Whitehouse - Live Action 96, 9 November 2002 Slimelight Electrowerks, London, UK.
Twenty-two years on from the first unleashing of Whitehouse, The Monster is more ferocious than ever. Whitehouse are so underground many will never have heard of them, let alone heard them, yet long-time collaborator, Steve Albini, Sonic Youth and Aphex Twin cite them as one of the most influential forces in the history of music. Their earliest LPs command sums approaching the four-figure mark, while performances have been banned or ended in riots. They defy the term “music” in every conventional understanding, it’s an unremitting aural assault, characterised by impenetrable layers of over-driven dentists' drill synths and bowel-churning subsonic bass frequencies penetrated by frenzied feed-backing vocals. They scythe through the auditory onslaught like an eternity of screaming souls clawing their way up from the pits of hell. If the pits of hell were lined with blackboards.
No “tunes”. No “melodies” - at least in the conventional understanding of “tunes” and “melodies” - their sound is far from structureless; descended more from the “musique concrete” lineage of Karl Heinz Stockhausen and contemporary avant-garde classicists than the noise of Japan’s Merzbow or their countless industrial imitators. Just sheer confrontation - pushing aesthetic and endurance levels of the listener to the absolute maximum.
Despite their sound and image, Whitehouse live is a spectacle of pure entertainment. For a band whose professed raison d'etre is as much about destroying rock’n’roll as it is about pushing the parameters of art terrorism within the aural arena, it is an undeniable, if uncomfortable fact that they piss huge, gushing, steaming jets over virtually any of the “rawwwwkk-annnd-rrrooowwwl” bands on the planet. There always comes a point during their shows when, like a Rorschach test, the wall of sound becomes a rhythmic, beautiful, primordial, sexual feeling. What can ever be more rock’n’roll than that?
Now only a duo, William Bennet and Phil Best, following the recent departure of infamous transgressive porn author and on stage provocateur, Peter Sotos, the intensity of the show never abates for a minute. Bennet prowls the stage with an effortless cool most stadium stars could only dream of - a De Sadian Martin Fry with Tourettes Syndrome, gesticulating as he screams his vitriolic exhortations from the stage. Sometimes simply dropping the mic to shout at the crowd like a Nietzschian figure shouting at God and Nature. 1982's "Tit Pulp" smashes through one sonic wall to collide with this year's “Wriggle like a fucking eel” followed by the Electronic Music Awards nominated "Cruise (Force the Truth)". New material from the Bird Seed LP segues relentlessly into blistering versions of “Princess Disease” and the eardrum-cauterising white-noise-fest, “Movement 2000”, leaving the crowd bellowing for more pain like the plebeian hordes of the Roman Coliseums.
Not many bands these days can be termed revolutionary in what they do. Whitehouse are one of the few exceptions. They wouldn't want to be and nor could they be for everyone, but for that reason alone they deserve your attention. You might not like their music, or even regard it as music - but what you can be sure of is you'll never have heard anything like it, and you'll never think of 'music' in the same way again. Or are you scared? Go on. I dare you.
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