Monday, January 2


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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

speaking of WH: hey, where is the consumer electronics video you promised last fall ???

8:23 pm  
Blogger The Lesson said...

Good point! I'll upload it later and add it to this post

8:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

unfortunately the link posted doesn't take you to, but to the site

9:51 am  
Blogger The Lesson said...

Right you are! Should work now

11:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i feel very uneasy with the politics behind whitehouse, even if consumer electronics was one of the most amazing noise experiences ive had. i think it is at least responsible to question any form of 'art'/expression that celebrates fascism and misogyny in the way that whitehouse have and not deny that they promote that type of cultural romanticism and tolerance.
but i suppose that is an aspect of punk/ anarchy – you can’t try and control what people say/ do otherwise you become just as bad as the fascist.
But what happens when what someone is saying is repulsive, insights cultural hatred, augments white male power & violence without question?
In my mind it needs to be questioned so... i feel there needs to be intelligent discussion & dialogue about this with the promoters, people attending the gig, William Bennett& Philip Best in the coming weeks.

8:46 pm  
Blogger The Lesson said...

OK. First of all, I'd like to assure you that no-one connected with Lesson No.1 would be promoting this show (or indeed any show) if we believed said band/musician promoted racist or misogynist views.

I've interviewed William and spoken to Philip in person a number of times and found them to be pleasant, intelligent and thoughtful people. Both continually define Whitehouse to be a project that is personal, rather than political in nature; they are (for want of a better word) artists, rather than demagogues, politicians, or rabblerousers. I think what you make of their art is essentially up to you, and indeed, that's specifically the idea; it's music often defined by its extreme content across a broad range of topics (and regardless of what William says, I believe often intended to provoke reaction; incidentally, and slightly tangentially, there's an interesting interview with Gary Mundy at which deals with the early days of the power electronics movement and its relationship with fascistic imagery).

It's not my job to speak for the band, nor can I claim to know their minds. However, one thing that struck me from my interview with William (and indeed something you can hear in the Radio 1 documentary linked to in this post) is his assertion that he believes Whitehouse is born out of "empathy". Elsewhere he's spoken of "holding up a mirror". I'd be foolish to claim Whitehouse were some sort of social workers, but I'm personally comfortable that this is not a 'political' show, nor is it one that "incites cultural hatred" or "augments white male power & violence without question" (not sure where that leaves, say, the Susan Lawly compilation 'Extreme Music For Women').

And "repulsive"? Well, that's a matter of taste. ;)

Incidentally, the collected interviews at Susan Lawly can probably elucidate on the Whitehouse philosophy somewhat (

12:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sure stuff the personal is the political though, and trying to separate the two is dangerous. this area is definitely something im interested though, as it provokes ethical/ political questions that concern me. also, this music is coming into our community so this is a good opportunity to generate discussion where there normally would be none.

one of the things that interests me is how homoerotic imagery translates/sublimates itself through art into celebrations of violence and power...and within our society that is predicted on an extreme denial of men's physical desire for each other, i think these things tap into the root of very damamging psycho social problems that structure the reality of bodies, flesh, language, machines that we move within as women, as men, as homos, as black people and all other types of differences we dont share but certainly shouldnt divide us...

i will definitely check out the sue lawly thing too.

did you read the simon reynold's book about post punk ? they have a section on whitehouse, throbbing gristle and stuff like that.

9:37 am  
Blogger The Lesson said...

Agreed that separating the personal and the political is dangerous, but I believe this is one of the particular flashpoints Whitehouse knowingly and consciously play on - but always with nuance. IMO they don't provoke questions, they demand questions: about sex, music, the nature of entertainment, your relationship with the material you consume, etc - and without the ambiguous element to what they do (ie are these men actually the embodiment of all evil?) these questions wouldn't have the same impact.

I'm not really sure I have any opinion on the homoerotic side of Whitehouse, there's certainly a reasonable amount of "male physical desire" up there on the stage, although whether it's real or feigned, or how it relates to Whitehouse's celebration of violence, I couldn't really say

I enjoyed Reynolds' book a lot, although I don't think it has a lot to tell you about modern Whitehouse, given that it cuts off in the mid-'80s. He seems to follow Genesis P-Orridge's line that in some way Bennett and co 'misunderstood' TG, which might be a reasonable assumption if you'd just heard the first couple of albums, but doesn't really take into account the complexity of anything that came later. I should say that I certainly don't enjoy the early Whitehouse albums as much as the modern stuff. Nor do I especially enjoy Peter Sotos as an author or a specimin of humanity, although I guess you couldn't accuse him of being a hypocrite.

Incidentally, when I linked to the interviews last post, I should also have linked to the FAQ on the Susan Lawly site, which tackles misogyny and politics. It's at, anyway

1:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to read some discussion of WH that doesn't decend into the extreme reactions that they often provoke.
Me, I'm just a fan too, discovered them about four years ago and spent the first few months being really appalled , until I realised that they were 'artists' rather than 'fascists' ! Really looking forward to the Clwb LA though - I also prefer the later/current stuff to the early days, will be good to be subjected to some stuff off Bird Seed live..
Db, Cardiff

7:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

or even the new album :)

11:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:56 am  
Blogger The Lesson said...

According to William, copies of the new album will be available for sale at this show

5:16 pm  

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