In the history of power electronics (and in the entire history of noise music for that matter), few names have as much significance as Whitehouse, a band born at the dawn of the notorious Thatcher-era of Britain. The band's name was partially a reference to a pornography magazine of that name and partially a reference to staunch conservative moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse, a public personality who was, for example, able to get Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange withdrawn from Britain after a number of copycat crimes were committed around the country and Kubrick began receiving death threats. The mastermind behind Whitehouse, and sole constant member for the next 30 years, was William Bennett, who founded the project as a continuation of the ideas set forth by the live performances of industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle. Throbbing Gristle's shows were intended to shock and traumatize with horrific images and abrasive loud noise: a more extreme continuation, then, of The Velvet Underground's early shows with Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Drawing obvious inspiration from Throbbing Gristle, Bennett famously said, "I often fantasized about creating a sound that could bludgeon an audience into submission."
To do just that, he surrounded himself with other high-calibur noise artists. Members of Whitehouse would come and go, to take part in other nefarious projects: Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound), Kevin Tomkins (Sutcliffe Jügend), Stefan Jaworzyn (Skullflower, Ascension), Phillip Best (Consumer Electronics, Ramleh, Skullflower), Peter Sotos (prolific writer on sadism and pedophilia), John Murphy (SPK), Andrew McKenzie (The Hafler Trio) and Glenn Michael Wallis (Konstruktivist) are the most prominent. But the one who kept it all going was William Bennett, who through his persistence in sonic terrorism would go on to inspire a cult following and would influence literally every noise band that ever existed (whether the band knew it or not).
Bennett is now recording under the name Cut Hands, and as we noted recently, his new record Festival of the Dead is out on October 13th on the ever-forward-thinking Blackest Ever Black. Festival of the Dead is one more entry in Bennett's already-formidable catalogue, so here are a few of his most essential records to help you sort through it all. Note that it will be difficult to find physical copies of some of these older releases given their high demand and limited supply, but the internet is teeming with audio files in a worst case scenario.
It's been a few years since I've seen people on Facebook bitching about noise “going disco.” 2011 saw the release of Container's debut LP on Spectrum Spools, Pete Swanson's Man With Potential on Type, and the early swath of Vatican Shadow tapes on Dominick Fernow's own Hospital Productions. Some, like myself, went bonkers for the propulsive, fucked up sound innovated by these artists. Whether you were a head banger or a viber, these sounds seemed to destroy all rational thought and force you to listen with your whole body. Some grumpy dudes (often dudes) saw the fusion of noise and beats as a gimmick, something trendy that merited an eye roll.
It wasn't new, and it wasn't a fad. That much has become obvious. Unicorn Hard-On had been messing with dance music in plain sight at noise shows for years, and there is an entire history of power electronics which preceded '00s American noise music. Electronic music is a continuum, on which the distance between noise and dance music seems to fluctuate over the course of time. Right now, the two are particularly close, as you are generally hard pressed to find basically any experimental electronic music without a beat these days. Even the most abstract modular synthesists tend to have a metronomic tic that drives their improvisations. People will continue to gain interest and lose interest in beats until the final humans are extinguished on an interstellar mission to inhabit a new Earth.
As one of music's foremost forecasters of a dystopic African diaspora, William Bennett's work as Cut Hands gets increasingly vicious with each release. With his coming 12" on Blackest Ever Black, Bennett more overtly incorporates his power electronics work with White House, lacing the signature Cut Hands afro-rhythms with metallic timbres, droning electronic tones, and relentless pace. It basically sounds like the industrial music made by the punks in William Gibson's version of the Carribean. On "Damballah," Bennett makes a vertiable sampler of beats, cycling through everything from rigid neo-Italo disco to, surprisingly, hip hop. This follows Bennett's debut on Regis' new label, Downwards.
“Lose your mind in an empty street.
Empty minds please stay asleep.”
--Wolf Eyes, “Choking Flies”
“Black girl sipping white wine,
Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.
Grabbed it with a slight grind.
Held it 'till the right time,
Then she came like *robot orgasm*
That's why I'm in it and I can't get out”
--Kanye West, “I'm In It”
What is it that Kanye can't get out of? Is it that daughter-bearing “pussy”? Is it the shackles of wealth and fame, the omniscient gaze of a paparazzi society? Is it even just life itself? “I'm in it and I can't get out” is basically the premise of every story by Philip K. Dick, Franz Kafka, and Michael Bay. The only other rapper with the balls to fixate on existential dread for an entire album was Biggie and they shot him for it. Of course, Biggie came in the midst of lyrical trends that were constituted on hardness, while today's rappers are more concerned with getting high than selling drugs. Street violence is nowadays the lyrical territory of rappers with names like Gunplay and gunshots are more likely to show up as a snare hit in a trap song than as the topic of a verse. In the age of Drake, Miguel, and Old Man Jay-Z, it's pretty bizarre to hear an album that's the equivalent of screaming at your drug-smeared visage in the mirror.
In the wake of the announcement of William Bennett's involvement 100th anniversary celebration of the pivotal "Art of Noise" manifesto, a plea comes from the man himself. Some anonymous person is trying to intimidate European venues into cancelling Bennett's shows under the pretense of stripping state support from those institutions for booking a "covert 'nazi/fascist.'" Of course, much of Bennett's work with Whitehouse in the '80s saw the man assuming a fascist persona, in addition to serial killer and sexually violent personas. These were all mechanisms for Whitehouse's subversive social commentary, the imagistic manifestation of Whitehouse's personal noise ideology. Bennett posits that this all stems from an ironic pro-fascist article he wrote in 1982 for Force Mental, assuming the tone of the "New Right," which rose with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. He never assumed that it would have been taken out of context, but it's worth noting that noise personas can be tantamount to playing with fire-- the rape allegations against Jason Crumer will perhaps always hold water thanks to the man's violent, horrifying music. Let this stand as an allegory for the risks of making dangerous art, and as the exact justification for supporting and properly contextualizing the artists brave enough to push these boundaries. You can read the entirity of Bennett's plea after the jump.