Atari Teenage Riot: The Garage, London

The revolution has been postponed

ATARI TEENAGE Riot spin on to the stage to the sound of electronic interference at a frequency that makes the rest of the world seem silent for minutes afterwards.

There are four of them, all in black: Alec Empire, louche, leather-trousered; Hanin, who looks like a John Waters delinquent and karate-kicks the air; the keyboard player Nic, with a black star round her eye; and Carl, cowled like a monk. Empire is the auteur-entrepreneur behind Digital Hardcore, the label which is their scene’s home and name.

Their music is jungle, techno, gabba, hip-hop, punk and heavy metal, all mashed into the ear-splitting, aggression-feeding sonic mid-range.

The audience are an appropriate mix of the Gothically glamourous and the aggressively political.

The band pummel them with a sound that is dense and restless, a blending of every remnant of rebellion left in Nineties music, breaking itself up with tempo crises, switching from depth-charge beats to looped metal guitars. The only discernible words are the Ramones’ punk mantra, “1-2- 3-4,” and incitements: “Start the riot!” “The Future is Now!”

It is undeniably exciting, the raw extremity of the music and the cartoon charisma of its players giving an approximation of punk’s early impact. But even this music becomes normative quite quickly. Musical senses are simply too agile, after a decade of accelerating genre collisions, to be thrown off-course even by an assault such as this.

The night focuses instead on Empire’s efforts to inject politics back into pop. The unambiguous slogans of songs such as ‘Hunt Down the Nazis’ are one method. But Empire also brings his music to a halt, twice, to pass the mike round the crowd. Everyone who speaks into it seems angry; few are articulate.

There are predictable heckles to “play some music”. The gig’s finale, in which the audience storm the stage, swinging happily from cables as the sound is cut, is equally ritualised, the sense that control might truly have slipped quickly dissipating. The Garage is hardly the Bastille. The musical and political revolution Empire preaches therefore fails. But, as he says to the crowd, “at least I’m trying.”

© Nick HastedThe Independent, 6 November 1998

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