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Whitehouse formed in 1980 on the fringe of the industrial music scene. Created by William Bennett, they pioneered a branch of experimental noise known as "power electronics," a genre explored by Japanese artists such as Merzbow. Influenced by contemporaries such as Throbbing Gristle and composers such as Alvin Lucier, Whitehouse developed a unique sound mixing high and low frequencies with aggressive bursts of electronics and vocals. With their label Come Organisation, they released what they termed "the most extreme music ever made." Often subject to censorship by stores and distributors due to subject matter and graphic record designs, they never bowed to commercial pressures and remained in control of their music and label. Whitehouse has recorded with Steve Albini since 1989.
William Bennett played guitar in the post-punk band Essential Logic. After leaving the group, he recorded the "Come Sunday" single under the name Come. This groundbreaking release, sequenced by Daniel Miller, featured relentless synthesizer pulses that hinted at the sound that would later typify Whitehouse. The Come Organisation was created by Bennett to release like-minded artists, though the majority of the releases on the label involved the founder himself in some capacity.
The Whitehouse project began with the full-length Birth Death Experience with William Bennett on vocals and synthesizer, Paul Reuter on synthesizer, and Peter Mckay credited as effects and engineer. Though relatively timid compared to their later material, it is important for the formation of their unique aesthetic. Their third release, Erector, was one of the first to fully take advantage of the dynamic potential of electronic music. Considered by many as the first power electronics record, Erector set the standard for aggressive experimental noise.
Aware that they were staking new ground, several releases soon followed. They released eight full-length records in three years, each one being proclaimed by the Come Organisation as "the most extreme music ever made." During this period, William Bennett found time to collaborate with Steven Stapleton (of Nurse With Wound) as 150 Murderous Passions, a project inspired by the Marquis De Sade.
Satirizing the music industry much like Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse went to great lengths for originality. While Throbbing Gristle operated Industrial Records as a corporation, William Bennett operated the Come Organisation as a radical libertarian political collective where personal liberty and personal pleasure was to be maintained at all costs. Referring to live performances as "actions," disseminating propaganda that praised serial killers, and expressing an extreme ideology of personal pleasure via the media, Whitehouse gained a cult following based on their growing mysterious status.
Always controversial, anti-Whitehouse sentiments reached new heights in 1982. People misinterpreted the intention of William Bennett's article "The Struggle For a New Music Culture" published in the magazine Force Mental. Controversy surrounding the piece led to further censorship and distribution problems. Following their first U.S. tour, Whitehouse released two of their most shocking records to date: Right to Kill and Great White Death. These releases took sex and violence as lyric subject matter to unheard-of proportions with the equivalent in extreme electronic sound, and they also saw the addition of two new collaborators Kevin Tomkins and Philip Best.
After a five-year hiatus, Whitehouse returned with a new label name and a new producer. Thank Your Lucky Stars, released on Susan Lawly in 1990, was the first for Whitehouse to be recorded by legendary producer Steve Albini. Rarely deviating from the themes outlined by Right to Kill and Great White Death, Whitehouse released several more full-lengths throughout the 1990s. Sonically they have remained true to their original sound and are still quite extreme in nature. Slowly but surely, the coveted early records by Whitehouse are being reissued on CD, sometimes as special editions with bonus tracks. ~ Peter Schaefer