Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Alec Empire Interview: "The Iraq war is an ongoing nightmare. Doing politics like this has no future."

With the would be 'Sir' Bonos of the world doing a wonderful job as the soft, recuperating face of global governance, its easy to be cynical about the space where politics and music combine. Still, few artists spring to mind that can rival the continued enthusiasm of Alec Empire for pushing the boundaries of contemporary music to incorporate radical politics. As a techno innovator responsible for the emergence of the digital hardcore genre, Empire was a figurehead to a generation of German experimental artists emerging in the wake of the Berlin Wall's collapse through the creation of his Digital Hardcore Records label.

Starting off within the punk scene fronting bands like Die Kinder, Empire eventually grew disillusioned and moved towards the emerging rave scene. During the turmoil of re-unifaction the bubbling techno scene was seizing ware houses in the east of Berlin for massive parties, linking it to a long standing autonome squatting scene that was spreading eastwards from its traditional bastions in areas like Kreuzburg.

Empire's political radicalism made him antagonistic to the E-fuelled, loved up, utopian culture that was all over the techno scene like a rash. Outside skinhead groups, cushioned by a renewed German nationalism, were fire-bombing migrant centres and organising pogroms while the police stood back and watched. As a forceful rebuttal to apolitical rave scene Empire formed the seminal Atari Teenage Riot. Involvement in the anti-fascist movement came to heavily define the band, even late into their career. One viral video popular among fans on Youtube features the group playing off a truck at a Mayday anti-fa march in Berlin in 1999. Screaming the lyrics of an early song suitably called 'Start the Riot,' the band implore the crowd to do just that - as they drive straight into the heart of escalating ritualised conflict with police. This was a group after all who believed 'riot sounds, produce riots' and they certainly sought to test it when given the chance.

Atari Teenage Riots first full length album Delete Yourself stands head high as a musical document of the intense political struggles and debates that emerged in post-reunifaction Germany. Atari Teenage Riot weren't just an angered, aesthetic reaction to the loved up boredom of rave or a desire for a scene that actually engaged with the realities of rising unemployment and accommodation shortages. It was a deliberate attempt to politicise and organise within a subcultural milieu. Atari Teenage Riot and Empire pioneered the digital hardcore sound of sped up break beats, metal riffs chuggy enough to put Slayer on the run and chanting punky vocals interspersed with samples from film and ainme. If you can imagine the dress up sloganeering of the early Manic Street Preachers ram raided by a German black bloc armed with trolleys full of drum machines and samplers - then you have some idea of what Atari Teenage Riot sound like. Coming to me at the time through the pages of NME, this was an early teenage musical revelation. The combination of two such distinct sounds, previously only sketched on The Prodigy's epic Music for the Jilted Generation now all sounds a little musically dated but an indelible experimental template was in place.

A trip organised by Beastie Boy's operated Grand Royal Records began a process of filtering DHR material out on limited releases stateside. Eventually the rave new world of the Berlin underground wound down around them and ATR found themselves competing on the stages of the big summer festivals alongside the likes of Nine Inch Nails and a whole plethora of bands still hanging around in the post-grunge wake. In the US they became a pre-cursor to that peculiar wave of stateside adoration of UK big beat that saw acts like The Prodigy dominate the albums charts there through the cartoon punk of Fat of the Land. Just before the blockades of the Seattle WTO opened up new constituencies for their music within an actual, growing movement , personal tragedy struck as band member Carl Crack died of a drug overdose and the Atari Teenage Riot project was more or less wrapped up.

In this exclusive interview for Alec Empire discusses the origins of Atari Teenage Riot amidst rising Nazi attacks in the early 1990's, experimentalism and conservatism in music, his future projects and much more besides.

Alec Empire will deliver a DJ set courtesy of Kaboogie at the Underground in Kennedys on December 29th. Kaboogie should be familar to Indymedia readers for recently doing musical combat with fundraising regulars Porco Dio in a mash up of scenes in aid of Indymedia Ireland. The Empire gig starts at 9.30pm and goes until the wee hours. Support will come from NIHI, K.AL.P.O.I. and Super Extra Bonus Party. There'll be a 12 bip hit on the door for entrance.

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