CUNT FUCKS JUST LIKE A CUNT
The other day someone told us it was always worth giving Lesson No.1 shows a punt because you’d probably see something you’d never seen before. That seems like a good enough place to introduce the unwary to Whitehouse. A national institution in the sense that Broadmoor is a national institution, Whitehouse was founded in 1980 by William Bennett - a sometime-member of abrasive post-punk band Essential Logic, who’d already decided guitars and drums were “loathsome wanking instruments”, and set out to manufacture a music that satisfied his desire for brutality, intensity, and extremity. An ever-mutating cell with Bennett at the helm, Whitehouse harnessed cutting-edge early electronics in the creation of a spree of early albums that merged calculated shock tactics with taboo-shredding subject matter, screaming sheets of white/pink noise, violent/(homo)erotic stageplay and uncompromising force.
In truth, it’s easiest to see early Whitehouse albums as a product of their time: the likes of 1981’s Dedicated To Peter Kurten – Kurten being a notorious German serial killer – and fascist-themed audio manifesto New Britain perhaps work best now as museum pieces, milestones of transgressive sound that have since outlived their purpose. Over time, however, Whitehouse would evolve, its ranks shifting to facilitate new facets of Bennett’s unyielding vision. This circulation of personnel first turned up a flurry of splinter groups and affiliated cells (the likes of Consumer Electronics, Sutcliffe Jugend, Ramleh, and the charmingly-named Male Rape Group) and later, a whole genre of (often pale) imitators, making so-called 'power electronics' - Bennett’s terminology, but one which would eventually come to describe a lurking underworld of pale-skinned misanthropists who trade yellowed cassette-tapes embossed with swastikas and concentration camp images over the internet.
Whitehouse, however, remain ahead of whichever curve you choose to place them on. Sessions recorded with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago yielded a spree of ‘90s albums like Thank Your Lucky Stars, Halogen, and Quality Time that expanded Whitehouse’s range. 2001’s ‘Cruise (Force The Truth)’ was an improbable DJ favourite for none other than Aphex Twin, and it’s possible to hear Bennett and company’s influence in everything from the Japanese noise community to Wolf Eyes, Black Dice and the brutalist end of the Load Records roster.
Whitehouse aren’t, as you might expect, to everyone’s tastes. The Wire, in last year’s article on the role of comedy in music, wrote up a rather pejorative picture of the Whitehouse experience: “Bennett patiently and deliberately annoys everyone within earshot, simultaneously lampooning cock-rock posturing, fashionable nihilism, and every other desperate attempt to titillate the jaded. Song titles almost give the game away. ‘Lightning Struck My Dick’? ‘Rapemaster’? ‘I’m Coming Up Your Ass’? Most 12 year olds would find this degree of intellectually stunted sex obsession a bit much”. Hmmm, now, no arguments, Whitehouse are funny: live favourite ‘Just Like A Cunt’, for instance, is pure Derek And Clive - a rabid, mouth-frothing satire on the cosmetics industry (or a slice of rabid misogyny, if that's really how you choose to read it, but let's hope it doesn't come in the same breath as you droning at your girlfriend to pluck her eyebrows or shave her legs).
Recent years, however, have seen Whitehouse – now honed to a duo, just Bennett and right hand man, Philip Best - pursuing an intellectual eloquence to match their foul mouths. Take 2003’s Birdseed: part concept album about anorexia nervosa, cosmetic surgery, and poor body image, part hysterical hatchet job on modern celebrity (Tracey Emin gets it in the neck on ‘Why You Never Became A Dancer’; ‘Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel’ tuns the spotlight on Michael Barrymore’s poolside manner), it finds th literal brutality of old accompanied by hammer-head satire and blacker-than-black comedy. Yes, Whitehouse are funny. But – and this is the crucial bit - you can take them as high comedy, or as high seriousness - or at many other points in between.
Anyway, Whitehouse play their first ever Welsh show downstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach on February 19th. No MP3s online, but one of Lesson No.1 were involved in the making of a Radio 1 documentary including Whitehouse, which should act as a neat introduction - hear that here. Tickets are available for £6, up on the Clwb website soon.
EDIT: As requested in the comments, here's a Quicktime vid of Whitehouse's Philip Best performing 'Dans Grozny Dans' at Clwb Ifor Bach last September. It's hosted on You Send It, which allows for a limited number of downloads, but if the link's expired leave a note in the comments and I'll repost it.
Photos courtesy of Susan Lawly