William Bennett/Cut Hands, Vienna Rhiz, 19 January 2012

When I organized a concert by Whitehouse at the Rhiz in 2008, I already knew that it would be one of the last given by the group (it was the last but two, as it turned out). By that stage Whitehouse had evolved into a snarling and ferocious beast, with the duo of William Bennett and Philip Best out to crush everything in range with their lacerating blasts of noise and rhythms. On their last few studio outings, the group had begun to incorporate elements of African percussion and imagery into their songs, reflecting Bennett’s growing interest not only in African tribal sounds but also in the continent’s murky depths of tyranny, mutilation and death. Four years on, and with Whitehouse on indefinite hiatus, Bennett’s new solo instrumental project Cut Hands finally brings his fascination with Africa to the fore. The Rhiz was the first stopping-off point on a short tour of Europe; where better to begin?

Although the Cut Hands project may lack some of the visceral pleasure of Whitehouse, there was certainly no shortage of impact or aggression in this live deconstruction of the first Cut Hands album, Afro Noise I.  Standing coolly behind not one but two laptops, Bennett was a model of concentration as he issued wave after wave of scouring noise and fiendishly interwoven polyrhythms. These surging, clattering beats were as tight as the skin stretched across one of Bennett’s African drums, their dry jolts and rattles leading to an unearthly sense of disconnection in this listener.

The sense of formless dread was compounded by the eerie black and white visuals projected onto a screen above the stage. Interspersing ghostly human forms with uncanny symbolism, the visuals included archive footage that made glancing allusion to the cruelty and terror that lie at the dark heart of Cut Hands. Occasionally Bennett seemed to lose himself in the pulsating totality of sound, his head caught in manic agitation before returning to a state of relative composure. Harsh and malevolent to the core, Cut Hands is a mercilessly forensic probing of the space where public corruption meets private nightmares.