Interview: Alec Empire

In November I interviewed Atari Teenage Riot founder, Alec Empire, to discuss the reasons, politics and future of the band’s recent global resurgence. Here it is…

It is 11 o’ clock at night at Manchester’s Moho Live venue and my right ear is ringing and hissing violently. I’ve just been witness to an aggressive assault on the senses: A sonic boom straight to the medulla; a “fuck you” to the reptile part of the brain. For sure, an Atari Teenage Riot show is a hell-bitch of a thing to behold. But describing Atari Teenage Riot’s music is like being asked to describe sex: It’s just not the same as experiencing it firsthand.

In 1992, Alec Empire reacted to the growing sense of German Nationalism by breaking out the Atari 1040, recruiting MC Carl Crack and Hanin Elias, and making a great deal of noise. In 1999 the band was at its peak, but burned out. The growing tensions came to a head on the day of the infamous Brixton Academy show in May of that year. Hanin Elias walked out, leaving the remaining members to forge ahead. What resulted was a formless noise experimentation that divided critics and fans alike, and proved to be the band’s swansong. Until now.

It is ten years later and only Alec and long time collaborator, Nic Endo, are left: Carl Crack died in 2001 of an accidental overdose, and the rift with Hanin Elias never fully healed. But in spite of these problems ATR are very much back on the scene as a digital upgrade, occupying the same space that they vacated back in ’99. And I suppose that the biggest question is “Why now?”

“That’s a good question.” Alec tells me after the show, “It wasn’t really planned like this. Initially, we wanted to play one show in London because we felt as though we owed that to the fans because of the Brixton thing.”

From the outside it would seem like the “Brixton thing” was a shot out of nowhere, a freak occurrence that rocked the band into uncertainty. Alec, who is perfectly relaxed with this line of questioning, says different: “The thing is that Hanin very often did these kinds of things back then, and people don’t always realise: just not turning up for shows, sometimes for whole tours. With Carl [Crack] it was a different thing because the psychosis, sometimes he wasn’t able to perform, and that’s a different thing than just not being in the mood or whatever.”

When Carl died in 2001, it seemed that there was no way back for ATR. Alec and Nic Endo worked on several solo albums together, toured the world, and moved on from ATR, until Elias suggested a one off show in London: “For me it also a chapter that was closed, after Carl Crack died,” he said, “but then she called me, well, she contacted me on Facebook exactly a year ago, and I thought ‘Ok, she’s approaching us.’ “

The decision was made to play a warm up show in Amsterdam, before the big one in London. Though it became clear that Elias voice wasn’t what it used to be: “Basically there was all this arguing going on before the show because her voice is not really up to the task anymore, he said, “She was really against it, but still we thought maybe she shows up and we work something out.”

She didn’t. But the London show was a critical success. Nic Endo, who joined the band in the late 90s to run the sound at live shows, took the Hanin’s vocal parts, and American singer/producer, MC CX Kidtronik took Carl’s. “When we played London, it became clear that there’s something different with this union. It was this new constellation and it felt really exciting,”

In many ways Atari Teenage Riot’s music seems more relevant than ever in a post-9/11, post-recession world: “I think a lot of people are questioning governments at the moment, because you can really sense that they’re not helping or doing stuff for the majority of the people; instead they are kind of managing the population, you know? They work so close together with the financial system and the international corporations that’s become such a joke.

“A lot of people talk to us. And you can sense that in a lot of countries we go to there’s the same kind of view of what’s going on, and people want that reflected in music and nobody really does that at the moment.

“And I think that is what works for us at the moment: that there’s nothing else out there, not like a younger version of Atari Teenage Riot, or even an older version or whatever. So people want this kind of stuff, because every place we’ve been people are going crazy, you know?”

Atari Teenage Riot has since finished their tour. What is known is that the band will record new material for an album due out in the spring of 2011 on Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak Label. After that is anyone’s guess, including Alec’s: People always think we follow this typical plan that other bands have in mind. But, let’s see.”


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About craig shaw
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