Black Mamba: a strong and consistent album of darkly sinister hard techno / ambient / dance electronics

VFSL 102 booklet 16pp.inddCut Hands, Black Mamba, Very Friendly / Susan Lawly, CD VFSL102 (2012)

Since Whitehouse split with the departure of Philip Best some years ago, William Bennett has wasted no time with his new musical venture Cut Hands which includes a very strong and intense rhythmic percussion element due to Bennett’s interest in traditional styles of music from western and central Africa and the hand drums used in those styles. Given Bennett’s past musical pedigree, one might expect Cut Hands to feature strong harsh electronic or industrial music elements in competition with the African drums cooking up an Almighty sonic racket; Bennett offers instead an amalgam of musical styles all his own making, ranging from mellow minimalist / ambient to a hard-edged dark techno almost kin to folks like Actress and Submerged, and once upon a time to Porter Ricks and Techno Animal. The atmosphere on the album can be soft and benign with just a hint that something is a little bit sinister; at times though, you feel you have to be alert for something, like a leopard creeping through tall blades of grass that all but obscure its presence. The songs play like real songs with a mood and feeling all their own and not like long rhythm texture parts of something much greater.

All tracks are good and have a very intense interior mood to them so I’m singling out the really outstanding ones: “Krokodilo” (spine-tingling silvery synth tones create a sinister demonic church ambience against an insistent hard drum rhythm); follow-up piece “Nzambi Ia Ngonde” with similar but warmer droning synth and a more peaceful, contemplative and floating ambience; “No Spare No Soul” (this is the kind of hard electronic dystopian techno that would not be out of place on something by Submerged, City Surgical,  Justin Broadrick or the Hyperdub label); “Brown-Brown” (a spoon-playing rhythm meets near-hysterical chrome drones); “54 Needles” (the only really soothing song on the album with a spare hand-drum rhythm and undulating if cold tones); and “Nine-Night” (a bendy talking-drum beat that appears to be interrogating itself against a backdrop of shimmering jewel tones).

Several songs are distinctive enough that they could stand alone as dance-floor or dark ambient / techno singles, if Bennett were inclined to do that. Not that he needs to: I venture to say that once upon a time the album might have sold like a single, so strong and consistent are the songs and their inventiveness. Who’d have thought that, after the end of Whitehouse and an era of ear-splitting, piercing, howling power electronics, Bennett would bounce back and re-create himself as a hard-techno / ambient / Afro-beat electronics DJ?

Some people might be upset at Bennett’s apparent appropriation of African rhythm and percussion styles to embellish his music but his use of African instruments seems sincere to me. If anything, the use of African drums jibes perfectly with his own style of electronic techno and opens up new musical vistas for those instruments. Those who complain are perhaps the same people who whine about “The Black and White Minstrel Show”, that used to air on TV decades ago and which featured white guys in blackface singing musical numbers while white women in glittery body-stockings and strategically placed ostrich feathers dance in the background, for being racist;  yet those complaining are happy to line up to buy tickets at $300 a pop to watch concerts in which a lone white woman in corset and fishnet stockings sings and gyrates with bent legs apart while behind her a huge chorus line of black men in bondage leather and PVC gear cavorts in perfect choreographed unity.

Contact: Cargo Records

 

 

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