Light a candle. Draw the required sigils. Now, raise your arms above your head and slowly, gently, exhale your soul. You won’t need it here. This is Audioccult, and it’s time to get low. Illustration: Daniel Jones.
Despite never having seen a girl or a woman for most of my adult life, I can walk into any room and in under ten minutes it will be covered sweat from all the ladies who are almost definitely not checking out my vintage wheelies hard enough. Glide from corner to corner like a python (also what I call my ripped arms, what a coincidence?? Hahah think again) who drank too much milk on the way over so I have to move around a lot or I get urpy. Sweet deal for a lucky lass with an urge to help a dude purge; could your gurgling burps and babylike coos soon be joined by another’s? That’s what I’m here to help you with. I’m going to present three scenarios, with three solutions at the end of the page. Practice these what-if scenarios in your imagination, a place free from judgment and mean older sisters. Oh what, just because I’m a nerd and a mutant and I have the words BABY DICK DUDE instead of eyebrows then that makes me a pussy? Who’s the one who misgenders every single damn Master of Disguise (2002) quote I throw at her including the really obvious ones from the trailers? Turtley enough for the Turtle Club much, sis? I guess failure is an option.
SCENARIO 1: BRUISE CLUES
You’ve just enrolled in a course teaching you how to hypnotize women by deconstructing the female psychology using alpha pronouns and specific body language. A man in a Spencer’s Gifts hat is trying to teach you his secret techniques, but as you fail to grasp the nuances between his words, his goatee stroking becomes agitated. Eventually, you come to the realization that this man is gross and doesn’t have a clue about anything to do with women—so you crack his case, in this case his ribs, via powerful piledriver techniques from a previous class. Upon the twelfth impact, his chest shatters and releases flocks of blind, terrible naked birds into the sky—the last of which fixes you with an intense milk-white stare.
SCENARIO 2: QUOTH THE RAVER
You’ve been quoting Suicide lyrics for the last hour, getting progressively louder and more aggressive, yet you still haven’t attracted a date.
SCENARIO 3: A GIFT HORSE IS THE WORST GIFT
Kiss a person?!! Go on a date with another human being and struggle not to discuss your eternal hatred of horses? Terrible. You get no passes for hating horses. Hating horses is a lonely horse-hatin’ road a’tread by shuffling feet (but never hooves) so good luck with this one, buster.
SOLUTION 1: A BIRD IN THE HAND
Your dreams are forever-after filled with the snapping sounds of twigs and the brush of warm skin, dry as parchment and just as brittle.
SOLUTION 2: STRUGGLE THAT NEVER ENDS
Find another dentist office because this one clearly sucks.
SOLUTION 3 TEETH: TOO FAR GONE, DISSOLVED TO DUST
“A horse is a horse, of course” and these exclusive premieres from LA industrial monsters 3 TEETH from their upcoming debut album will help you stay the course on your dating journey. There is no laughter on this path; no one dreams here. But if you follow my tips and my column, give me the big clicks and the major shares, you can rest easy the way everyone should: with a pile of horse pieces next to your bed. ~
The founder of controversial noise and industrial pioneers Whitehouse now operates as the African rhythm and vaudou-inspired Cut Hands, and is making some of the most vital music of his 30+ year career. Interviewed by online editor Lisa Blanning as part of Berlin Atonal’s day program, we present the transcript from the conversation in its entirety.
Thank you to everyone for coming. My name is Lisa Blanning, I’m a music journalist and I work for Electronic Beats as the online editor. With me is William Bennett, who most of you will be familiar with as the founder of Whitehouse and currently the artist Cut Hands. I’m sure everybody knows already that some people regard Whitehouse as actually the originators of noise, or if not that, certainly one of the pioneers and probably originators of power electronics. So we’re going to have a general conversation about William’s activities ranging over three decades.
William, I, for one, was really glad for the opportunity to interview you because it seems obvious to me that you’re a cool guy. You’re a middle-aged white man—British at that—who likes Dr. Dre. What is it you like about him?
[laughs] I think he’s really hot. And he gets better with age, have you noticed?
In terms of his looks?
Absolutely. The last video he did, I don’t think he’s ever looked better. In terms of his music, not only do I love it but his work ethic, as well. He does things over and over again, spends hours on one single project in order to get exquisite results. I really admire that, in anyone, but Dre to me is the pinnacle of that sort of ethic.
His career is very long as well, and varied, even. Is there other rap music you like besides Dre?
I’m a West Coast guy when it comes to rap. That era is my favorite.
Yeah. I like Snoop, and the Geto Boys. I had the great fortune to meet Bushwick Bill a couple of months ago in Texas.
I saw the picture online, actually.
He played live, he has this new band with three live musicians, and it’s absolutely fantastic. If you ever get a chance to see him live, it’s incredible.
It wasn’t on the same bill as Cut Hands, was it?
No, different venue but part of the same festival, Chaos In Tejas.
I wondered if it wasn’t partly because a massive part of rap music is how it uses language, and especially with Whitehouse, it seems that lyrics and language are really important. You describe yourself as an expert in meta-language—or you’ve been described that way. How would you define the term?
Meta-language exists whether you use it consciously or unconsciously. It’s the art of understanding what people are really saying. You can use it accidentally or by design—very few people use it by design—but it’s happening all the time. It’s often the little words that make it powerful. “But”, for example. Somebody might say, “Oh, I really liked the last Tom Cruise film,” and somebody might respond, “Yes, but…” and then give their opinion. The meta-language of “but”, which is different than the definition in the dictionary, is essentially, “my opinion is more important than yours.” That’s why, on an unconscious level, when somebody says, “Yes, but…” to us, we lose the connection with that person slightly. So, it’s not a very useful form of communication if you can break rapport through such a simple thing.
Would meta-language also encompass things like body language and physical signs?
Yes, it’s all forms of communication that essentially work on an unconscious level. As I said, it’s often at odds with what the dictionary definition would be. I don’t know if you read magazines like Cosmopolitan, but they like to talk about body language. Men’s magazines are full of that stuff as well, stuff like, “Oh, if a girl is sitting next to you on the train and her legs are crossed toward you, she’s interested in you in some kind a sexual way. Whereas if her legs are crossed the other way, she’s not.” But in actual fact body language doesn’t work like that at all. Each piece of body language can’t always be defined in a particular way, as you would with a dictionary.
This power of the unconscious and communicating through unconscious channels is something you’ve mentioned as important, and which pops up frequently in your work. Interestingly, you also work as a motivational speaker, which I found absolutely fascinating. I could see how being an expert in meta-language could serve that role—but how do you even become a motivational speaker?
I don’t call it motivational speaking because I’m not really there to specifically make people feel better about themselves. It’s difficult to explain, but they’re sort of workshops about acquiring skills in unconscious communication techniques. This stuff is very useful in so many different spheres, and comes up so often in social interaction. It’s useful to have these skills.
It’s incredibly useful. But how did you start doing that for money?
It was quite a long, gradual way. I became qualified for training teachers, and at the same time I became very interested in hypnosis. It wasn’t connected, but those journeys came together on a long path through method acting, through neuro-linguistic programming, through magic, hypnotherapy, mind control, mentalism—all these different spheres, and that came out the other end, really. We tend to think of academia as covering all the skills one would need in life, but I found very quickly that that isn’t the case. That most of the really interesting stuff comes from outside academia. It was really a very long journey learning about things you can’t learn at university.
And letting other people notice you were good at this, and hiring you?
Yeah, it started when I did this thing in Edinburgh called The Relationship Academy, which we had in the center of the city every week. It was very popular, even Red Magazine—a women’s magazine in the UK—came along to review it. It was mostly women who came along to that to learn techniques for dating.
This is really great, that you can get dating advice from William Bennett. You previously talked about the concept of transparent concession, which I thought was really interesting and of course relates to your ideas about the unconscious. Can you explain the concept briefly?
That came about when I got involved in magic. I was very fortunate: I was in the library and I was looking through books and found a small piece of paper that said “Magic Circle” with a telephone number. I like to think I belong to the Let’s See What Happens Club, so called the number and said, “I’m interested in this Magic Circle thing.” And they told me to come to this venue in Edinburgh, which was down a dark alley and up a few stairs. I went in there and it was this 18th century apartment with wooden panels and these mostly aged gentlemen who just meet every week to talk about magic. They keep all their secrets to themselves, and suddenly after a couple of visits they allowed me to join the circle and gain access to all their secrets and books, which I found fascinating. You can’t buy these on Amazon because they have very small numbers printed, maybe 100 or 200 copies, which really tell you about all the techniques for achieving amazing things. Then I sort of thought about magic and how we are going to define magic in a meta-linguistic sense, if we can call it that. Magic to me is achieving what you previously thought was impossible.
For me, magic is being able to impose your will on the outside sphere.
Going back to the concept of transparent concession, if we accept this notion of achieving what you previously thought was impossible then in order to achieve that, you apply ‘transparent concessions’. A mundane example would be if you saw a magician pulling a bird out of his hand. We know in that situation that there is some kind of trick, that he doesn’t possess supernatural abilities, and yet we don’t know exactly what he is doing. We can call that a transparent concession because we accept that something is happening, that there is some trick involved, but we accept that we don’t know what it is. We’re often disappointed if we do find out what it is. Another example, which I learned from Stanislavski, would be where an actor must decide what to do off stage between scenes. Should he stay in character, in terms of his voice and appearance and so forth, or should he go and have a cigarette and a Mars bar during the break and have a chat with his friends about what he is going to do after the play. Now, it doesn’t matter to the audience because they don’t see any of that, and yet Stanislavski—and I—would argue that it makes a difference to how the audience perceives the performance. That’s a transparent concession: it’s invisible and yet it makes a difference.
That can also be described as a part of art where the audience doesn’t directly experience it and yet they benefit from it somehow.
Yeah. I thought about this more and I remember looking at a Schiele painting in Vienna and it struck me that in fact every artistic experience is pure transparent concession. In other words, the artistic experience is everything that you’re not directly looking at. It’s the entire environment and everything that’s happened and is happening around it, rather than the thing itself. The illusion is that it’s the piece of art that you’re looking at—in actual fact it’s everything that isn’t that piece of art.
How does this idea relate to what Whitehouse did?
For me it was kind of mind-blowing to think of things in these terms. Referring to the Schiele painting, he wasn’t applying transparent concessions deliberately but I thought about how in the context of magic or drama you could apply transparent concessions in a deliberate way. In other words, what can you do visibly to change somebody’s experience of your art. That’s when I began to apply that to Whitehouse.
But it seems that with Whitehouse that it’s not invisible at all. It seems that Whitehouse is so confrontational as an aesthetic experience that it’s almost counter-intuitive to think of everything that you’re not experiencing directly with Whitehouse being the experience.
The way I see it, everything is, whether it’s Whitehouse or anything else. It’s always the invisible, the transparent concession applies to everything. The difference with Whitehouse is that it’s being applied in deliberate ways, as with Stanislavski when he’s suggesting to the actors to stay in character. By definition it’s invisible, so you wouldn’t notice it and it can’t be seen, but it forms your experience.
In the past you’ve talked about taking the audience through a threshold so to speak, or on a journey with Whitehouse and then what happens after that is not up to you, it’s up to them.
Yeah, well although it kind of sounds creepy, metaphorically speaking I say this, but that’s only because this is how I like my own experiences to be. I’m a big fan of Ingmar Bergman’s films and that’s how I feel if I see a great Bergman film. For me, it’s like wandering around the countryside and you see some woods. And you don’t know where you are when a perfectly friendly stranger comes up to you and offers his hand to take you into the woods and says there’s something wonderful in there. The question is, do you go with him or do you think, “Oh that might be a bit dangerous, I don’t know this person, I don’t know what might be in the woods.” My instinct is to take that guy’s hand and to go into the woods, but not everybody feels comfortable about that. I want my music to be that hand.
For me personally, that is actually a more successful proposition with Cut Hands, in the sense that it seems that you’re reaching a larger audience with Cut Hands. The progression from Whitehouse to Cut Hands was actually very organic, but when you decided to stop Whitehouse did you think that might happen?
I really had no idea. I mean it was fantastic for me that people got off on Cut Hands at all. It was just something that I had to do and I felt that for a long time. But that certainly wasn’t something I was expecting. I think that sometimes with music you can be lucky in the sense that the right things happen at the right time in the right place.
Did you make any theoretical changes to your artistic practice?
No. The big difference of course is that there is no singing in Cut Hands, so the explicit language aspect of it isn’t there anymore. If we extend this metaphor a bit further, I suppose the hand is a little bit friendlier than it was, so you’re more likely to go into the woods, maybe you can hear some music in the woods that sounds nice, you have more reasons to go there than you did with Whitehouse. Whitehouse definitely requires more bravery to go down that path.
Whitehouse was really provocative so it created a reaction, no matter what. It might have been negative, in the sense that people shut it out or ignore it or denounce it. But one of the large differences is that there’s a lack of physical theater in Cut Hands that was really present in Whitehouse. Does that have to do with you changing how you wanted to present your ideas?
In the ’70s there was a movement in San Francisco called EST, which stands for Erhard Seminars Training. It kind of still exists today in the form of Landmark Education. They had a very confrontational approach to people’s problems in their lives and where for example they wouldn’t let anybody go on toilet breaks during these very long seminars and trainings. Even people who had terrible things in their lives would be verbally abused, but it wasn’t done to humiliate them—in fact, it was done in a therapeutic sense in order to get beyond the illusion of identity, because it is only through breaking through that threshold that there’s the potential for change.
Our belief systems are so rigid, the way it typically happens in some people’s lives is through what are traumatic events—you know where people say, “such a thing changed my life.” The reason I left London, for example, was that some burglars broke into my house and took everything, which actually did me a favor because it allowed me to break through this threshold and do something different. A lot of people say this, someone may have passed away in their lives or there might have been an accident or suffered an illness, and this caused them to change their lives.
EST achieved this through confrontational training techniques without the traumatic events in order to help even people who had suffered abuse as children to overcome this identity which they might use as an excuse for everything bad that happened to them in their lives. Werner Erhard, who ran these seminars, would call these people assholes and tell them it was a scam, that they were running a racket, that it was their fault that all these things happened and that they had to take responsibility for it. At the end of the three or so days, after all this very emotional verbal interaction and the various exercises, people would come out the other side and it would allow them to change their lives. Luke Reinhart, author of The Dice Man, wrote a great book about it. It was pretty controversial at the time, and I find it very interesting and Whitehouse is very similar to that. The people who get through it, for so many of them it had an enormous impact on their lives. I’m not saying that Whitehouse was designed to be some kind of musical therapy or anything, yet it does have a value to it which I think is under-appreciated.
It definitely has a value to it. Are you familiar with the term ‘porno-misère’, also misery lit or misery porn? It’s usually meant to describe stories of redemption after years of abuse, usually child abuse or sexual abuse, and it’s a literary genre that boomed massively and became very popular and made a lot of money. Proponents talk about how it helped writers and readers come to terms with these sorts of horrors, but critics suggest that the appeal is actually in voyeurism, prurient titillation, and the suggestion is we delight in and are aroused by the misery of others. Do you think that there is validity to that criticism?
Are you referring to Whitehouse or the literary genre?
Yes and no. I mean it’s obviously exploitative. I posted a picture on my blog that I took when I walked into a major book store in the UK, WH Smith. They had this huge display exclusively of these types of books. I mean now, interestingly, it’s all 50 Shades of Grey pornography, but then it was all misery porn literature. It’s obviously exploitative, there’s no doubt about it, and the books, I suspect, are written by hacks, many of them. I don’t consider Whitehouse to be similar to that.
I don’t mean necessarily that, but rather that there are so many taboo subjects that Whitehouse is famous for incorporating into their work, and there is a lot about the taboo that is intriguing to a lot of people that Whitehouse freely use. And not just Whitehouse, obviously. As everybody knows, there were many groups, such as Throbbing Gristle, that were mining this field heavily, especially during this period. And I do wonder if this arousal by the taboo was part of it.
No. One of the problems I have is the retrospective view of these things. It’s not a criticism, it’s an analysis really, that a lot of the groups that copied this formula as they saw it. And it was seen in these visceral terms. I can assure you that for me, personally, it wasn’t done with that in mind. The way it looks is that there are hundreds of bands that are, as you say, mining those fields, it looks like Whitehouse is part of that whole scene, but it wasn’t originally, it wasn’t created in that spirit.
I was very young at the time, and I felt that I had to immerse myself in all horrors to come to terms with them. I went through a lot of these things one by one. Although it again doesn’t look like that in retrospect when you view it from 2013, but then it was very much from the perspective of the suffering from it. It was trying to come to terms with the suffering rather than the victimization, even though it looks different. People identify certain themes and are attracted through the visceral component rather than where it comes from, in the heart.
It’s the same with the language that was used. A song like “A Cunt Like You” was seen by a lot of people, critics and fans alike, as being a of sort of paean to misogyny. I hate explaining lyrics, because I don’t think one should, but I gave a talk in London where I explained that the truth is that it was anything but. It was actually language used by my parents against each other and part of it was about the hypocrisy of men and their relationship towards women of their own age and, say, their teenage daughters. I saw it as the same thing, they have the same feelings towards their daughters that they do towards women of their own age, but it’s a nasty, dark secret. So, that’s what that song is really about, it’s not a paean or anthem to misogyny in any way. But as soon as it’s picked up like that, especially when some are even people who like your music and start seeing it in those terms, then I’ve got a problem.
You said that you don’t like to explain lyrics, and that’s something you didn’t used to do, as far as I can tell. You didn’t really respond to accusations of fascism or racism that would arise from Whitehouse. But earlier this year you very strongly and publicly responded to these accusations via Facebook and your blogs. Obviously it’s been more than 30 years since you started Whitehouse, but what has changed to make you want to address this commentary?
I still believe that. It’s a big sacrifice to do that. Most art is rationalized in some kind of way, whether it’s literature or music. We live in an era where everything is rationalized. When Caravaggio painted he didn’t need to do interviews or magazine reviews or features, he could pretty much do as he wanted. I’m kind of jealous of not being able to be in that position. The reason for not rationalizing is to give people the freedom to experience art however they wish. I hate movies with a message at the end telling you how you should feel about what you just watched. Oliver Stone is a particular transgressor in that regard. If it’s not at the end of the film then it’s in an interview or a blurb. I want to give people the freedom to experience it in whatever way they want, whether they like it or don’t like it. I strongly believe in that freedom, and if I start coming out with stuff regarding my personal beliefs or the reasons why I made something then I’m taking away some of that freedom.
Regarding your question, I’m in a very fortunate position where I’m doing a lot of shows and other people depend on that, it’s not just me who’s affected. Somebody was sending anonymous threats to venues and I didn’t want people to have to deal with that. Not everybody is as knowledgeable about early ’80s industrial music, for example, and you can’t expect everybody to do all sorts of research to find out. So, I can’t be so arrogant as to presume that everyone knows what kind of person I am. I felt that, especially for the sake of other people, that it was important to put that on record.
I think that it was probably helpful for a lot of people who encounter your work and form an opinion. As a music journalist, obviously I would say this, but context is important. Or it can be and it can help a lot and it can give you a different perspective. But now, 30 years down the line, as an artist who is renowned for manipulating the boundaries of both ethics and taste to become somehow canonized—Whitehouse haven’t quite reached the point of Throbbing Gristle with a multiple-day event at the Tate devoted to your work—but it’s interesting especially because quite often the discussion around Whitehouse is based around notions of transgression as opposed to music. But Zeitkratzer legitimized your music in a way by performing it alongside composers like Morton Feldman. What is that like for you as the artist?
I’m thrilled. It’s extremely gratifying. One of the most magical moments I’ve ever had was when I arrived in Marseille—because it was a big classical music festival and there’s a lot of money behind all that—I arrived at the venue on this beautiful day in May and I could hear them rehearsing this classical interpretation of one of my own pieces. You could hear it from outside and it was just incredible.
Isn’t it quite odd for that music to be decontextualized from how it originally appeared?
Yes, it’s bizarre. But it’s fantastic. I don’t know if people enjoyed it, but for me, personally, it’s beautiful. I also started in classical music funnily enough, so it was kind of like a full circle being connected.
And those boundaries of ethics and taste? Are those kinds of manipulations still a concern for you with Cut Hands?
What do you mean by ethics and taste?
Well, I think that Whitehouse were deliberately pushing boundaries. Trying to see how far things can go. In terms of aesthetically, before Whitehouse, noise wasn’t really a genre and now it’s codified as a genre, so that’s one example. And obviously, the ethics of all these references to things that are pretty much universally agreed on, for instance denouncing the Holocaust, misogyny and using those sorts of references in your work.
Again, I don’t really see it in that way. It’s understandable, but everything is seen retrospectively, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. There’s nothing as far as I’m concerned that’s controversial about Whitehouse. I understand that people would perceive it in that way but it wasn’t intended in that spirit. For example, there was no use of pictures from Nazi Germany or anything like that. But a lot of groups like Throbbing Gristle used these kinds of images, and even to this day use those kinds of images. We never used that imagery once.
But you did call an album Buchenwald.
Yeah, and so what? It’s just a name.
It’s a name that’s charged.
It’s just a name, though. There’s no message beyond the use of the name. There are lots of books that use that name and even classical pieces. I mean there’s a band called Joy Division, why isn’t that controversial?
I think that alone it wouldn’t have been controversial, but stacked up with everything else.
Again we go back to the transparent concession. So here we’ve got music and the transparent concession is that there’s no friendly beat to it. It’s not part of the rock’n’roll paradigm. It’s using this very aggressive, extreme music—extreme bass, high-pitched frequencies and so forth and that unsettles people and they make the association with dark, and then it becomes something for them to worry about.
Well, there were also song titles that were problematic and all of that together makes it seem as though this is the concern. I’m not saying that you’re promoting deviant behavior, or what have you. What I’m suggesting is that you’re actually asking a question about human darkness.
Well yes, I’m asking a question. At the time I was consuming a vast amount of books about all these things because it was something I really wanted to come to terms with. It was the same with books about murders or serial killers, all sorts of terrible things. A lot of these are mass circulation paperbacks, so a lot of people are reading about all of this stuff.
Yes, and I think that this is actually related, although it’s obviously not the same thing, to the misery lit, the misery porn.
Absolutely. For a time these kind of books would have been the equivalent in those days. I really had to come to terms with these things, so I read all there was to read and then I moved on to other things. The other aspect, and I think this is true for many people in Britain, is that I grew up incredibly disenfranchised from life in terms of broken relationships with family, a lack of opportunities, disenfranchisement from music where I grew up.
Thank God for punk rock because finally there was a chance, but even after punk rock it wasn’t that good. I mean I learned to play the electric guitar and went to dozens of auditions with bands and they would just laugh at you because they would ask what music I liked and I would say something like The Residents or Yoko Ono, and you could see that there was a lack of interest. I felt very, very disenfranchised. Radio and television in the UK, the press, there’s so much of young people’s amazing cultural activity that’s ignored, even to this day. You get to the point where you say, “Fuck it, I’m going to create my own universe,” and really Whitehouse is a sort of separate, parallel universe to everything else. That’s why there are no obvious influences noticeable in the music.
That’s interesting that you do point out, and I hadn’t really thought about it like this, but it’s true that so many of these groups—and it might have been proximity—they’re British. And it was the same era, that is interesting. But this was actually an important movement, and now we know that, retrospectively.
You used the analogy of acting in reference to your work a few times, and I think it’s telling. I really like that you have these alter egos that you don’t hide but nor do you promote them. In addition to your role as a kind of motivational speaker—even though you don’t call it that—I love your alter ego of DJ Benetti, which to me is really surprising. You guys probably know that William is also an Italo disco DJ.
[puts finger to lips] Shhhh. [laughs]
You wrote this great piece for Red Bull Music Academy, and I quote, “But times were changing all too quickly, and this process of commercialization signaled the end of Italo disco. As discotheques steadily became engulfed in the pop dance trash typified by Stock, Aitken and Waterman and the flood of house and techno in the late ’80s, it didn’t feel the same any more. So I moved to the Far East. In Bangkok in 1988 I got a residency at a sweaty katoey club in Soi Cowboy. There, they favored much faster BPMs in the hi-NRG style that would later be termed Eurobeat, the direct descendant of Italo. Unfortunately for me, and the establishment’s he-shes, the owner fell out with some local policemen over unpaid bribes for live sex shows. And that was that.” I think this is very funny, and I also think it’s probably not true.
[laughs] I have this terrible habit of referring to Benetti in the third person. It just helps my method, shall we say. But believe it or not there’s actually a half-truth to everything in that article.
I do believe that, because I read another interview where you said that you spent some time in the Far East. How do you view these other strands of your work? Do you think of them as alter egos?
I guess they are. Benetti started by accident. A journalist friend in London called Piers Martin had these monthly nights in the West End of London where he would invite people that he knew through working in music to come and they could just play whatever they wanted to in the evening as DJs. This would be about the late ’90s, I guess. His club was called Cocadisco. It wasn’t really for dancing, it was more to have drinks. It was quite trendy place, I mean Björk would often come in there. And he’d had people like Russell Haswell and Richard James were invited and came along. And it’d just be a very basic fee.
He invited me and I asked, “What do you want me to play?” And he said, “You can play whatever you want.” I didn’t fancy the idea of playing noise or anything, and I remembered that when I moved to Barcelona there was this music called Italo disco that I loved and bought loads of records of and was a bit of a guilty pleasure, and I could play that. He said, “Yeah, you should play Italo disco.” But I didn’t want all Whitehouse fans to turn up because they would hate the music and hate me, and it would just be kind of ugly so I said I’d just change my name and make it Italian sounding. So, I changed it to DJ Benetti.
And now you’re getting bookings all over the world as DJ Benetti.
Absolutely. I did this huge fucking art event in Berlin where all the galleries sort of combine as one and it’s held at this huge venue. There were like 500 people invited from the art world and they all came along in dinner jackets. Gilbert and George gatecrashed the event! Anyway, DJ Benetti was invited to DJ at the event and Benetti arrived at the event coming from Edinburgh and I just had my laptop and a controller. They had arranged a huge table with turntables, CDJs and computers and everything else. There was also a space for the laser show, which was separate.
The guy said to me “Oh hi there, are you the DJ?”. I thought, “Hang on a minute, did you say the DJ?” I thought I’d just be playing for 20 minutes and that Paul Oakenfold would be playing or something and I’d just be at the beginning. I said “Yeah I am a DJ,” and this guy was like, “Oh great, you’re the DJ, here’s all your equipment.” I was the only DJ and I just played Italo disco—I didn’t even have enough music for the whole night! Very weird, especially because it was in Berlin and there must be more DJs per capita here than anywhere else in the whole world and to have somebody flown in to do an amateur Italo disco DJ set…
And they probably had no idea of your other roles?
No, absolutely not!
There’s one more alter ego that probably only shows up on your blog, Uncle William. He’s actually very funny—is this just the crotchety old man alter ego?
He’s not really as crotchety as he appears. The way I see relationships is that people get stuck in these patterns where the same problem happens over and over again and they can recognize the problems that they have and yet they feel incapable or are incapable of doing anything about it—in other words, making the change that would make a difference in their lives. Because that’s something that I’m really interested in: what would really make a difference? And again it’s related to this notion of magic we talked about earlier. It’s actually much more difficult than it appears, to make a difference in one’s life without these traumatic events taking place.
So, the language that Uncle William tends to use is abrasive and designed to have people get through this threshold in order to find a place where they can indeed make a difference in their lives. I’ve always loved the letters pages in British tabloid newspapers or women’s magazines where they talk about their sexual problems or whatever. You know, “I’ve been going out with this guy for ten years and we haven’t had sex for four years,” this kind of thing. You know, “Dear Auntie Sally, my cock is two inches long, is that normal?” The kind of response you get is, “Oh yes, don’t worry, that’s normal. As far as women are concerned, it’s all the same. It’s how you do it, not what you have.” And I find that that type of language doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives, so I wanted to make Uncle William’s replies in a form where they can, in fact, make a difference.
So, as you can see, the man’s got a lot of varied interests and talents. And you’ll be able to see one of my favorite versions tomorrow night here at Berlin Atonal. Thanks to the organizers for letting this happen, to William for suffering my questions and to you for showing up. ~
For the first of our three interviews with the organizers of Berlin Atonal, click here.
Steph Kretowicz asks Bobby Krlic to delve deep on his critically lauded second album “Excavation”, uncovering the dark impulses that drive the record—and the human condition.
Dig deep enough and strange things will surface. For Yorkshire-born, London-based artist Bobby Krlic that means confronting his fears, however unpleasant. He’s made a career out of identifying, isolating and dissecting dread as The Haxan Cloak, taunting his audience with his black and wordless soundscapes intended to rattle rather than relieve. It’s fitting then, that the focus on death for his second album, Excavation, inspires visions of a grisly exhumation while the image of a hangman’s noose, dangling dangerously close, deforms its cover.
Both frightening and seductive, Krlic romanticises terror in the incessant clicks and queasy distortions of “Excavation (Part 1)”, the haunting pitch and rumbling palpitations of the Swedish folklore-influenced “Mara”. Anyone who’s experienced a night terror will be familiar with the feeling, an old hag trying to strangle you in your sleep, while the disorienting arousal of spiralling panic permeates. This is aurally overwhelming and excessively introspective sound design from a classical guitarist, with a punk and metal background and a shy disposition. But that shouldn’t be mistaken for malaise, because Krlic is a warm though softly spoken creature in person. At times he’s hard to hear over the bass of a café sound system, his words hidden in a mire of low frequencies, much like a sound exploring the mute terrors that lie beneath.
You’ve talked before about “finding comfort in discomfort”, it reminds me of when you get a cut and you deliberately aggravate it. It hurts but it’s strangely satisfying.
That’s the thing, you know this thing is going to make you feel bad but it’s almost romantically enticing. I used to do this thing as a kid, if I saw there was a terrifying film on late at night, I’d video it and I’d wait until my parents went out. Then I’d sit in my room, turn all the lights off in the house, put headphones on and watch it and be absolutely terrified. I’d be so scared but I used to get some kind of perverse pleasure from doing that. You find out weird things about yourself if you place yourself in that situation. I think it’s important.
On a sociological level, it’s like that refusal to acknowledge those feelings and compulsions as real. By evading the negative aspects of our humanity, you’re setting yourself up for disaster because when someone does something really awful, it’s often treated like it’s an anomaly but it’s actually, probably, an inherent part of everyone’s nature.
Yeah, of course, that’s exactly what I mean. That’s what I said about the theme of the record—I could have made it about something else, it didn’t have to be about death, but if you only embrace things that you want to embrace and that are easy to embrace, then there’s no challenge is there? If you’re going to do something like what I’m doing, putting yourself out of your comfort zone and to challenging yourself with ideas that make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, it’s going to take a project somewhere that you’re not aware of. I definitely arrived at certain points where I felt really uncomfortable and there were definitely feelings that I didn’t want to deal with.
It’s like medicating sadness or something. It’s a natural feeling, people are meant to feel bad and if you don’t, it’s not healthy.
Exactly. I’m always the kind of person who—and it drives my girlfriend bonkers—if there’s an elephant in the room, needs to get rid of it; I need to talk about it. Granted, there probably are times when you shouldn’t talk about everything but I’m the kind of person that’s like, “Look, I want to get this out in the open”. I’d rather just engage with something, rather than leave it for another day, because often that day doesn’t come.
When I thought of ‘excavation’ I thought about exhuming a body. But that’s not necessarily where you’re going with that is it?
No, the way that I think about it is, the excavation is from one plane to another plane. If there is a soul, it’s exhuming that.
The track listing is almost the reverse of a burial, because “Fall” comes at the end.
The drop is signalling the start of another journey.
With the new material, I got the impression that because you’re moving in to ‘phase two’ of human existence, the way the music comes across is far more ethereal. It’s not so grounded in organic instrumentation as your last one.
That’s totally true. I was thinking about that because with the first record—and obviously when you’re dealing with an organic process which is someone descending towards death—it kind of makes sense that the instrumentation you choose would be natural acoustics, resonating objects. And then, this place, wherever the place that this current record is, is very, well… It’s kind of indefinable or as definable as you want it to be as a composer. It made sense for me to take it away from the first record and reverse that process.
You’ve qualified before that you’re not a depressive person, is that really true?
I don’t know, probably as much as the average person. You know what? I think it’s different having this kind of job and being permitted this amount of freedom because if you have a nine-to-five job then it’s very regimented and ordered and you have someone to answer to; it’s very rigid and you have goals to meet on a daily basis. It does give a kind of structure to the way that your mind works because, obviously, in that timeframe you’re in work mode. But with what I do my mind is probably allowed to wander more than the average person. I think it’s easier to, again, engage with things you would probably save for another time or maybe not even bother with.
… Or push them out of your mind.
Exactly and it’s in those times when you’re looking for inspiration that those things present themselves. So I think, yeah, I can be a depressive person but it depends. Generally, day to day, I’m not, but I think because I’m permitted time to think about those things way more than the average person, it’s easier to go there.
You could look at your music and those ideas as restoring a balance to modern modes of thinking. Where rather than just presenting a happy escape, you’re showing that these other feelings are real too.
Yeah but there’s another thing that my granddad used to say to my dad, which he used to repeat to me when I was a kid: “one man’s poison is another man’s medicine.” I think that’s really, really true, especially with my music. I’m sure there are people that listen to it and think “Jesus Christ this is horrible, why would anyone want to make this? Why would anyone want to listen to this?” And I’m sure there are other people that listen to it and it makes them feel elated. ~
Excavation by The Haxan Cloak is out now via Tri Angle.
Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson was a vastly influential musician; he helped create what would become the industrial genre as part of Throbbing Gristle, and made some of the greatest music ever as a member of Coil. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of his tragic death, and in honor of his work as well as the work of friend and bandmate Jhonn Balance (whose anniversary also happened recently) we present this mixtape celebrating their musical art as Coil. Created by NYC DJ Helen Keller and given to us by film-maker Matt Lambert (aka dieLamb, whose EB interview you can read here), it’s a celebration of two magickal men who changed the way we think about music. Stream it here.
Further (feat. Jhonn Balance reading the Coil Manifesto)
Boy in a Suitcase
The Anal Staircase
First Dark Ride
Neither His Nor Yours
Love’s Secret Domain
Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)
I Don’t Want to Be the One
Where Are You?
Refusal of Leave to Land (feat. Sleazy’s Final Transmission)
Batwings (A Limnal Hymn)
Pyramids of Mu got some pretty heavy blog-love a while back thanks to their blend of slowed-down samples and acid-house trancebeats; it rides the dragNdrug witchwave without being cheesy or basic. The UK party monsters have recently released a new track, an industrialized refix of Capella‘s 1993 eurodance classic. ‘MU Got 2 Let The Music’ is the evil stepchild of Magic Affair and Suicide Commando, throbbing in all the right ways. Stream it, download it, rave in2 the grave.