Posted on Leave a comment

A Definition of Hauntology – Its Recurring Themes and its Confluence and Intertwining with Otherly Folk: Wanderings 7/26

I’ve published various versions of loose definitions of hauntology online before and considerations of how it interconnects with otherly / wyrd folk culture but not for a while and thought it might be good to revisit such things via a revised version that draws from previous related posts, writing in the A Year In The Country books and the Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 1. Spirits of Time book etc.

Although it is hard to precisely define what hauntology is, it has come to be used as a way of identifying particular strands of music and cultural tendencies. As a cultural category it is fluid and not strictly delineated, but below are some of the recurring themes and characteristics of hauntological work:

1. Music and culture that draws from and examines a sense of loss, yearning or nostalgia for a post-war utopian, progressive, modernist future that was never quite reached, which is often accompanied by a sense of lingering Cold War dread.

2. A tendency to see some kind of unsettledness and hidden layers of meaning in previous decades’ public information films, TV idents and young adult orientated British television drama programmes from the late 1960s until approximately the early 1980s which had surprisingly complex and/or dark themes and atmospheres, particularly considered their intended audience, and that includes the likes of The Owl Service (1969-1970), Children of the Stones (1977) and The Changes (1975).

3. Graphic design and a particular kind of more-often-than-not electronic, often analogue synthesiser-based and/or previous period-orientated music that references and reinterprets some forms of older culture and related artifacts, often focusing on the period from approximately the mid-1960s to 1979 (or at times the very early 1980s) (Footnote 1) and generally of British origin.

Such reference points include previous decades’ library music (i.e. music created for industry use in films, television, adverts etc. rather than for public sale); the electronic music innovations of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop; educational materials and book cover artwork including period school text books; Pelican non-fiction titles which tended to have a distinctive aesthetic that combined functionality and a sense of idealism; and the stark sometimes seemingly almost accidentally darkly-hued designs of the Penguin Modern Poets books of the 1960s and 70s, which often featured minimalist, heavily-posterised images of nature.

4. A reimagining and misremembering of the above, and other, sources to create forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie; work that is accompanied by a sense of being haunted by spectres of its, and our, cultural past, to loosely paraphrase philosopher Jacques Derrida who coined the phrase and created the original concept of hauntology. (Footnote 2)

5. The use and foregrounding of recording medium noise and imperfections, such as the crackle and hiss of vinyl, tape wobble and so on that calls attention to the decaying nature of older analogue mediums and which can be used to create a sense of time out of joint and edge memories of previous eras.

6. The drawing together and utilising of the above elements to conjure a sense of an often strange, parallel or imagined world, or “Midwichian” (Footnote 3) Britain.

Hauntology is often, but not exclusively, used to refer to British culture and music, and it is thought to have been first used in relation to this by the writers Marks Fisher and Simon Reynolds to describe a loose cultural grouping of music and attendant culture which began to coalesce in the UK around the early mid-2000s.

As a loose genre, hauntology has retained a fair degree of cultural and aesthetic diversity that takes in the eldritch educationalism of some Ghost Box Records’ releases, the playful psychedelic whimsy and break beats of Blank Workshop / Moon Wiring Club and the darkly humorous reinterpretations of period official warning posters of Scarfolk amongst others.

However, the term has also been used more widely to describe the likes of American hypnagogic pop and Italian Occult Psychedelia; musical subgenres which also reimagine and create spectral echoes of the past but which tend to utilise as their source material or inspiration, different areas and sometimes eras of culture.

A further recurring theme that at times occurs within and/or is interconnected with hauntology is what may initially appear to be a curious and disparate occurrence and which it may be helpful to add some background and explanation to; the ways in which in several areas of music and culture, folk music and rural and folkloric-orientated work, of the underground, acid, psych, wyrd (Footnote 4) and otherly variety, has come to share common ground with hauntological work, in particular synthesised electronica of a leftfield hauntological variety.

This is an area of culture where the use, appreciation and romance of often older electronic music technologies, reference points and inspirations segues and intertwines with the more bucolic wanderings and landscapes of exploratory, otherly pastoralism and folk culture. This has become a part of the cultural landscape, which in the words of author, artist, musician and curator Kristen Gallerneaux, is:

“planted permanently somewhere between the history of the first transistor, the paranormal, and nature-driven worlds of the folkloric…”

On the surface such folkloric and spectral electronic musical and cultural forms are very disparate and yet both have come to explore and share similar landscapes. What may be one of the underlying linking points with both otherly folk etc and hauntology, is a yearning for lost utopias. Thus, in more otherly folkloric-orientated culture this is possibly related to a yearning for lost Arcadian idylls, whilst in hauntological culture it may be connected to the previously mentioned yearning for lost progressive post-war futures that never fully came to fruition.

Both of these intertwined areas of music and culture have revered relics; for otherly folkloric work these may include those from that lost idyll which are spectrally imprinted with some form of loss, such as, in the words of Rob Young, “old buildings, texts, songs, etc, [which] are like talismans to be treasured, as a connective chain to the past.” (Quoted from Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music written by Rob Young, 2011.)

Hauntological talismans may also include items from those referred to above: TV idents from previous decades, public information films and television series from the late 1960s to late 1970s which have gained unsettledness and hidden layers of meaning with the passing of time – alongside the likes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Brutalist architecture – and which also are considered to contain spectral echoes in reference to the aforementioned lost progressive futures.

These two strands of otherly folkloric and hauntological work and culture may appear at first to be cultural cuckoos in the same nest and/or strange bedfellows. However, they have come to be seen as fellow travellers who rather than being divided by differing surface aesthetics are drawn together by a similarly exploratory and often visionary or utopian spirit, and which respectively shadow and inform one another’s journeys within an alternative cultural landscape.


  1. This period of the mid-1960s to the later 1970s may be chosen as significant for hauntologically-related work for a number of reasons, such as during this time the optimism and, at times, utopian ideals of the immediate post-war years to the 1960s tipped over in Britain into a period of social, political, economic strife and conflict. The later 1970s, and 1979 in particular, when Margaret Thatcher’s right-leaning government was elected, is often considered to be a defining point when society began to move towards a more neoliberal, individualistic and monetarist stance, and so has come to be associated with the yearning for lost post-war progressive futures that are referred to above. Also this period is when many of those creating, or interested in, hauntological work were born, or had their formative years. As such, culture from this era from which hauntological work often draws, has a pre-existing resonance. Aside from its sometimes inherent oddness, such culture may also be seen as being imbued with an antediluvian quality – broadcasts, remnants or echoes from an “other” time and the abovementioned progressive lost futures. Sometimes in hauntological work the early 1980s will also be referenced, which may in part be due to this being a transitional or liminal time in relation to changes in society.
  2. Hauntology is a portmanteau or blending of the meanings of two words; “haunt” and “ontology”. Ontology is the philosophical study of “being”, which focuses on abstract questions such as whether there is such a thing as objective reality and what kinds of things or entities exist in the universe. Ontology is sometimes associated with foundationalist thinkers who believe that: “to arrive at truth it is necessary to start with the most fundamental issues – to be sure about the foundations of philosophy – and then work our way up from there to more specific questions.” (Quoted from the website.)
  3. “Midwichian” is used to imply a sense of a conventional, comfortable, sometimes bucolic places and society where something untoward, quietly unsettling and possibly unexplained has happened or lurks semi-hidden beneath the surface of things. It derives from John Wyndham’s book The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) and the subsequent film adaptation Village of the Damned (1960) in which a pleasant rural village existence is severely disrupted by a preternatural stealthy and surreptitious alien invasion.
  4. The word wyrd in this context and elsewhere in the book is used to imply variously an eldritch, uncanny, weird, eerie, unsettling etc sense of rural and folk orientated culture.



Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.