Whitehouse were a pioneering English power electronics band formed in 1980, largely credited for the founding of the power electronics subgenre of industrial music.
History and personnel:
The name Whitehouse was chosen both in mock tribute to the British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, and in reference to a British pornographic magazine of the same name.
The group's founding member and sole constant was William Bennett. He began as a guitarist for Essential Logic. He wrote of those early years, "I often fantasised about creating a sound that could bludgeon an audience into submission." Bennett later recorded as Come (featuring contributions from the likes of Daniel Miller and J. G. Thirlwell) before forming Whitehouse in 1980. The group began performing live in 1982. In 2009, Bennett claimed that his pre-eminent inspiration was Yoko Ono: "Yoko's amazing music was by far the biggest influence on me, and Whitehouse, in the formative years (despite what some would have you believe)."
Philip Best joined the group in 1982 at the age of 14, after running away from home. He was a member on and off ever since.
The group was inactive for the second half of the 1980s. A "special biographical note" on the Susan Lawly website states, "All members of Whitehouse went to live outside London for varying reasons and pursued separate lives. There was a feeling in the group that all that could be achieved had been realised."
Eventually, Whitehouse re-emerged with a series of albums, produced by the American record producer, Steve Albini, beginning with 1990s Thank Your Lucky Stars. Albini worked with the band until 1998, when Bennett took over all production duties.
Through the 1990s the most stable line-up was Bennett, Best, and the writer Peter Sotos, who was convicted of possession of child pornography. Sotos left in 2002, leaving the band as a two-piece.
The band had numerous other members in the 1980s including Kevin Tomkins, Steven Stapleton, Glenn Michael Wallis, John Murphy, Stefan Jaworzyn, Jim Goodall, and Andrew McKenzie, though many of these participated only at live performances, not on recordings.
Bennett terminated Whitehouse in 2008 to concentrate on his Cut Hands project.
Whitehouse specialised in what they call "extreme electronic music". They were known for their controversial lyrics and imagery, which portrayed sadistic sex, rape, misogyny, serial murder, eating disorders, child abuse, neo-nazi fetishism and other forms of violence and abjection.
Whitehouse emerged as earlier industrial acts such as Throbbing Gristle and SPK were pulling back from noise and extreme sounds and embracing relatively more conventional musical genres. In opposition to this trend, Whitehouse wanted to take these earlier groups' sounds and fascination with extreme subject matter even further; as referenced on the sleeve of their first LP, the group wished to "cut pure human states" and produce "the most extreme music ever recorded". In doing so, they drew inspiration from some earlier experimental musicians and artists such as Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley, and Yoko Ono as well as writers such as Marquis de Sade.
The signature sonic elements on their early recordings were simple, pulverizing electronic bass tones twinned with needling high frequencies, sometimes combined with ferocious washes of white noise, with or without vocals (usually barked orders, sinister whispers, and high-pitched screams).
In the early 1990s the band phased out the analog equipment responsible for this sound, instead relying more heavily on computers. Since 2000 they began incorporating percussive rhythms, sometimes from African instruments such as the djembe, both sampled and performed in-studio.
Reception and influence:
Whitehouse were a key influence in the development of noise music as a musical genre in Europe, Japan, the US, and elsewhere. The early music of Whitehouse is often credited with pioneering the power electronics (a term Bennett himself coined on the blurb to the Psychopathia Sexualis album) and noise genres.
The band's 2003 album Bird Seed was given an 'honourable mention' in the digital musics category of Austria's annual Prix Ars Electronica awards.
As Nick Cain of The Wire put it,
By the end of the 1990s, power electronics was in a deep freeze. Fast forward a decade, and ... Whitehouse ... were enjoying an unlikely vogue, universally hailed by Noise makers from Peter Rehberg to Wolf Eyes ... and their work officially inducted into the avant garde canon through a collaboration with the German New Music ensemble Zeitkratzer.