Burn It All Down: Atari Teenage Riot Returns

It’s funny, but the memory had gotten totally and completely buried, deep in the base of my brain. It wasn’t until I put Burn Berlin Burn, the 1997 double-EP opus from Berlin-bred, raw-as-hell electro-noise slam-punks Atari Teenage Riot on the player once again and let it run that the whole thing came flooding back to me.

Somehow, I’d forgotten it happening — too many shows, too many years — but I had seen Atari Teenage Riot live, back in my post-college days. They were playing just outside Austin, on a tour with Rage Against The Machine and Wu-Tang Clan, and I’d gone up there with friends for my birthday, specifically to see the show.

And holy crap, what a show it was. I remember liking the RATM set just fine, but when Alec Empire, Hanin Elias, Carl Crack, and company hit the stage, the crowd went freaking insane. What had been a relatively friendly, mosh-happy crowd of kids up to that point turned into a vicious, seething, slamming mass of violence, all screaming “Fuck all!” and pumping fists in unison.

As the ATR fans surged towards the stage, I literally watched the staff of security guards lining the front go white and start backing away. I think they could sense that the vibe wasn’t nearly as friendly as it had been, and they weren’t prepared for what might happen next.

Honestly, that’s pretty much how all of ATR’s music hits me; the group’s more like a force of nature than a “band,” raw and uncompromising and full of righteous, sometimes vaguely-directed fury. Which is why it feels fitting that, seemingly at random, Alec Empire and his crew of noisemakers have surged back to life.

The band’s a bit different than it used to be, of course. Founding members Carl Crack and Hanin Elias are gone, the former lost to a drug overdose and the latter doing her own solo stuff and subsequently dropping out of music entirely and moving to Polynesia. They’ve been replaced by noise artist Nic Endo, who stepped in as a member back in 1999 for the 60 Second Wipe Out album, and brand-new MC CX KiDTRONiK, who came on board for the new tour and new recording, “Activate!”, out on Dim Mak Records.

And yes, the new-and-improved Atari Teenage Riot are coming to town, so SCR jumped at the chance to talk a bit with ATR founder/frontman Alec Empire prior to the show. Here goes:

SCR: First off, why now? Why the decision to reunite?
Alec Empire: It started as an idea to just play one show in London last May. We got such amazing feedback from that show. The audience is not the same as back in the day; there are so many new and young people who are seeing this for the first time. Everybody was like “you got to do this more!” So I changed my schedule, pushed back a new Alec Empire album I had planned for this Autumn into next year, and we just went for it. Perhaps this is what makes it so exciting. There is no masterplan. We just do it.

Following on from that, is this a long-term thing, or just a one-off reunion tour? I’ve heard the new track, “Activate,” but I wasn’t sure if that was a standalone track or part of a forthcoming album.
We recorded this in one night. Pure energy. So now it looks like we’ll do a lot more. We just signed a deal with Steve Aoki‘s Dim Mak label. We have also started on more music. We can take this much further, especially now with this new lineup. There are also a lot of new things we want to say lyrically.

Who’s in the band these days? I’d initially heard that Hanin Elias would be joining you on the tour, but apparently that didn’t happen?
Yes, it was her idea last Autumn. But then she realized that her screaming voice wasn’t up to the task anymore. It was a bit dramatic…but we all understood, of course. We kept touring the past ten years with the Alec Empire band, so we were able to jump right into it. We had her flight booked to the first show, but she didn’t turn up.

It is not such a special thing, because she only played about 30% of the shows in the ’90s. The lineup kept changing all the time. The first three US tours were done without her, and Nic Endo did the vocals. So it feels like ATR is back in that situation once again. If you’re interested in details, it’s all up on www.riot-news.com.

What’s the reaction been like at the shows so far? I remember that the one time I was able to see ATR, back in the mid-’90s, the crowd went so berserk that I thought the security guards were going to make a run for it…anything like that this time out?
Just to give you two examples… We played our first show in Germany at Fusion Festival, which is a festival on an old Russian military airport outside of Berlin. It was a surprise show, so nobody knew we would take the mainstage at midnight. 20,000 people went absolutely crazy, tore down the barriers, and invaded the stage. Go to YouTube and click “Atari Teenage Riot Fusion 2010,” by Zan Lyons.

Nobody got hurt, though. Then two weeks ago, we played our first show since the riots in 1999 in Berlin, at the Berlin Festival, which is the yearly biggest festival there. There were so many people that the cops shut down the whole festival right after our encore. So a few other bands couldn’t play anymore. The shows have been going great. A lot of energy…!

I was listening to Burn Berlin Burn the other afternoon and realized that it’s been more than a decade since then, with a whole lot of changes in the meantime. What do you think of the way the world’s going now?
I think a lot of the things we did warn about back then became true. It is obvious to many people right now. It’s time to think forward and point out the dangers ahead of us…and get people to think about it and hopefully act!

Is Berlin still the place you call home? What’s it like these days, music-wise?
The city I grew up in was so different because the Wall was up back then. I have mixed feelings when it comes to Berlin. I don’t feel that connected to it, but I love writing and recording music there. I think musically it could be more intense, but that’s maybe just my taste. Berlin has a great reputation right now. The clubs are cool, there is a lot of stuff happening. I just wish there was more.

Going back to the new track, “Activate!” sounds to me, at least, like it’s a lot more dance-y and less all-out noisy than the Burn Berlin Burn or 60 Second Wipe Out tracks. Do you feel like there’s been a kind of shift in the music in the intervening years?
What we wanted to do with “Activate!” was to combine all the sides of ATR into one track. So it actually could have been on either of all older records or right after 60 Second Wipe Out“Get Up While You Can,” “Midijunkies,” “Speed”…that was the vibe we were going for. The straightforward banging beats were always a huge part of ATR; it’s time to develop that further. “Activate!” was more about introducing new MC CX Kidtronik to the fans, rather than proving we can do the noisiest track out there. I think everybody knows that we can do that any time…

Looking outside the band, it feels like the music world at large has shifted, too — there’s a *lot* more noise and out-front confrontation going on in music these days, even in more mainstream stuff. Do you think ATR opened any doors for that sort of thing?
That’s what a lot of critics and people are saying. Many bands reference ATR as a huge influence. I can’t really answer this question, myself. I think ATR always had its own sound; ATR stood out from the rest, and the sound was different enough to live on.

If this is a longer-term thing, do you think that’ll be the end of the solo stuff for a while? And please, please, *please* tell me there’ll be another Curse of the Golden Vampire album someday…?

I don’t know how long we do ATR for. I am honest, here. If we feel it becomes boring and a routine thing, then we’ll pull it. I have a new Alec Empire record finished, and we pushed it back. So there will be a lot more Alec Empire stuff coming soon!

The Curse of The Golden Vampire was a collaboration with Techno Animal. I did all the beats and added many of the sounds. They tried to do a second one on Mike Patton’s label without me…it was a bit weird, because they never talked to me about it. Maybe they didn’t want to split the profit with a third person — I don’t know — but of course, you can expect a lot of new Alec stuff in the future! END

[Atari Teenage Riot plays Wednesday, September 28th, at Groundhall, along with Black Congress, TENSE, Weird Party, Balaclavas, Ceeplus Bad Knives, & Damon Allen.]

Interview by . Interview posted Tuesday, September 28th, 2010. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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