“ In English folklore, either a household spirit or a malevolent genius loci inhabiting fields and marshes”
The Doxey Boggart is shrouded in a thick, pungent drone-fog and eclipsed by a family of gigantic, aged trees. Indistinct voices swirl around in the depths of the woods – a cry for help, a shrill scream of terror – but the leaves quickly muffle them.
The Doxey Boggart is a documentary set in the deepest, darkest parts of Staffordshire, England. As we saw with The Blair Witch Project, making a film about a local legend can be a risky venture. In this case, the folklore legend is linked to the stark, isolated (and slightly spooky) Doxey Marshes, and, like an authentic episode of Britain’s Most Haunted, the film follows a group of local experimental musicians as they investigate the legend. Some excellent dark ambient ensues.
Some say the entity, if it even exists, is as old as the marshland itself, perhaps even older, ingrained into the very atmosphere of the area. It whispers in the faint swaying of grass, it coos from the blank-eyed hollows of its intimidating trees. The soundtrack is a disturbing listen; something lurks within the music. Sonic Entrails have awoken something, as have the filmmakers. Filmed on location, the harsh, remote landscape invades the mind, its superstitions chilling the sun, shrinking its light until it recoils in horror. Even the trees appear as distorted, elephantine figures, swaying their branch-like arms in either a wave or a warning, standing just beyond the ridge of a hill.
You’ve heard about the marshes and the townsfolk that disappear every so often. The stories never fade away, and neither does the tension within the music. Foreboding drones bring unsettling noises which hover over the land, bringing an empty darkness to the region. Obese clouds hang over the marshes, conjured up by a malevolent being. It’s cold out here, too, with the filming taking place during winter’s desolation. The cold contrast is perfect, because it illuminates the stark, bleak beauty of the terrain.
The Doxey Boggart is supposedly a malevolent creature. It haunts the marshes, creating an unpleasant atmosphere that borders on the nauseous. There are supposedly two types of boggart:
1). The Harry Potter kind, which would fall under Mischievous Being. While still disturbing, it has more of a playful disposition. It loves to play practical jokes and it causes a great deal of strife and misfortune. Up to no good, really.
2). A more malevolent spirit, associated with the kidnap of children and other dark acts. You probably don’t want to mess with this one.
If there is indeed a spirit out there, and if they captured something of it in their recording, it’s most likely numéro deux. You won’t find this one roaming around the corridors of Hogwarts. A long-held belief is that an inland body of water acts as a portal of some kind. Water is thought of as a conduit, and music is a gateway, too. The music is supremely dark, its distortion gritty with buried rocks and rising mud. Its breath is alive through the respiration of a dark, unearthly drone…yes, it’s rising, coming to life once again. A distorted and violent spiral cycles through it, acting as a vortex to another dimension. A rancid odour, like that of rotten eggs or of something burning, clings to the air. The marsh-like textures seep through. Willows line the marshes, almost acting as a welcome committee.
The filmmakers take in St. Bertelin’s Chapel, St. Bertelin being the patron saint of Stafford. They also investigate The Kidsgrove Boggart and the Harecastle Tunnel, where in the early 19th century a young woman was murdered and decapitated by a rough band of travelling men who then dumped her body in a side tunnel named Gilbert’s Hole. Ever since, a headless woman bathed in white mist has been seen walking around the tunnel entrance; high-pitched screams have been known to echo from the black tunnel, around the canal basin and in the local woodland, and legend has it that she appears just before a collision or a disaster on the stretch of water.
An ominous tone pervades the film; the wind buffeting against the camera’s microphone comes out as a heaving, decaying breath, and one embedded with unkindness. A set is then performed on the Doxey Marshes. The noise includes a recital of a folk poem about the boggart, and it’s not long before strange things are happening…or are they? EVP’s are caught during the recording’s playback, manifesting as an eerie, incomprehensible source and a chilling growl (giving credence to its supposed dog-like appearance). If that wasn’t freaky enough, a woman and a child from the local area are apparently reported as missing just a day after the boggart summoning set, but this turns out to be a misunderstanding. The team quickly wonder whether they’ve conjured something…maybe the very sound-waves and vibrating frequencies have unearthed something, and who knows what lies beneath?
John E. Smoke has performed in unusual places before. During one of these sets, a ghostly image was caught on film, gathering so much attention that it was featured in the international press, while another took the form of a noise set at Mermaid Pool in the Staffordshire Moorlands. “Boggart Summoning” is both an eerie incantation and a warning to travellers:
‘Be wary thee, be wary thee, if passing by the bogs of Doxey. Souls have been lost and high the cost that we are paying still. Fear see its eyes and feel its breath, and on the wind the scent of death. The hinterlands hide many tombs, as the boggart lives there still. Leave quickly and speak ye not. Hide this tale, it is best forgot. Tell it loud and boggarts rise, to live and breathe through will”.
Nightmarish notes populate the music’s landscape. Swaying branches occupy the bleak-but-serene land, and the music itself is as cold as frozen water. Some sections recall Aphex Twin’s disturbing Selected Ambient Works, Volume II, with spooky, surreal notes that can’t find their way out. Whatever it is, it grows stronger and it creeps nearer. It might even already be here. You can never see it; you can only feel it…much like Music herself. It’s supposed to be a myth, a warning to those passing through…maybe, if stretched, it’s a bending of the truth, or at least an embellishment. An old tale in an ancient county, surely. And yet…
The film has a spooky air to it which is underlined by its refreshing authenticity. It leaves the events open to interpretation, never siding with one particular belief. One thing could be another, and that indistinct growling could be background interference. Something lurks in the thin air, though. At its heart, The Doxey Boggart is an environmental study, exploring the landscape through sound and also delving into human psychology. The environment truly affects the resulting sound and the sound in turn affects the environment. It’s an investigation which takes us right into the heart of English folklore. Daylight is paling. Be wary thee. (James Catchpole)