William Bennett interview by Judith Howard - September 2000
How are the recordings for the new album coming along?
The album is beginning to come together very well - a lot in the way of individual sounds have been recorded and programmed. Lyrics are currently being perfected before recording any vocals - the process is a very long one whereby every new idea that gets put forward has to spend a period in isolated consideration. It's too easy to get carried away with one's new ideas - a couple of months or so is a good test of something's ultimate worth. I'm very conscious when making music that I'm going to have to live with it for the rest of my life. It must be done right or not at all so I always let it mature for a period.
What does it sound like?
Well, the basic concept is one of stretching the listeners' tolerance to the absolute maximum and then going even further. This new music will really be a severe test of people's patience; it is very intense, totally unremitting and will almost certainly outstay its welcome - the sounds represent a new development.
How would you describe these new sounds?
Some of the songs will demonstrate an evolution of the basic style featured on songs like 'A Cunt Like You' - it's what I describe as a sort of 'ultra' style. As I mentioned before the overall approach is unbearably intense, unremitting at times, almost sounding rhythmic (although never achieving a beat) thus it has a sort of extreme and hypnotic quality. The vocals on these 'ultra' tracks are almost unbearably intense - they really will try the listeners' patience in their relentlessness and unrivalled levels of hysteria and frenzy. The general feedback from the listeners of all this will certainly be very interesting.
Is there a title yet for the new work?
Some of the songs have names but the album's title hasn't finally been decided yet, although there is a provisional title which I won't disclose as yet. It will include 'Movement 2000', a track already made available at mp3.com. There'll also be a new track 'Public' recorded by Peter Sotos with Albini that will pretty much be along the lines of 'Private' from 'Mummy And Daddy'. Despite the controversy and no small amount of negative feedback we received for 'Private', personally, I feel this kind of track is a great foil for the other more 'musical' tracks on a Whitehouse album. There were some people that were positive about this kind of development although, I have to be honest, most were negative - nevertheless I'm sticking by my own convictions and my opinion is that 'Public' will be the best representation of this genre so far.
When you released 'Movement 2000', it seemed to attract a lot of negative reactions for various reasons?
I think 'Movement 2000' is a tremendous track and has been enormously popular. It's true that it's garnered criticism from some quarters but that is a good sign. It's healthy for this music to split opinion like this - in fact, as you can tell by many of the comments that we posted, nearly everything on 'Mummy And Daddy' had this effect. Having universal approval is not something I've ever aspired to.
How do you see this new work in terms of the evolution of your music in the last 20 years?
Actually, I see it as a kind of consolidation of much of the body of work that I've been responsible for. However, there is no doubt that this sound could have a revolutionary effect on our future releases and I think may well prove to be highly influential to others exploring similar areas.
What else are you working on at present?
Well, the biggest task at the moment is the remastering of the entire back catalogue of live archive material. It's a long-term project which involves digital remastering and some cleaning up of the original tapes and then uploading them to mp3.com. It's a slow process and quite mechanical work but will be very worthwhile once completed. I'm also going to start work on some of the old Come material in this way. Next year may possibly see some more DJing and more EMFW concerts - we'll have to see how much time there is for everything.
What are your opinions regarding the current state of 'noise' music?
'Noise' music? Very low, I'm afraid. The old longhaired prog rock fans who make the so-called Japanese noise are dead. I think they were always living on borrowed time. That genre totally depended on the then Western interest in exotic Japanese counterculture that was fashionable in the late 80s when it all started. Things like Japanese pornography especially bondage, oriental schoolgirls, the new wave of video games, manga and anime etc, the alternative aesthetic that Japan offers. A Masonna or Violent Onsen Geisha or whatnot CD with their, you know, 'obis' … Obis? Yeah, you know the cute little outer covers on the spine with the names in Japanese. I think that's what they're called. Well, and the at times exquisite, even sexy, presentation must look fantastic on any coffee table when heavy metal fans or the like come round to tea. I guess nobody can fail to be impressed with your 100 CD 'Merzbox' with the free 'Merzposter', 'Merzbook', 'Merzmobile' or whatever etc. (luckily it doesn't really matter that your 'Merzrom' or other discs won't play properly) - but then you must think 'what about the music?'. I'm asked about the difference between Whitehouse and all these 'noise' bands. Aside from my own subjective and personal judgments, the one fundamental difference is that people actually listen to Whitehouse. I defy many of these Japnoise fans to look me in the eye and really tell me they regularly listen to that music. Most of them are rock and rollers. Where's the content? The use of extreme sounds and noise can be very powerful utilised as a tool but not as a means in itself other than as I said as a sort of 'coffee table' statement.
But you say that but you helped compile 'Extreme Music From Japan'?
I still think that is a great album and the most essential example of the genre when it was at its zenith - but after that it really desperately needed to develop and evolve in some way. That has patently never happened.
Why do you hate rock music so much?
It annoys me intensely - I don't know. It represents everything I hate about music - it's conservative, smug, believes it can change the fucking world; it sounds awful, you know guitars and drums are loathsome wanking instruments. It's depressing - just the word 'rock' or 'metal' or whatever, it's for old people with old minds, although that never stops another bunch of wannabes from posing in front of a camera to try their luck. Cliché upon cliché upon cliché. Pick up an issue of Select or NME or Spin and you'll see them every week. I've heard it all before and don't want to hear it again. I've seen them come and go like a croupier watching some pathetic gamblers at a blackjack table. Also I've really enjoyed monitoring the last decade or so as machines and faceless programmers and producers with their computers have steadily completed their domination of music - music's better now than it ever was. It's nice to witness 'rock and roll' dying, and it's a pleasure to try and help it on its way.
How do you feel about how Whitehouse is treated as a taboo subject in magazines like The Wire, Select and others and notably excluded from the Martin Strong reference work on alternative and independent bands?
In one sense I suppose it's annoying, firstly for its pettiness, and secondly for its ignorance and stupidity. However, although I'm intensely proud of all the music I've been a part of for 20 years now, I have no desire for 'immortality' or fame, no desire for historical recognition, nor any desire to brown-nose to get my name into print. Furthermore, ironically perhaps, the existence and the success of the group has greatly depended upon NOT being in the press and maintaining a very low profile. There could be all sorts of trouble otherwise, given the public climate towards some of the subject matters we specialise in - material like this can quickly blow up in your face. But I'll go even further - if anything, in the context you mention, it's flattering that anybody would deliberately exclude us from their cliques - it's a supreme vindication. Yeah, rock and roll is so outrageous, such fucking rebels, real renegades - the Devil's music? Yeah, right, in their fucking adolescent dreams. Regarding the book you mention, I found it quite ironic that the US rock and roll band Come, who ripped off their name from us, are mistakenly credited with a certain 'Rampton' album. Who gives a fuck about them nowadays anyway?
What are your current interests and inspirations?
Most of the usual interests that have already come up as subject matter in the past continue in addition to a current obsession for certain types of domestic abuse, eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and other related conditions and their implications - I don't find many interesting books nowadays in the English language - at least that might be inspiring, perhaps, of course, excepting Peter's books, in particular the excellent recently published 'Tick'. This is mostly due to the fact that, as a voracious reader, there isn't an awful lot left that I haven't seen. Thus most of my reading these days is in French or Spanish, for example I've taken to rereading some of the more esoteric works by Sade in French, some other, perhaps more obscure, books are recommended at the website.
Anything else in particular?
Well, perhaps unexpectedly to many, something I've become extremely interested in recently has been the history of religion, in particular, the Judeo-Christian as described in the Bible. Firstly before you get the wrong idea, I'd like to publicly declare that I don't have the least belief in any divinity, I am, and have always been a hardcore atheist (I was brought up that way), and this is for the perfect reason that I can find nothing that can persuade me of the existence of something of which there is not the slightest evidence of. Religion is something I've always found to be a despicable hiding ground for individuals who can't face up to the fact that they're going to die; and or use the words 'moral', 'immoral' or 'evil' to ascribe qualities where they couldn't possibly use rational explanation. However, ironically it was in fact my born and bred scepticism that initiated my renewed interest in this whole subject matter. So about a year ago, I read a book about the incredible inconsistencies in the Gospels of the New Testament regarding the life of Jesus. Many of these discrepancies have long been noted, and never more notably from a personal point of view, than in the works of Sade. While never in my life for a minute believing in his divinity, I found interest in knowing what kind of person Jesus really was from a historical point of view. If not divine, he must certainly have been an extremely enigmatic personality - especially considering the incredible historical impact. I wonder how many people have died agonising tortuous deaths in his and his 'father's' names - armies engaged in wholesale killing and terror under the flag of his logo.
What was the book?
It was published in Spain and it makes various propositions that Jesus had lived for 40, not 33 years; that he was born in 4 BC (never a more bizarre contradiction!); that he had at least 7 siblings; and had been married. It also exposes the myriad of fascinating parallels between aspects of his life and the pagan gods, specifically Osiris and Dionysus. It's pretty common knowledge that the dates for Christmas, Easter and most other religious dates are of pagan origin and have nothing to do with 'historical' events as related in the Bible. If Jesus' so-called return from the dead and ascension to the heavens is celebrated at Easter, why the fuck does the date change every year?
Good question, now you mention it.
But then came the real shock - this book didn't go far enough because, after further reading and study, I discovered something even more unexpected. It was that the whole Jesus Christ story is pure myth. There was never any person called Jesus! Neither was there any person called Adam, Moses, Noah and in fact about 90% of the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments. Of course!! It all starts to make sense. But the shock is that I of all people, as a lifelong atheist and self-proclaimed destroyer of myths and taboos, had swallowed the propaganda - and had never even questioned whether these tales had ever really happened. Why do you think this theory is not more widely known? In the west, in secular countries, you make a choice. Either you believe that Jesus was a remarkable human being or that he was of divine origin. Never that he is about as real as any character in any other legend or adventure story. There is not the slightest historical evidence that he existed, there are piles of irrefutable reasons to suggest he didn't which I won't bore you with here. The Bible might be a book of faith but never one of historical fact. The Jesus story is one of pure fucking mythology. What's quite tempting to me would be to take on any Christians with their beliefs - while it's impossible to have an argument with someone that insists that a god or gods exist, the Christians have an almighty Achilles' heel. If Jesus didn't exist, their whole raison d'être completely loses credibility. And this IS something that can be proved… Woe betide any one of them that approaches me in the street or knocks at my door because I'm armed to the teeth with all the facts and I'll take them on at their own game. I've read their bible, and all their worthless scraps of flimsy evidence and can refute it all effortlessly. We could have the first Jehovah's fucking Witness banging on a door to get out of a house.
It's hard to imagine Whitehouse covering this area…
(Laughs) No, I don't think it will feature in that context - it wouldn't really work well. It has acted as an inspiration though for other things. It's made me look at certain aspects of life in a new light. It's a reminder also to take absolutely no thing for granted.
How did you feel about the recent hysteria regarding the Sarah Payne case?
The media will soon grow tired of it and move onto something else, these issues are cyclical and don't reflect anything other than journalists enjoying the power they have to create such an environment. Like rioters, the actions of these so-called protesters and vigilantes are fuelled less by the cause they espouse than by their inability to control their own destinies. Every community creates its own spurious hierarchy and your place within it depends on kicking someone else. Just as in prisons there are criminals who take violent action against sex offenders to create status for themselves.
So what's the story with this new concert you're doing?
There is the forthcoming live action 86 in London in October which we are all looking forward to with both excitement and some apprehension after the decision several years ago not to play again in the capital. Happily it all coincides with the 'Apocalypse' exhibition in London featuring the excellent Chapman Brothers and others - and for the superstitious is both Friday 13th and a full moon.
Why did you change your minds to play in the UK again?
In one part because of the venue - since the EMFW event, I've found that Hinoeuma to have a very good atmosphere and I do like the location. Secondly, several years have now passed since the last concert in London at the Garage and this has allowed time for the memories of that chaotic night to fade. We were hoping to be able to arrange something in Paris in October too, but we've just heard that that won't work out this time. Next year, we intend to do more live actions in Europe, specifically in Germany and hopefully other countries like Belgium and even the Czech Republic, and maybe even in the States and further afield, if we can get the right sort of conditions. Hopefully, we'll be able to include a date in France around then to compensate for not making it in October - I do like playing in France a lot.
What was the real story about the Barcelona live action last year?
In what way do you mean?
Well, there have been many conflicting reports about what happened there…
It was amazing - a classic, one of the best shows we've ever done, loud and rude and barely in control of ourselves in a beautiful auditorium packed with people, all seated, while outside there were another hundred or two who couldn't get in watching it on a giant screen. There were a few who were totally disillusioned with our performance: mostly rock and metal fans exposed to us for the first time in a live context - saying stuff like we showed a lack of respect. What the fuck did they expect? There's a lot of stuff regarding this concert at the website actually. There were a lot of rumours flying about regarding what happened after the concert in the backstage area and at the hotel - I'm not going to get into all that here.
Do you intend to continue with the DJing that you've been involved in? You did it for the EMFW shows and again more recently.
Yes, it's fun and something I do enjoy. I hope to be able to continue with it in the future when I have the time. It's actually a lot more hard work than I would have initially anticipated, firstly in finding music that will work well together and is varied and stimulating and secondly, the technical aspects of mixing and maintaining good overall sound.
What kind of music are you playing in this role?
Quite a variety, pretty eclectic actually - there's a listing at the website for anybody that's interested - recently I also incorporated some of this new developmental Whitehouse sound and mixed it with other tracks and background sounds. It seemed to work very well.
©2000 Susan Lawly - this interview may be freely used in part or in full for copying or publication.
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