William Bennett, former guitarist for the English post-punk group Essential Logic and member of the unit Come, came to notoriety for his role in the power electronics band Whitehouse, purveyors of some of the most extreme noise and un-PC lyrics imaginable. Their catalog offers some of the most scathing sonic and lyrical assaults to decorum in the history of recorded sound. Over the last three years, Bennett has focused on Cut Hands, a solo endeavor that combines brutal hand drum rhythms inspired by Ghanaian and Congolese musics with excoriating shafts of noise. The two Cut Hands shows I’ve witnessed contained some of the most intense, visceral music I’ve ever experienced. The records are fine, but Cut Hands is best heard in the flesh in order to more vividly feel the relentless, thunderous impact. The following interview was conducted via email in April.
What inspires you to make music now?
The last couple of months have admittedly been a bit of a barren spell, but the important thing for me is to always stay open and be patient that you will get inspired. Inspiration is like life, you never know how it'll work out or where it will take you.
Have your motivations changed from the early days of Come and Whitehouse? Is there a punitive/sadistic aspect to it?
Not at all that aspect. It's hard to compare one's motivations from such a long time ago, as one tends to filter everything through the now. Just the question of one's age is such a big factor in terms of your motivations and intent. I'm not sure how I'd feel about meeting the me from 25 years ago, how much I'd recognize in that person, and yet I look back fondly on those years. There's an amazing book called Passages, which is uncanny in its deconstruction of a person's life stages.
Your pre-Cut Hands projects drew a lot of controversy for the lyrical content. Now Cut Hands is inspiring accusations of cultural appropriation with its voodoo-inspired rhythms and the footage of African/Caribbean rituals before which you perform. Do you think these charges are without merit? Is everything up for grabs and open for reinterpretation in the cultural marketplace?
Of course the charges are without merit—I mean, what exact musical appropriations are you/they even referring to? What's the implied rule here about appropriation? I'm not familiar with anyone else anywhere in the world that sounds like or looks like or feels like Cut Hands.
Please discuss the origins of Cut Hands. What factors/experiences swayed you to go off in this direction? Was it a byproduct of your interest in vodou and Santería?
It began already in Whitehouse in the early ’00s using acoustic hand drums in the songs, which in turn was inspired by the notion of how Haitian vodou practitioners were able to make the most intense music I'd ever heard without the electronic hardware we're so addicted to. I was friends with a Santería priest whilst living in Spain.
How do you make Cut Hands tracks? Does it involve a lot of real-time percussion? Do sampling and beat-programming play a role? It seems like this would be very demanding music to play on “real” instruments.
It's a slow pretty painstaking process despite doing recording almost every day when not on the road. I try to apply different recording criteria for every song to avoid falling into the trap of becoming formulaic. That's something I've always tried to apply to the recording process from the early days.
Has the aging process affected the way you make music?
It's slowed me down! Which might not be a bad thing. But hopefully still a long way from being ready for the knacker's yard.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen happen or heard at a Cut Hands gig? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen happen or heard at a Whitehouse gig?
Oh my god, so much strangeness. I couldn't possibly isolate single incidents. It's really important for me that a live show represents a completely permissive environment, so people can express themselves without inhibition, whether dancing, talking, making out, shouting, drinking, or indeed nothing at all. On more than one occasion people have been fucking at the front of the stage. I see that as a good sign.
What are the main differences you notice between Whitehouse fans and Cut Hands fans? Do you sense that many of the former have followed you to Cut Hands’ endeavors?
I'm really thrilled that lots of Whitehouse fans seem to have continued to enjoy Cut Hands. There are also lots of much younger people now at shows and hopefully they may discover other music I've made before Cut Hands. I think it's a great time for music right now.
What’s on your agenda for the rest of 2014?
Not entirely sure what's on the agenda for next week, let alone the rest of 2014! Hopefully it'll be all happy stuff like cool shows and some more of that much coveted resource: inspiration.