WHITEHOUSE - Live @ the Corner Hotel, 18th February 2004
Whitehouse were one of the main crowd-drawers for this year's What Is Music? festival, and indeed the only main act I caught. To make a long story mercifully short: I turned up to the loathsome Revolver on the Sunday night to catch Merzbow - which was sold out by 9 o'clock - only to spend an hour crammed into their "band room" (which resembles a cage) uncomfortably standing in the heat through the tedium of the support act (one of many). Finally succumbing to my usual short fuse in such situations, I cracked the proverbial sads and stormed out of the venue, drove home and swore that I'd never bother with either What Is Music? or (especially) Revolver ever again. The thought of spending another hour and a half in that insufferable hellhole just to catch Merzbow was too much to bear.
Oren, my hat is truly tipped to you for organising WIM year after year - you're one of the good guys, the true believers - but please, please never book it at Revolver ever again. If you lived in Melbourne you would be blindingly aware of the 3 following, basic facts: Revolver is too small; it is frequented by obnoxious posers and very likely not the kind of people who'd attend a WIM festival; it's on the wrong side of town for - at a guess - roughly 85% of WIM's regulars. No-one with a shred of dignity lives on the south side of Melbourne.
Due to this situation, I missed Keiji Haino the next night at Revolver for his 3 1/2 hour(!!) set, which from all reports was incredible, though due to the change of venue, I decided to catch Whitehouse. My "history" with Whitehouse goes something like this: finally delving into the world of harsh noise (don't ask me why, it was just there) in late '92, I purchased their Cream of the Second Coming double LP at Exposure and promptly convinced myself it was really good. A really enjoyable listen that I would keep until I dropped. In the following 12 months I even bought a stack more of their CDs as they started to get reissued. After all, I was 20/21, pissed off as hell, obsessed with punk rock, terrorism, dada, noise and the general destruction of bourgeois life as we know it (despite the fact that I lived cosily with my parents at the time). Whitehouse are custom-made for such people.
Skip roughly three years and I'd become good friends with Synaesthesia's Mark Harwood. I felt like I'd done some growing up in the intervening years and needed to shed some of my embarrassing past. Phone call to Mark: "Mark, wanna buy a whole bunch of noise records?". Sure. He came over. I decided to keep the cream of the crop - so to speak - meaning basically most of my Merzbow albums, but not feeling any strong connection with, say, the Incapacitants, Hijokaidan and (sheesh!) Sigillum S, I sold them without blinking. Whilst I'm at it, chuck in a stack of Whitehouse, too.
In the last 18 months I've actually been exposed to some of Whitehouse's newer recordings. They're an improvement on their earlier material, but that's not saying much. In fact, that's not saying anything at all. Whitehouse are what I'd call a purely Record Collector oriented band. That is, their appeal is solely to those who collect and amass records as a status symbol, as a reaffirming of what they are. That's fine, many such people are my friends and everyone has to have a hobby. Fact is, many a year back you'd probably throw me in the same boat. But roughly five years ago I had an epiphany: at the ripe old age of 27, I felt the first tinge of growing up. I came to this conclusion: music is there to bring joy into your life, it's there to have fun with. No, I didn't become a born-again Christian, I simply concluded that I'd wasted a large bulk of my life chasing up music which would only back me up for all the negative feelings I had inside of me (someone call Oprah!). Does this make any sense? I think I felt that I was nothing without the music I listened to, that it wholly defined me, and until I turned 27 and had some life experience (which basically meant traveling overseas and finally changing jobs upon return) behind me, that I couldn't divorce myself from it. In a teacup: I took music way too seriously.
Skip 5 years to last week. My feeling towards Whitehouse were fairly non-existent; in fact the only notable feeling I had was a vague curiosity, so I took the plunge. I'm glad I did: Whitehouse were perfectly dreadful. Not that I'm glad they were awful - after all, I don't pay good money to see something I don't like. I was slyly hoping they would defy all expectations and blow me away, or maybe offend me so badly with outrageous stupidity that I'd at least be transfixed. Unfortunately, they were neither. They were only this: DULL.
They were, as Jon Dale noted, nothing short of a noise cabaret act. All camp mincing and "shocking" lyrics that, coming from two 40-somethings, was frankly nothing less than embarrassing. Even more disturbing was the sight of fans mouthing every single word in synchronicity with the band (William Bennett and Phillip Best, both looking like rejects from a New Romantic tribute act). People do actually repeatedly listen to Whitehouse? When? Why? When you're doing the dishes? Driving the car with the windows down on a hot, sunny day? Reading a book? Taking a girl out on a hot date? Go figure.
The best punk rock - the stuff I grew up listening to - is, if this makes any sense, the best combination of positive-negative energy. Its inherent negativity was its positive trait, what gave it its life and its humour. The "negativity" was really just the cry of the wounded, the dispossessed and those who felt they didn't have a place in this world. Whitehouse probably claim the same (actually, they likely don't), and maybe they're right and I'm wrong, but still, I can't figure out how anyone beyond the kind of miserable, ignorant, mean-spirited, bitter, self-obsessed, spoilt little know-it-all turd that I was as a 21 year-old could actually enjoy this band. Prove me wrong. And by the way, their "music" stinks.