bag of metal keys for the audience during their set for Keys To Oneiria. It was exciting to get one of these keys as it was memeory from a place and time. It was also important that if you were in the back or somewhere else, it was okay if you didn’t get one. Owning one of these keys did not grant you membership in some exclusive club. I feel these little mementos are similar to the tapes from Windkey as possessing one does not grant you access to the music rather it is an optional piece of ephemera. All of the music from Windkey is Pay What You Want for streaming or around eight dollars for its entire discography. You can also stream most of the projects from Youtube channels like Transmissions From The Dark. While I enjoy the playful mystery dungeon synth engages in I am also a proponent of access to music despite the ability to purchase physical media.Windkey (and many well run labels) provides access for people who do not seek out the physical editions.

Windkey, for me, feels like it would be made if people were listening or not. The fact people are listening and are writing articles about it can only be connected to Evergreen’s crafted persona as a figure of mystery. Even if Windkey wasn’t known to the community, these tapes would operate much in the same way. When asking Evergreen about the process of creating tapes, the process becomes less of a traditional label and more of an art project:

“Windkey began more as a way for me to embrace more of a purely DIY ethos as well as have a place for several of the more “lofi” projects of mine. It honestly began as a way for me to work through some personal stuff, mostly a lot of anxiety. The simplicity of the music and the process, the lofi tape hiss worship, and the tactile nature of it all has been a really nice creative process for me and has just been grounding in a weird way. The stakes are low with it all, but it’s all so deeply personal too. Everything is made at home one by one. I think in this way, Windkey is just more personal than Fableglade. Fableglade is deeply personal in a different way but a lot of that comes down to being able to bring dear friends’ music into the cassette medium. Windkey, on the other side of things, is mostly all me as I said. And I plan to keep it as such besides splits. It is also more spontaneous. There is a little more freedom when I can make all the music on a four track and dub all the tapes at home while I work.“ – Evergreen

At home I have a bookshelf full of sketchbooks. I have been keeping them for decades and carry around little books I write and draw in. I was drawing in one while watching sets at the Northeast Dungeon Siege. I rarely show them to people but I’m not secretive about my books. Despite not making them for others, I am happy to share but I would also continue to produce them if no one was interested. Perhaps this is why I feel so drawn to this label as I get the desire to produce things with other’s attention as a secondary benefit. It is of course nice to be acknowledged and praised but it is completely okay, and sometimes therapeutic, to make things in silence and put them on the shelf for only yourself.

Below are some of the Windkey Releases. I usually apprach these articles like I am talking to someone who is interested in listening to more music. Imagine we are in my room and I have a bunch of tapes in front of me and I am going through them one by one. The first one I slide over is a compilation of Worlds Between (2021) and Dreamspell Athenaeum (2021). Not only was this the first release from the label but it acts as sort of a gateway into related projects. Keys to Oneiria is both dreamlike and hypnotic with its repeating melodies acting as tools to prime listeners into a setting. For me, this setting is a forest full of haze where one can get lost but never feel the panic of not knowing where they are.

Out of the entire constellation of projects, Woodland Spells has the most releases. Between three albums and two splits, this project feels the most defined even though it is difficult to say for certain what that definition is. Amaranthine Woodlands (2023) is the most recent release from Woodland Spells and is the closest in style to Keys to Oneiria with its dreamlike ambience being played through lo-fi speakers. Amaranthine Woodlands is blossoming compared to even the debut of the project with Undergrowth (2022) proposing sparse drone over fields of decay and Earthen Incantations (2022) feeling as if one was sleeping in a barrow. There is magic and life in Amaranthine Woodlands which blooms out of these withered branches which makes the idea of multiple projects which can change evolve even more interesting..

Perhaps the most broken sounding of the entire universe. Wandlimb, as a project only exists as one demo, The Snow Upon My Limbs (2021) and one split Forest Courtship (2021) which with Coniferous Myst. Ancient Woodland Wanders (2022) is a collection of those two releases and dedicated to Coniferous Myst and the associated label Lost Armor Records. If you are aware of the mentioned names then you will see the parallels between the sounds as Wandlimb yearns for solitude in nature and to be surrounded by the changing of the seasons. There is a dedication to the mechanisms of recording with warbles and splices and infidelity which accent this very unstable sound.

I feel I identify the most with the Dusklight project. Enchantment & Serenity (2023) is the third release from Dusklight and most current release when visiting the Bandcamp page. It is also one of the releases I am putting on my Top DS of 2023 (Thus Far).  All releases from Dusklight follow similar formats where the title is the name of one or two songs which fill up each side of a tape. Meditation Magic & Dusklit Dreams (2022) was more barren in its sound while The Magic of Helios (2022) was closer to new age in its design. Enchantment & Serenity proposes the most robust sound. Similar to Woodland Spells in many ways there is a mystic magic associated with Dusklight but the 20 minute tracks transforms the experience into from an album of tracks to a tape with two ritual spells on each side.

Drawing Forth the Spirits of Autumn (2022) though is dedicated to the entire season and its first edition was released on the label Oaken Fog. Oaken Fog also has released material by Alkilith, Coniferous Myst, and Magicians Spellbook. What seems like a costumed one off released in the month of Halloween then takes on shape which leads one into the raw and dark world dungeon synth which sits in the hinterlands of noise and experimental synth. If you at any point enjoy this type of sound, which might not be for everyone, there is a grey world of fog that you can command yourself to be lost within.


Symposium of Dreamers

One of the more intriguing aspects of Wandkey are the splits done with other artists. While the one side is taken up by complementary projects by Evergreen, one can find known names like Willow Tea,Hidden Passage, Winter Pathways, and Alkilith taking up the other. Hidden Passage is known to more people as Forgotten Relic. Winter Pathways is Lila Starless and I am not entirely sure but I believe Misery is related due to a split with Spectral Castle (another alias from Starless). This constellation of artists makes up a network of similar sounds and styles which all explore the many shades of dungeon synth at a granular level. I like looking at labels and associated artists since one can see how connections are formed between entities. Windkey Tapes is a node comprising mostly of Evergreens projects but if one moves further can find other nodes and micro scenes in an already micro genre.

I will probably cover Evergreen’s projects in the future as I’m sure they will make more music I will enjoy. For now I wanted to catalog this label as a way to keep track of quiet crafts which are happening int he dungeon synth community. In an age where one has to promote themselves to stand out among other promoters, it is comforting to find something that is successful and operating at minimal power. I often think of dungeon synth like gardening where people tend their plants in little garden boxes for a few to see. Wandkey is a greenhouse a ways back in the woods which is rusted  on its exterior and overgrown with arcane vegetation.