Written by Vicky Garza.
After a 10-year hiatus, digital hardcore pioneers Atari Teenage Riot have reunited for a worldwide tour, which includes a stop in Austin on Sept. 27 at Red 7. ATR decided to continue their “riot-eous” ways following the amazing response to what was supposed to be a one-time reunion show earlier this year at the London Electric Ballroom to promote their new single, “Activate.”
The group has aged, but their unique sound has definitely not mellowed. They are back screaming about government control, diversity and tolerance with as much noise as possible. The touring lineup includes frontman Alec Empire, Nic Endo and the late Carl Crack’s replacement MC CX KiDTRONiK, who has worked with the likes of Trent Reznor and Kanye West. Former ATR vocalist Hanin Elias did not join the reunion tour due to a hoarse voice or irreconcilable differences with the band—or both, or neither. It’s a mystery.
We spoke with the legendary Alec Empire to find out what he’s been up to these past 10 years, learn more about the band’s Texas connection, get Alec’s opinion on the shape of music today and his reaction to MTV’s Video Music Awards.
By the way, we’re giving away a pair of tickets to see ATR this Monday to one lucky Austin fan. Check our Facebook page for details.
What have you been doing with yourself these past 10 years?
Alec: I did a lot of music. I was involved in more records than in the ’90s. It just never seemed to find its way into the U.S. for some weird reason. I did various film scores—amazing projects to be involved in. I did a film with Tadanobu Asano (‘224466’), for example. I played more shows the past decade than in the ’90s. My album, Intelligence & Sacrifice, did well in Europe and Japan. I remixed and produced many artists, such as Patrick Wolf, IAMX (solo project of Sneaker Pimps’ Chris Corner), Rammstein and many others. Nic Endo was always part of the Alec Empire band. She did also a lot of stuff, including remixing The Raveonettes and Dillinger Escape Plan. Two years ago, I released the 100-percent analogue synths album, The Golden Foretaste of Heaven, which was a real departure from the digital hardcore stuff. That opened many doors. I could go on; there was so much happening. My moving back from London to Berlin also had a lot to do with it.
What’s the inspiration behind the new album?
Alec: Politics mostly, and the fact that nobody is doing it. It felt like the most unpredictable thing we could do right now and it hit many people by surprise. We love that. ATR has a very unique approach to electronic music, so why not develop it further into the future? It is possible, powerful and challenging to pull it off.
What made you decide to tour again?
Alec: 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 master plan. We just do it.
How is the tour going so far? Has anything surprised you?
Alec: The tour has been incredible so far. It just never stopped. There is so much energy in the crowd no matter where we go. Before we started playing again, my fear was that it would never be as good as it was in the ’90s. But, the dialogue with the audience just builds up to such an energy level, it is mind-blowing. For example, back in the day when we did noise improv parts in the set everybody was standing there shocked, but now, there is this euphoria and people want more of it every night. You can literally feel that music is moving forward right now—the blogs, the internet, the pop world getting more fragmented. The change is coming. It is very exciting.
I’m going to back up now to a question I would have asked you back in 1997, after I had just heard “Speed” as a college radio DJ. I was really into punk at that time and was starting to discover new electronic artists, and then Atari Teenage Riot came along combining the two genres. There was really nothing at the time to compare you to. What influenced the creation of ATR?
Alec: We wanted to create music that unites people for certain political ideas, rather than let’s say a fashion style. I would reference Public Enemy, Underground Resistance, Slayer, NWA, X-Ray Spex, Sex Pistols and Nirvana as key influences. I have a wide taste in music, so it’s never that clear where things start and stop.
What do you think of today’s popular music, and are there any bands that stand out that you really think are great?
Alec: I miss substance. Everybody is trying to win as many people as possible, but I think that’s a mistake. That’s what politicians do and end up saying nothing. We are surrounded by death—a music scene which lacks innovation. I personally love discovering music on blogs, but I hardly go back to each track; it’s like I constantly stream. We saw Black Angels and Darwin Deez play at Reading Festival; they played the same day as we did. That was good stuff. We also played a show in France a few weeks ago and Otto Von Schirach and Gabe Serbian from the Locust played as well; that blew me away. I still think about how awesome they were that night. I once downloaded these tracks from Yer Olde Maids. That stuff is awesome.
What can we expect when you play at Red 7 on Sept. 27 in Austin? Sure, you will be playing new stuff, but will you be playing some old favorites as well (“Deutschland has got to die!”, “Kids are United”, “Speed”)?
Alec: Of course we play the classic tracks—it’s Atari Teenage Riot! What can people expect? German anarchists, plus one MC from Brooklyn blowing anyone and anything away. I know this sounds arrogant, but it’s true.
I read that Nic Endo was born in Texas. Have you been to Texas before and what do you think or expect?
Alec: Yes, she was born there. Her father was an army jet pilot, so she watched him take off as a child, super loud stuff. You can imagine what impact that has on you as a kid. I only have good memories of Texas. It’s a bit like Berlin: People don’t like being fed bullshit; they go by instinct, as we do. I am looking forward to playing there. If someone in the crowd is pissed off about our views on governments, then at least it will be emotional and angry. I don’t really expect guys with glasses and beards in the crowd trying to pretend like they understand.
What does the future hold for ATR after this tour? Another album?
Alec: We’ll see. What does the future hold for anyone of us? The music industry is dying; we find that challenging. Let’s create the music for the future. Let’s stop looking backwards; I mean, we never really did that anyway. I was stuck in this hotel room in Portugal and watched the VMAs and I was shocked in what shape the commercial music world is right now. Oh, my god. I thought I am watching one of these TV shows for New Years Eve that the Communists showed in former East Germany. This is when you know things are going down, corrupt things I mean.