Monday, May 25, 2009
New Continent of Noise: Cut Hands in Krakow, 5/5/09
Photo of Cut Hands in Lodz,
Despite the fact a cold had just begun to throw me into its turbulent waters, I dutifully broke away from the murky subterranean confines afforded by one of Krakow’s few venues, Alchemia, in order to meet William Bennett from the airport and get him there. In doing so, I missed saxophonist Ray Dickaty’s duet with Rafal Mazur, but such things cannot be helped. Half hour back from the airport and we’re in the venue’s vague semblance of a dressing room, nursing drinks and chatting whilst Alan Licht, Aki Onda and Noel Akchote take to the stage. Never having been impressed by Licht’s recordings before, I wasn’t so bothered about catching him live really, but what I could see and hear of his own improvisations in this trio setting from the stage’s wing seemed okay. Occasional plumes of textural glaze bombarded by shards of crystalline distortion and spiralling sonic shavings penetrated all conversation well enough, sustaining my generally good mood that was only otherwise dented by my losing the battle with the germs. Another Coke for William and beer for me later and it was time for the Cut Hands DJ set. Only the fact it had to happen after midnight and, as such, being a weekday, the audience began to thin out really betrayed everything once the line check was out of the way…
Of course, there were a few people around who clearly wanted some Whitehouse, going by the few song requests I heard being shouted out, but the entire Cut Hands deal is a world away from Whitehouse’s often overblown theatrics-led dabblings with perception via sound, language, ideas and, of course, an image supported by a rich history itself awash in notoreity. Only William’s obvious ability to create vast shifting torrents of electronic sound as dynamic as the best structures to be found in rock music furnish one with a link between the two platforms, really. Beyond this, whilst delivering what he has long called ‘afro-noise’, he’s onstage and bears more similarities to other DJs given to only focussing on their craft whilst performing. And by DJs I don’t mean the kind who play other people’s music, either. Akin to certain artists who’ve arrived from dance culture (I’m thinking Richie Hawtin, for example, here), William’s notion of Djing amounts to him playing around with, sequencing and live mixing sounds he’s mostly prepared himself via a laptop. Onstage, nestled amongst the darkness he’s insisted on playing in, there’s very little engagement with the audience or even, come to that, the drink carefully placed nearby. Full concentration is the order of the day, allowing the music to completely shout for itself. And shout it does.
Dashing all expectations, there’s greater emphasis on William’s (personally played and, as he points out later, non-looped) djembe drum workouts. These alone form incredible polyrhythmic soundbeds that instantly transport many around me. I notice people sat down nodding their heads with eyes closed, helplessly locked into proceedings, whilst others take to the limited area there is to dance in. Then there are the electronic washes of blissed-out sound weaving in and out, cascading over or replacing the rhythm segues. Peaks and troughs again commanding the listener and clearly indebted to both William’s own background in such music and, to a far lesser extent, those live house or techno DJs who cut their teeth creating music destined to become new genres. On one hand, the ‘noise’ at work appears fully controlled and as carefully hewn as anything presented so far by Whitehouse’s ‘second phase’, on the other it is poised to the brink of going all Mount Pompeii on us and leaving everybody drenched in sonic sputum in its wake. What’s likewise noticeable is how the music which constitutes a Cut Hands set doesn’t pander to those whose bodies are firmly glued to it, either (mine included!). Anybody can be thrown off the scent at any time before then having to rethink a route back into it. As many doors are slammed violently in one’s feet as are actually opened for them.
But then, well, this is neither ordinary dance music or ordinary music to begin with. If it appears to be about anything then it may well be the basic premise of elevation or at least taking listeners to that very point where its both in their grasp and could be as dangerous as exciting for them. The place where possibilities, in all their guises, exist. And, yes, this might also be something which can be levelled at Whitehouse. I personally wouldn’t expect anything less from William Bennett’s music, though. Which is precisely what sets it apart from so much else…
Footnote: I also caught the third of three Cut Hands sets here in Poland in Lodz a few days later. This time the venue was an art gallery and I am certain that the audience, much as some clearly wanted to, wouldn’t ‘allow’ themselves to move to the music for all the (supposed) inhibitions this brings. Behaviour can easily be influenced by the environment and all preset ideas one may have about that. Or maybe it was the fact William was backed by three short Jean Rouche films from the late ‘50s this time. Or the combination? Either way, I strongly feel dancing in art galleries should be encouraged. Well, to live music in them, at least!