Atari Teenage Riot and Alec Empire

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Delete Yourself , 8/10
Burn, Berlin, Burn , 8/10 (comp)
The Future of War , 6/10
60 Seconds Wipeout , 5/10
Alec Empire:
Limited Editions 1990-94 , 6/10
Generation Star Wars (1994), 6/10
Low On Ice (1995), 6.5/10
Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes (1996), 7/10
The Destroyer (1996), 7/10
The Curse of the Golden Vampire (1998) , 6.5/10
Miss Black America (1999), 6/10
Hypermodern Jazz 2000.5 (2000) , 6.5/10
Hanin Elias: In Flames , 5/10
Intelligence And Sacrifice (2002), 6.5/10
Futurist (2005) , 4/10
The Golden Foretaste Of Heaven (2008), 4/10
Is This Hyperreal (2011), 5/10

Alec Empire (Alexander Wilke) was born in 1972 in West Berlin. At the age of ten he was already a street hero of breakdancing. Empire formed a punk band called Die Kinder, then started listening to classical music and finally began to experiment with guitar and electronics. After German reunification, the stereotypical teenage rebel (and anarchist) found relief in the raves of East Berlin's underground scene, far removed from West Germany's commercial rave scene. He first played live at "Tekknozid" in April 1991.

Atari Teenage Riot was started in 1992 when Carl Crack (MC, from Swaziland), Alec Empire (programming, shouts, drums and bass) and Hanin Elias (vocals, of Syrian origins), decided to revolt against the state of the techno scene and launch a creative bybrid of industrial, metal and electronica, which they defined (quote) "digital hardcore".

Their singles and EPs were as uncompromising and ultra-aggresive as their manifestos: Hetzjagd AufNazis (Hunt Down The Nazis, 1992), Not Your Business (Phonogram, 1993), which includes the epic riff of Atari Teenage Riot, the childish spasm of Not Your Business (Phonogram, 1993), the metal-industrial fit of Into The Death, and Raverbashing, Kids R United (Phonogram, 1993), with the nihilistic sermons Kids Are United (Phonogram, 1993) and Deutschland (has gotta die!) (performed with punk's typical amateurish and noisy verve, augmented with loops and drum-machine), the singles Raverbashing (DHR, 1994) and the propulsive, booming techno of Speed (DHR, 1995), replete with male rap, girlish female counterpoint and male choir, were mostly boycotted by labels, stores, radio stations.

For those who had missed the singles, the lyrics on their first album, Delete Yourself (DHR, 1995), recorded between october 1993 and february 1994, sounded like they were coming straight out of 1977 punk-rock. The album's sound, a very noisy and chaotic mix of guitar samples, distorted breakbeats, 909, manga samples and shouting, and its political overtones (with the declared goal of "not to reform the system, to destroy the system"), virtually reinvented the mission of dance music in the wake of the triumph of western-style capitalistic values. The pounding, unrelenting, visceral call to arms of Start The Riot and the epileptic orgy of title-track, accompanied by a generous selection of the previous singles, terrorized discos and radio stations around Germany.

Empire's solo career, in the meantime, was much more prolific, including: the single Tripmen (Force Inc, 1991), the EPs Yobot (Force Inc, 1992), SuEcide (Force Inc, 1992), with Terror Worldwide, Orgasm Addict and the anthemic SuEcide, the EP SuEcide Pt 2 (Force Inc, 1992), the singles Das Duell (Force Inc, 1993) and Bass Terror (Force Inc, 1993), the EPs Limited Edition 1 (Force Inc, 1993) and Limited Edition 2 (Force Inc, 1994), the EP Pulse Code (Mille Plateaux, 1994), etc.

These early recordings, which will be partially compiled on Limited Editions 1990-94 (Mille Plateaux, 1994), show a techno artist still searching for his mission, but Generation Star Wars (Mille Plateaux, 1994), the first proper Alec Empire album, displayed an angry young man of techno and hip hop intent on deconstructing the genres through a manic use of distorted breakbeats.

The deluge continued with the EPs The Destroyer (Riot Beats, 1994), containing The Theme (5:51) Burn Babylon Burn (3:33) Destruction (5:00) E.C.P. (4:51), The Destroyer Pt 2 (Riot Beats, 1994), with Identity (5:20) and Nightmare (6:08), Berlin Sky (Analogue Records, 1995), The Wipe Out (Chrome, 1996), with Two Steps Beyond The Terror, Jaguar (Force Inc, 1996), with The Past says and Interplanetary Disco Rhythm, and Squeeze The Trigger (Riot Beats, 1996), with Squeeze The Trigger.

The glacial Low On Ice (Mille Plateaux, 1995), which included the Kraftwerk-ian single 22:24, was more in the vein of Brian Eno's, Aphex Twin's and Bill Laswell's ambient music (Metal Dub).

Empire's Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes (Mille Plateaux, 1996), a fully electronic work and possibly his masterpiece, showed the influence of electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and veered towards gothic ambient music.

Atari Teenage Riot's Live At Brixton Academy (1999) contained a 26-minute electronic improvisation.

Hypermodern Jazz 2000.5 (Mille Plateaux, 1996), and its slower, relaxed, self-indulging dance music, employed slightly out-of-time beats to disorient the listener, a sort of cubistic, psychedelic downtempo (Chilling Through The Lives, My Funk Is Useless, Many Bars And No Money).

Low On Ice, Les Etoiles and Hypermodern Jazz were Empire's "ambient" alter-ego. The sonic terrorist surfaced again on The Destroyer (DHR, 1996), reissued in 1998 without four tracks and with three new tracks (the first three), a milestone in the extreme jungle sound known as "drill and bass". Empire simply applied the ATR ethics to individual, artistic, creative art. Part creative rhythms and part political ego, the album created a personality cult of sorts for the angry young man of techno. We All Die and The Peak ripped apart the tender flesh of dance music with the shocking and blind hatred of a terrorist. Empire's guitar playing, inspired by thrash-metal and aggro, weds maliciously with the electronic bombast of the tracks.

Then ATR released the EP with Sick To Death (DHR, 1997), an inferior work but boasting the supersonic title-track, and their second album, The Future of War (DHR, 1997). Not much had changed, as the disc was still dominated by songs like The Future of War, Heatwave, Fuck All and P.R.E.S.S., i.e. wild, hard-driving punk-rock bacchanals, the rhythm is devastatingly loud and frantic, Elias still screams like Exene Cervenka on speed and the others concoct ferocious choirs. Outside the canon, the heavily distorted Death Star and, above all, the hip-hop hurricane Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture, with heavy-metal riffing and loud drumming, half Public Enemy and half Run DMC, prove that Empire does not rely on only one trick. If the result has less impact than the debut, it is only because the debut also included so many of the early singles.

The best of their repertory was then compiled on Burn, Berlin, Burn (Grand Royal, 1997), which introduced a much wider audience to the band's criminal career.

In June of 1997, ATR picked up their fourth member, Nic Endo, a young Japanese-American who specializes in noises. She is one of the reasons why 60 Seconds Wipeout (DHR, 1999) wants to sound even harder that its predecessors. But the tracks do not strike you as fresh and powerful. Empire and his cohorts are stuck in the time warp of Western Decay (the anthem) and Revolution Action (the riff). Guest contributions dilute instead of compress the energy. The extended mixes display Empire's acquired mastery at studio production, but are a far cry from his early rage.

In the meantime, Empire also released We Punk Einheit (Digital Hardcore, 1999), credited to the Nintendo Teenage Robots and entirely composed from samples of videogame music.

The Geist of Alec Empire (Geist, 1997) is a three-disc set collecting material from the five LPs recorded for Mille Plateaux between 1990 and 1996: four tracks from Limited Editions 1990-94, five from Generation Star Wars, five tracks from Low On Ice, three tracks from Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes, six tracks from Hypermodern Jazz 2000.5 (1996) five tracks from compilations, and four unreleased tracks.

Alec Empire and Techno Animal's Kevin Martin have recorded together The Curse of the Golden Vampire (DHR, 1998), a nightmarish experiment in free-jazz electronica. Alec Empire did not collaborate to the second Curse of the Golden Vampire album, Mass Destruction (2003).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Walter Consonni)

Alec Empire e` nato a Berlino ovest nel 1972. A dieci anni era gia` un eroe di strada della breakdance. Empire mise assieme una punk band denominata Die Kinder, poi si dedico` all'ascolto della musica classica ed infine comincio` a sperimentare con chitarra e strumenti elettronici, per non parlare delle droghe. Dopo la riunificazione della Germania, il tipico teenage ribelle (ed anarchico) trovo` conforto nei raves dell'area underground di Berlino est, molto lontana dall'area rave commerciale tipica della Germania ovest. Empire suono` dal vivo la prima volta al "Tekknozid" nell'aprile 1991.

Gli Atari Teenage Riot cominciarono la loro avventura nel 1992 quando Carl Crack (MC, proveniente dallo Swaziland), Alec Empire (programmazione elettronica, urla, percussioni e basso) and Hanin Elias (voce, di origini Siriane), presero la decisione di ribellarsi allo stato in cui versava la scena techno e di varare un ibrido creativo di musica industriale, metal ed electronica, che loro definirono (citazione) "digital hardcore".

I loro singoli ed EPs erano cosŤ privi di compromessi ed ultra-aggressivi come lo erano i loro manifesti programmatici: Hetzjagd AufNazis (Hunt Down The Nazis, 1992), Not Your Business (Phonogram, 1993), che include due classici degli inizi come Atari Teenage Riot e Raverbashing, Kids R United (Phonogram, 1993), con gli inni nichilisti Kids Are United e Deutschland(has gotta die!), i singoli Raverbashing (DHR, 1994) e Speed/ Midijunkies (DHR, 1995) furono per lo pi— boicottati dalle case discografiche, dai negozi, dalle stazioni radio.

Per quelli che si erano persi i singoli, i testi delle canzoni del loro primo album, Delete Yourself (DHR, 1995), sembravano uscire direttamente dal punk-rock inglese del 1977. Il suono dell'album, un mix caotico e rumoroso di campionamenti chitarristici, breakbeats distorti, 909, manga samples ed urla, e le sue connotazioni politiche (con l'intento dichiarato di "non riformare il sistema, distruggere il sistema") ha di fatto reinventato la missione della dance music nella scia del trionfo dei valori capitalistici di tipo occidentale. Start The Riot e la title-track, accompagnate da una generosa selezione dei singoli precedenti, hanno atterrito le discoteche e le stazioni radio nei dintorni della Germania.

La carriera solista di Empire, nel frattempo, era molto piu` prolifica. I primi singoli, come l'anthemico SuEcide, che saranno poi raccolti su Limited Editions 1990-94 (Mille Plateaux, 1994), mostrano un artista techno ancora alla ricerca di una missione, ma Generation Star Wars (Mille Plateaux, 1994), il primo vero album, presenta un giovane arrabbiato del techno e dell'hip hop, intento a deconstruire i generei attravero un uso maniacale dei breakbeat distorti.

Il glaciale Low On Ice (Mille Plateaux, 1995), che comprende il singolo 22:24, era piu` nel segno di Brian Eno, e Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes (Mille Plateaux, 1996), forse il suo capolavoro, dimostrava l'influenza del compositore elettronico Karlheinz Stockhausen e sterzata verso una musica ambientale gotica.

Ma Empire cambio` nuovamente corso con Hypermodern Jazz 2000.5 (Mille Plateaux, 1996), e la sua lenta musica ballabile che impiega battiti appena fuori tempo per disorientare l'ascoltatore (Walk The Apocalypse, God Told Me How To Kiss).

Quello era circa lo stesso lasso di tempo in cui Alec Empire pubblicava il suo album solista The Destroyer (DHR, 1996), che ricicla anche materiale degli EP The Destroyer (Riot Beats, 1994), The Destroyer Pt 2 (Riot Beats, 1994) e Death (DHR, 1994), una pietra miliare per la musica jungle estrema conosciuta come "drill and bass". Empire ha semplicemente applicato l'etica degli ATR alla sua creativa arte individuale. In parte per la ritmica creativa ed in parte per l'ego politicamente impegnato, l'album creo` un culto della personalita`, una sorta di giovane arrabbiato della techno. We All Die e The Peak fanno a pezzi la carne tenera della musica dance con l'odio scioccante e cieco di un terrorista. Lo stile chitarristico di Empire, ispirato a thrash-metal ed aggro, si accoppia maliziosamente con la solennita` elettronica dei brani.

Poi gli ATR hanno realizzato l'EP con Sick To Death (DHR, 1997), un lavoro minore, ad il loro secondo album, The Future of War (DHR, 1997). Non molto era cambiato, ed il disco era ancora dominato dagli inni killer (Get Up While You Can, Fuck All! e soprattutto Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture) e dai riffs hardcore (Heatwave). Se il risultato ha meno impatto rispetto al debut-album, e` solo perche' il lavoro precedente includeva anche cosi` tanti dei primi singoli.

Il meglio del loro repertorio e` stato poi raccolto su Burn, Berlin, Burn (Grand Royal, 1997), che ha presentato la carriera criminale della band ad un pubblico piu` vasto.

Nel giugno del 1997 gli ATR hanno acquisito il loro quarto membro, Nic Endo, una giovane Nippo-Americana specialista in rumorismo. E' lei una delle ragioni per cui 60 Seconds Wipeout (DHR, 1999) prova a suonare ancora piu` duro dei suoi predecessori. Ma i brani non impressionano per freschezza e potenza. Empire ed il suo seguito sono fermi agli schemi di Western Decay (l'inno) e Revolution Action (il riff). I contributi dell'ospite diluiscono invece di condensare l'energia musicale. Gli estesi missaggi mostrano la maestria acquisita da Empire nel lavoro di produzione, ma sono molto lontani dal furore degli inizi.

The Geist of Alec Empire (Geist, 1997) e` un'antologia in 3 CD che raccoglie materiale dai cinque album per la Mille Plateaux.

Alec Empire e Kevin Martin dei Techno Animal hanno composto insieme The Curse of the Golden Vampire (DHR, 1998), un saggio da incubo di free-jazz electronica.

Alec Empire's Miss Black America (DHR, 1999) does not display the violence of Atari Teenage Riot or The Destroyer. Empire is busy reinventing himself as a genius of electronica, with mixed results. The album returns Empire to his middleground, the slower, atmospheric variations on Atari's music. Unfortunately, the album's few good ideas are not fully realized, possibly because the album was recorded too soon (or too quickly).

On her first solo, In Flames (DHR, 2000), singer Hanin Elias sets the angry young woman's lyrics of Girl Serial Killer and In Flames to a futuristic soundscape, sounding like a Bjork who joined a guerrilla movement.

Rage (DHR, 2001) is a single recorded by Atari Teenage Riot with Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) on guitar.

Alec Empire's Intelligence And Sacrifice (Santeria, 2002) is a double album that is divided in a first half of dense, intense, angry, desperate, violent techno-hardcore music, reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails (Path of Destruction, New World Order, Killing Machine, Addicted To You), and a second half of experimental soundscapes (with more than a nod to acid-rock and free-jazz).

Redefine the Enemy (Digital Hardcore, 2003) collects rarities.

Hanin Elias' solo album No Games No Fun (Fatal Rec, 2003) is old-fashioned disco-punk bordering on synth-pop.

Live CBGB's NYC 1998 (DHR, 2004) documents a performance with Merzbow.

Alec Empire's Futurist (DHR, 2005) harks back to the age of aggro and industrial metal (Nine Inch Nails, Ministry) with little imagination.

Empire's The Golden Foretaste of Heaven (Eat Your Heart Out, 2008) harks back to synth-pop, as if each new solo album was meant as a tribute to a different genre of his youth.

After an eleven-year hiatus (due to the death of Carl Crack in 2001), Atari Teenage Riot's Is This Hyperreal (2011) tried to update their digital agit-prop to the 21st century in grenade-rants like Activate, but fared much better when trying new forms of sound art like in Digital Decay and especially in Collapse of History (pop refrain and musique concrete).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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