Saturday, 30 August 2008


Last night's launch really was a capital success, and the new issue of Yuck 'n Yum can be viewed online here: LINK

My article is pasted here for your delectation:

William Bennett and afro noise

There are around 30 or so of us gathered quietly in the gloom of a subterranean bar, namely Henry’s Cellar Bar in Edinburgh, making small talk while we wait for the inaugural Cut Hands event to begin. Our host, the self-described “animal response technician” William Bennett, comes with quite a reputation. The founding member and sole constant of the notorious ‘power electronics’ act Whitehouse, since 1980 he’s helped produce a unique body of work that has polarised audiences even among the supposedly inclusive ‘experimental’ music crowd. Whitehouse specialise in extreme noise, in transgressive themes and lyrics, tackling areas of experience most would prefer to see swept away not just under the carpet but better yet under the floorboards as well. Over the course of 25 years Bennett himself has always refused to provide the comfort of any fixed meaning, either by explaining himself away or by justifying any of his motives. Now, having announced the demise and subsequent rebirth of the Whitehouse project, the new direction has come about under Bennett’s own moniker and is labelled afro noise.
Cut Hands is its flagship, described as being “a new night for music like no other: where the rules of the West no longer apply, where the sound of voodoo and santerĂ­a is mixed with raw electricity.” The whole of one wall serves as the screen for a DVD projection; the display is mostly from the archives of the French anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch. African villagers enact a variety of arcane rites, the dusty desert floor the backdrop for a series of uncanny rituals. Eventually our host politely introduces himself and passes round an old wood and straw tribal mask, which we’re invited to try on. Retiring to a darkened corner at the back of the room, our host lets the music play.
It plays. The African influence on the Whitehouse sound has become increasingly pronounced in recent years, culminating in last year’s Racket album, a riot of djembe drums working in chorus with the more familiar electronic assault. Writing in The Wire, David Keenan described it thus:
“Racket posits a more dystopian form of exotica, with ‘darkest Africa’ as the night-side of the psyche, a lawless, violent place of natural and manmade disaster, of scarification ritual, death squads, starvation and the breakdown of everything that the Western social contract barely keeps in place.”
The footage on the screen suddenly starts to reflect this ‘night-side’ as the villagers flail around speaking in tongues, foaming at the mouth, lost in all manner of altered states. The film is now edited by Nick Herd to provide the “Cut Hands visual solution”, cut and looped in time with the pounding rhythm as iridescent hues of bright yellow and green break out in piercing flashes. All the while during the performance a barrage of percussion and electronic distortion is beating away at the synapses, chiselling relentlessly, as the crowd give in and submit to what might be called a trance. There’s pleasure to be had in going under, in plugging in to something primal, and the audience is pinned back rapt. After an hour (maybe more?) of being lost in the void, a brief shell-shocked silence, before a smattering of applause. As we retire to the bar, the small talk begins again, this time a monosyllabic exchange along the lines of “you like it?” “yeah, really intense.” Then it’s a short wait for the next Dundee train from Haymarket station, my brain still rattling around the insides of my skull, my eyes seared with images transmitted from the heart of darkness:
“The horror! The horror!”

A few days before the event I had emailed Bennett with a few questions about Whitehouse, Cut Hands, art and extreme noise:

The ‘Afro Noise’ project seems very participatory, especially the idea of workshops where the audience can get involved. Will Cut Hands incorporate this at all?

Yes, quite possibly, in fact ‘Cut Hands’ will be the umbrella for afro noise - not just for the club nights but for any of its manifestations and guises (including the records), another idea we are planning is to have an art exhibition under this umbrella

As announced in February, Whitehouse will no longer have Philip Best in the line-up, while you are no longer performing live vocal duties. Will Cut Hands give any clues as to the direction future Live Actions might take?

To be honest, with regards to Whitehouse, nothing has really been thought through yet, almost inevitably, the relationship will be symbiotic; as indeed, much of the afro noise sound is borne from the recent evolution of Whitehouse recordings

Whitehouse has always polarised audiences, and after so many years ploughing this furrow do you feel vindicated at all?

Vindication seems to imply that one is seeking some kind of justice, and that was never the intent – artistically, I see polarisation as a symptom of that which is challenging to beliefs, so seen as a measure it can’t be a bad thing

Do you have any advice for Whitehouse neophytes? How should they approach this awesome, for many people quite intimidating, body of work?

As a member of the Let’s See What Happens Society, in other words, with an open mind

I took my younger brother along to see you and Philip perform in Leeds last year. He’s normally into rock music, but he really enjoyed it. He told me afterwards, “It was more like performance art!” Has there been any performance art that influenced the Whitehouse ‘act’?

Not directly – it’s taken a life of its own from the very outset all these years ago, from a domain of disenfranchisement and what your brother is seeing is really 28 years of that process

Who are your favourite visual artists? Has any artist had a direct influence on the Whitehouse sound?

Rather than name specific artists I find the museums in Vienna the most gratifying, I also love the Museum of Art Brut in Lausanne - no real direct influence on the sound itself, but certainly conceptually and not perhaps in the traditional sense (e.g. ‘Why You Never Became A Dancer’)

There have been quite a few noise/experimental artists such as Throbbing Gristle and Sun O))) performing in art galleries of late. Would you consider doing this?

Much art is assessed according to the context in which it’s placed, so it becomes a potent tool for marketing – beyond that perception, I see the aforementioned bands as belonging to the mainstream model

For me there is something Modernist about the Whitehouse approach; the desire to create something completely new and free of conventional structure, and now looking to Africa as a source of inspiration like the Cubists did a century ago. I’m not asking you to compare yourself with Picasso(!), but is this a valid observation?

Personally, I do relate to Picasso’s lifetime extraordinarily restless desire to discover sources of potential inspiration free of conventional structure (just as you describe); the secret to me is to remain committed to one’s intent

Are there any contemporary artists you would recommend to our readers? Whose work should they check out?

Definitely Stefan Danielsson, the Swedish artist, who did the cover for ‘Racket’ and will be heavily involved with art for the various Cut Hands projects – beyond that, I’d only suggest that art is to be experienced live and not merely in books, as music is much more than something you hear, art is much more than what you see

William Bennett afro noise set:

Whitehouse online:

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