Ether column, May 2008

The main event this month is a series of concerts to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Vienna’s leading venue for experimental electronic music. Herbie Molin and Christof Kurzmann founded the Rhiz club in 1998, at a time when Viennese electronic musicians were in the midst of a tumultuous burst of creativity and were bringing worldwide attention to the city. The Rhiz was, and remains, central to the more cerebral end of this activity, exemplified by the challenging laptop improv put out by the Mego label. It’s fitting, therefore, that the proprietor of Mego (now known as Editions Mego), Peter Rehberg, should be appearing at the Rhiz this month as part of the anniversary celebrations. As well as making solo records under the name Pita, Rehberg has worked with many of the world’s top names in avant-garde and improvised music. At the Rhiz this month he showcases his latest project KTL, a collaboration with Stephen O’Malley of drone metal group Sunn O))). The gig is likely to be rib-crushingly loud, especially in the tight confines of the Rhiz, all of which should make for a pleasantly disorientating live experience.

Such a warning/recommendation could equally well apply to the following night’s appearance by the legendary English electronic noise pioneers Whitehouse. The Rhiz is hugely fortunate to be hosting one of the last ever concerts by Whitehouse, who have been a constant and nagging presence in underground music for a staggering 28 years. Having weathered numerous line-up changes over this time, the core duo of William Bennett and Philip Best are disbanding the group to concentrate on solo projects, leaving behind a legacy of fearsome, hostile and aggressive music. The early Whitehouse records were bleak, harrowing affairs, consisting of a barrage of high-pitched frequencies and juddering low-end drones over which Bennett would scream the occasional lyric laced with goading obscenities. The group’s disturbing iconography, replete with imagery of serial killers and sexual sadism, won them few friends in the supposedly tolerant music scene, but they developed an international following and inspired a generation of lesser noise musicians. Their concerts, which they described as “live actions”, were intensely confrontational events that occasionally erupted into physical violence.

Over the years, Whitehouse’s art has matured into an acute and invasive form of psychological inquiry, with Bennett and Best pouring forth dense clusters of unsettling personal questions and blasts of haranguing profanity. Musically, they have abandoned the dual high/low frequency assault in favour of a livid, complex and dangerous sound, characterised by monstrous synth noises and deranged, clattering percussion. (Much of this shift can be traced to Bennett’s recent interest in African rhythms, which will form the core of his forthcoming Afro Noise project.) Live, Whitehouse are great fun, revelling in rock star poses and laying down a compelling and highly original form of electronic harshness. One of the most important and original groups ever to come from the UK, they will be sorely missed.

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