Thursday, 13 September 2018

Consumer Electronics - Crowd Pleaser (2009)

I was never exactly drawn to Consumer Electronics. I liked Filthy Art, which was on some tape about a million years ago, but never felt I really needed to own more, just as I've never felt I needed too many Whitehouse albums in my home; but having come to precariously know Philip Best through mutual facebook friends, and having realised that there seems to be a lot more to his work than I initially realised, I bought this - albeit mainly because the lad had found a stash of unsold copies in the cupboard under the stairs and was selling them off at regular price; and it really seemed like I should buy one before they end up going for silly prices on Discogs.

So here we are.

I saw Whitehouse live several decades ago, back when Best first joined and they entered their terrorising the audience phase. It made such an impression on me that I duly ripped them off for a performance piece as part of the art foundation course I was taking at the time. I invited fellow students into a room, then shouted at them through an amplifier. Everyone was shocked, and it did a job, but sounds fucking comical on the tape recording made of the event - just me screeching and hoping no-one notices that I hadn't actually put much thought into the general thrust of my abuse. There's one point where nervous laughter breaks out and you can hear me squeak, you're not supposed to be laughing, like a sort of power electronics Frank Spencer. Once I was done, there was a question and answer session during which one particular knobend asked whether I'd been influenced by the Vyvyan character from the Young Ones. That's how good it was.

Not that any of that was Philip Best's fault, at least not directly, but that was what I'd been reminded of when listening to the occasional spot of Consumer Electronics on YouTube. It somehow sounded too much like a fight on a council estate or the worst EastEnders episode evah; or it didn't but that's the best I can do to describe my reservations. On the other hand, I don't think you really like power electronics as such because that isn't the point, besides which, the form always seems more at home in a live setting, given that the point is probably our reaction more than our appreciation. Nevertheless, even without necessarily feeling the need to listen, I was intrigued by the seemingly philosophical dimension which had begun to intrude upon the last few Whitehouse albums, at least meaning it had become more than variations on Nilsen was a good lad and now I'm going to do you up the wrong un'.

So, to get to the point, what the fuck do we actually have here?

Accustomed as I am to listening to screaming rackets, Crowd Pleaser is tough going even by the standards of that with which I've become familiar, wherein the noise has some kind of obvious aesthetic appeal comparable to interesting patterns seen in broken concrete. The instrumental Oily Possibilities on the second side has an element of this, up to a point, but otherwise all parts of the whole seem dedicated to denying the listener even the smallest pleasure. It's electronic noise pushed beyond any aesthetic potential towards something you simply don't want going into your ears, something which is impossible to experience without feeling uneasy, something which comes pretty close to duplicating the physiological reaction you would experience in a live situation; and here's the distinction which I didn't really get - this is, I would imagine, why Best all but tears out his own throat in vomiting up the dialogue, tirade, or whatever you want to call it. It's not supposed to sound cool or reassuringly nihilistic like that nice Michael Gira or Nick fucking Cave crooning about black holes and humiliation. It's not about a tidily dark atmosphere in the traditionally Bohemian sense, but is more like the thing sucking all of the atmosphere out of the room. This isn't even I'm Coming Up Your Ass or anything so obvious or easily quantified. If it's about anything, it's something so fucking awful that there's no point trying to describe it, which is possibly why this exists as a record rather than an essay. It's a fight or flight panic response jammed on eleven, or half-memories of horrible childhood shit I'm not even going to bring up because it's nobody's business, and it makes most of those other noisy lads and lasses sound like cabaret turns.

That's the best I can do without vanishing up my own bumhole in trying to describe this thing, even though I'm probably already half the way up. Crowd Pleaser seems designed to spend as little time on your turntable as possible, which is itself bizarrely fascinating. Consumer Electronics treat us mean to keep us keen, I suppose you would say.

I'll shut up now.

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