Sunday, November 14, 2010


To celebrate our fourth anniversary, we knew we had to do something big and explosive. After witnessing one of the loudest and one of the most insane performances ever this past fall from Atari Teenage Riot, we knew we had to have them celebrate our four years. Atari Teenage Riot is the newly reformed and legendary digital hardcore band from Germany. During the 90's their shows would clock in louder than Motorheads, they caused more riots than Rage Against the Machine and thrusted more people to take action than any punk band ever did. Formed by the creator of digital hardcore, Alec Empire after the fall of Berlin Wall, Atari Teenage Riot would speak out against the neo-fascim, neo-Nazi movements that were still plaguing the "new" Germany. After their voices were heard, they were soon banned in their own country for taking action and giving a voice to the problems that caused a rift in their homeland and across Europe. While this occurred, the band gained international attention and were quickly signed to the Beastie Boys (no defunct) Grand Royal label, toured with Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan, collaborated with Slayer and opened for Beck. Leaving a trail of destruction in their path, Atari Teenage Riot were becoming one of the world's must see and must heard acts. Yet, in 2001 founding member Carl Crack died of a drug overdose and the band went on hiatus. Not until 2009 when Empire, Nic Endo linked with producer and musician CX KIDTRONiK to reactivate the band. Now ATR are back and better than ever! Louder and more radical than ever - they would make every pundit at Fox News' head's explode, the band is enjoying a much deserved reunion and recourse into making music. We spoke with the mastermind behind the band, Alec Empire in what could be one of the best interviews with one of the best people I have spoken to, Empire and I discuss the band's reunion, music and politics. One of the most interesting and intelligent people in the business today, take a look at our interview with the legendary Alec Empire below..

How does it feel to be making a return with the band after all these years?

Alec: It feels weird and great at the same time. This wasn't really planned. We wanted to play a one off show in London, and the feedback we got from it was so amazing, the phone just rang and rang after that. I didn't expect that at all. I was very active over the past decade with my various solo projects, did a lot of touring, film scores, production etc…it didn't feel like I am suddenly on stage again you know…But when we took the old disks, stuck them into the Atari 1040 ST computer from back in the day…everything was still there…you know that information doesn't change over time. I was a quite amazed about how much energy we managed to get out of a computer with 2MB RAM… Very soon we realized that ATR in 2010 is more like a software update or something… applying the basic idea of the band to our present time, instead of just glorifying the past. I found this very exciting and challenging.

What prompted the reunion?

Alec: For some reason the time felt right. A lot of bands kept referencing ATR as a major influence. The political situation, the crisis, the major music industry going down…we wrote most of our songs about these things…back then people thought we're paranoid angry Germans, now a lot more people actually seem to understand what we were talking about.

Atari Teenage Riot first reformed for a free London show, why London? Why free?

Alec: The show was actually not free…not sure where this was mentioned but it was supposed to be an Alec Empire show a few months earlier that we spontaneously changed into an ATR show. The biggest surprise was that the majority of the crowd saw ATR for the first time, very young crowd…it immediately put ATR into a new context.

How are things with MC KIDTRONIK working out as the new member of the band?

Alec: He is awesome…perfect for what what we want to do with the project right now. The band is two thirds American now, Nic Endo was born in Texas, he comes from Detroit but lives in Brooklyn now. He rewrote a lot of the lyrics for the old songs. When MC Carl Crack sang that stuff it was about the racism in Germany when the Berlin Wall had come down…CX wasn't even in Germany at that time…so he wanted to tell his own story instead of replacing and repeating what Carl Crack said. When Carl Crack died in September 2001 it seemed impossible for ATR to continue. When we met CX at a show in Amsterdam last year, we clicked.

When you started ATR, you were surrounded by controversy in your native Germany. How have things changed now? Are things a bit better?

Alec: Not really. Germany is run by very slow and conservative people…the country doesn't have enough drive. The Germans love authorities and hierarchies…and that doesn't only go for the military and car industry, it also goes for the music scene. Only the experimental and avant-garde is interesting in Germany, but they don't get recognized enough there. I do love to record and write music in Berlin though. Perhaps because I'm in the middle of all that.

Do you still feel that "Deutschland Has Gotta Die?”

Alec: It's no secret, I don't believe in Nation states and the governments who run them. I find they often make things worse. When we wrote the song, we simply couldn't understand why Germany held on to all that outdated stuff. We live in a world where everybody gets connected more and more. To think nationalist hardly make sense in our times. The danger is that in Germany you get a lot of Neo-Nazis with that…. What many people don't understand is that the Germans lost World War II , so these old ideals sit very deep, and it will take generations to change that. On the surface it all looks shiny but underneath it gets very ugly. We think that every person on this planet should have the same chance to get somewhere in life and this shouldn't depend on his/her nationality.

You left Berlin in your late teens, in order to escape mandatory military service. Being the first generation after the wall fell down and being forced to join something, how did you and the rest of your generation respond?

Alec: Of course we were very angry. Imagine you have a few months before you get out of school and suddenly you get told you have to do the military service. You can't even choose? We grew up in the occupied Berlin, we didn't feel "German" at all. We listened to American and British radio stations, went to clubs who played all the rap and hip hop records from the US. Most of the kids from the American soldiers went to the same clubs….so we didn't even have time to prepare for it. I was producing my first records while I was still at school, had been offered various record contracts…to take 2 years off and sit in some bunker in a German forest was not in my plan. Of course having had a family member killed in a concentration camp also played a huge role for me.

Politics and social situations have always been at the forefront of ATR’s music. What do you say about the world we live in now?

Alec: I think we are seeing the world shifting from the old times to the new times…technology is leading the way. A lot of conservative thinking people have problems dealing with that. They often hold on to old religious rules, so they find stability in this fast changing world…I see a lot of political activism around the globe. It is much easier now to find more information about politics for example. Even though there are a lot of conflicts in the world right now, I feel very optimistic. The question that everyone has to ask themselves is whether they want to be part of the decision making, or be passive and just consume. Knowledge is key. Back in the 90ties we kept repeating that Capitalism only works for a minority of people. It is very easy to see this now.

Your live shows have always gained you much attention around the world, how has ATR’s live show changed in your 10 year absence? What can fans expect?

Alec: ATR in 2010 is not like ATR in 1997. Of course we play all the songs in the set, but we made the show even more physical in terms of sound. We still use a lot of the old machines, because they define the sound of the band. But there are a lot more tools around these days to make the show more powerful. I was just told by a promoter of a festival in Berlin that Crystal Castles did pull out because they didn't want to play next to us on the bill. I am still trying to find out if that's true though…When we played Reading Festival in the UK, we were told to turn down the sound while the Libertines were playing on the other stage. The new set up is way more energetic than ATR used to be back in the day. We also do parts in the set where we all work the machines…a little inside joke, a reference to Kraftwerk…but of course the audience gets this huge blast of noise…The critics in Europe, especially in the UK think that ATR now would blow the old ATR away easily…hard to say…we just do what feels exciting to us.…we want to spread euphoria and encourage the crowd to get involved and take control of their own lives.

How do American audiences differ from European audiences? Who are the best people to play for?

Alec: American audiences as very honest and respectful, if you treat them in the same way….I met great people while we were touring. I always find it hard to answer this question as the US is such a huge country. I can't generalize it.

1997 was the year you made your biggest impact in America was your compilation album, “Burn, Berlin Burn,” touring with Rage Against the Machine, Wu-Tang Clan and being signed to Beastie Boys now defunct label, Grand Royal. Do you feel that with your return now, this can happen in a bigger way again?

Alec: The 90ties were the golden age of record sales…something like that…I don't really know right now. If I learnt something over all those years making music, then it's one thing: If you want to repeat the past you'll fail. We move into the future and now more than ever before it's down to the fans, the people out there to decide if they like it or not. We don't compromise to get to a bigger crowd. Things are changing so fast these days, it would be a mistake to try to manipulate anything. We have our own set up, a great studio, we do our own artwork, our own photos, etc…..we built this over years. Back then many people didn't understand. Now our way of working has become almost the stereo type business model for new bands. We can act very fast. I think the time is much better now for Atari Teenage Riot. The music industry has become like Wall Street…a lot of bubbles, not much substance. We were never really a part of that anyway.

Will we be getting a new studio album from Atari Teenage Riot soon?

Alec: We have recorded a few things over the summer. After the North American dates we'll do more. If that ends up being a CD album or 60 songs that you can download for free, I can't say that yet. For us the most important thing is to write the best ATR material we can at this point. I felt provoked when a journalist from Mojo Magazine told me it wasn't possible, just because Pixies didn't do it, Stooges did it badly, and all the others… that's his opinion, we'll see. We recorded Activate! in one night. The crowd goes nuts when we play it. But there will be also some music that will take a few years to sink in….we got a lot of ideas … I also love that we hooked up with Dim Mak, because this means we don't get limited to the Digital Hardcore thing too much. If we manage to capture the energy from the live shows, then we succeed.