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Cut Hands - Afro Noise, Vol. 1

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Artist: Cut Hands

Album: Afro Noise, Vol. 1

Label: Very Friendly/Susan Lawly

Review date: Jul. 7, 2011

William Bennett. For a certain noise fan, that’s a name that will always elicit a certain frisson. Pioneers of the Power Electronics sub-genre in the early 1980s, Bennett’s Whitehouse took the provocative stance of early Throbbing Gristle and elevated it to terrifying heights, with unsettling musings on rape, murder, misogyny and torture set to strident, aggressive strains of tuneless synth madness.

If I’m honest, most of the crass posturing of the Power Electronics scene seems old hat and silly these days (despite a certain revival with Ramleh’s awesome Valediction and The North Sea’s Bloodlines); but as the decades advanced, it became clear that Whitehouse, again like Throbbing Gristle, had more going on than the chasing pack, with 2003’s Bird Seed demonstrating an interest in African polyrhythms and a more textured, nuanced approach than on ‘80s outings like Erector and Dedicated to Peter Kurten, Mass Slayer.

It appears that this long journey has now come to fruition on Bennett’s solo debut album as Cut Hands. As its title suggests, Afro Noise takes up the challenge Bennett set for himself with Whitehouse and fuses the abrasive textures of that band with a greater exploration of the timbres and rhythms of traditional African music.

The percussion is what hits you first. On the second track, “Stabbers Conspiracy,” harsh metallic patterns tumble out of the speakers like a collapsing pile of ballbearings, undercut by more discrete djembes and doundouns. It’s a tasty welding of the icy post-industrial clang of Power Electronics, and something that feels earthier, even warmer. Later tracks, such as “Rain Washes Over Chaff” or “Munkisi Munkondi” (already a stand-out feature of Bird Seed) feel almost rock-ish with their motorik grooves and swathes of echoing synth lines. Indeed, you almost feel a connection between Afro Noise and the polyrhythmic, afro-tinted industrial songs of early 23 Skidoo, Test Dept. and Einsturzende Neubauten. But, typically, Bennett’s exploration of the influence and role of Africa in modern music is darker, more ambiguous, a world away from "world" music.

And for all that, there is nothing retro or old hat about the music of Cut Hands. In fact, this may be the most radical step in the evolution of modern noise since the Harsh Noise Walls micro-genre first gained international recognition through the works of Werewolf Jerusalem and The Rita a few years ago. “Nzambi la Lufua” is one of the most strident, atonal noise pieces I’ve heard this year, with Bennett drowning the backing textures in a single tone so high-pitched it could probably make your ears bleed. “Shut Up and Bleed” echoes in its title the ambivalent misogyny of old-school Power Electronics, and also seethes and rages with the raw power and menace of tracks like “Ripper Territory” and “Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel”.

But a cursory perusal of the “Recommended Books List” on the Susan Lawly website quickly puts paid to any suggestions that Bennett is simply a vulgar provocateur – the works therein include emotionally charged denunciations of Africa’s post-colonial traumas (We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families) and Jayne Ann Krentz’s compilation of feminist romance essays Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. There are books on eating disorders, 9/11 and religion, and, along with the sensitive use of African instruments and the album’s hauntingly primitive, yet elusive, artwork, this book list highlights the veiled thoughtfulness and intellectual profundity that lies behind Bennett’s seething bile. They elevate his work, especially Afro Noise Vol.,1 high above the wannabe sadists.

Afro Noise is an at-times troubling foray into the dark heart of post-colonial African history as seen through European eyes: its violence, political turmoil, uneasy gender roles and strains of racial conflict. It’s also a refreshing and abstract reflection on modern noise and its on-going evolution as a genre by one of its longest-serving and most controversial figures. Bennett, as before, even if we didn’t know it, is showing the way.

By Joseph Burnett

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