Various Artists – Extreme Music From Africa (Susan Lawly) 1997


If you read the liner notes of this “compilation” released and compiled by Whitehouse’s (now Cut Hands) William Bennet, you may be left with the impression that somehow through the use of the internets and various other means he was able to locate a noise underground in places as diverse as Zimbabwe and Morocco.  It is all a big con of course. The groups whose tracks are allegedly compiled on this record  are all fictitious and all of the tracks were probably created by Bennet himself. It makes sense given Bennett’s flirtations with African rhythms in some of the later Whitehouse Records and explorations in ethnic percussion in Cut Hands

The subject matter which inspired this alleged noise underground is a powerful potpourri of transgressive bits and bobs for the power electronics set. Torture, despotism, massacres, corruption, mutilation etc are all stories of modern Africa.  The problem is of course that even a cursory listen will reveal that many of the sounds used are hardly African in nature. Take the first track Blood Lullaby. It is basically a noise remix of Deep Forest’s Sweet Lullaby which I have stuck at the bottom of this review to remind you just how awful the ethno-techno fad of the early 1990’s was and the vomitous pretentiousness of the videos of the time. Of course the problem with the actual Lullaby sample used is that it is from the Solomon Island which is in the Pacific Ocean and not Africa. On one of the later tracks I swear there is didgeridoo being played which, if I’m right, makes a mockery of the African premise.

Notwithstanding that,  the music and noise on Extreme Music From Africa are absolutely superb. It is jaw-droppingly fantastic. For the most part the music doesn’t quite live up to the cover. This is less a transgressive power electronics album than an avant garde interpretation of a fantasy underground. There are some uncomfortable moments in some of the tracks  that rely on high frequencies but they are in the minority. Tracks range for the Nitzer Ebb Industrial dance music of No Rada No Rada (allegedly by Petro Loa) to the sampled military brass band butchering some awful post colonial national anthem or something. There are great samples of Toureg tongue trilling and even some Burundi-style drumming. At times the samples of human interactions reminded me of Nurse With Wound’s Shipwreck Radio.

This is on of the best records I’ve heard all year. You don’t have to be a Whitehouse fan to dabble with this. It is less noise and more avant garde electronic weirdness. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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3 Responses to “Various Artists – Extreme Music From Africa (Susan Lawly) 1997”

  1. i should listen to that again… when i heard it around ’99 i thought ‘oh, percussions through a flanger’…

    • Good review, I also wanted this to be legit weird music from africa but enjoyed it non the less as it is a very satisfying exploration of experimental sound works with a african feel to them.

  2. Pff. It’s ok, but pales in comparison to stuff found on many Ethnographic labels. Also the blurb on his website isn’t what you’d call culturally informed – it’s borderline racist.
    My feeling is that any artist that claims to deal with ‘extremes’ constantly has to cope with the law of diminishing returns. He was already onto a loser in Whitehouse… After Viennese Actionism and Nitsch (just one example), who gives a fuck? It has to be about something more than that. Dumping his aesthetic in another ‘mysterious, dark continent’ is a way of gaining some traction by de facto refreshing his avant credentials.

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