The revolution is nigh, heralds radical German dude/Atari Teenage Rioter Alec Empire. RJ Smith learns it will all be in the mid-range.
Spin: What happened to your arms? There are, like, matching ten-inch wounds running down them.
Alec Empire: It happened in Seattle. We had problems with the PA guy; he kept turning us down. We left the stage three times and I was getting pissed off and the audience was getting completely violent. At some point, I took a razor blade and cut myself on both sides. There was blood all over. When I got off the stage everybody was going “Hey Alec…” because the meat was going like [makes lip-smacking sound]. Yeah, there was blood all over the place. It was kind of cool.
Okay, you read today’s paper and discover you’ve bean elected chancellor of Germany, with total authority. What do you do?
I would do everything to see that the power structure doesn’t exist anymore, and that I’m not in power anymore and nobody else can be in power after that. That would be the first step.
Since none of you are teenagers, I’m curious about the “teenage” part of Atari Teenage Riot. What is the role teenagers will play in the revolution?
We believe young people are ready for change because they are ready to risk more. Because you don’t have these traditions, and you’re not so connected to society. Some people say ATR are just for people ten to 20 years old! There’s a spontaneity there.
So you must be big Hanson fans.
I haven’t heard their record. I don’t know and I don’t care maybe.
Is there a sound or attitude that links the acts on your Digital Hardcore label?
There are no rules, but of course there is a definite sound to DHR. We use electronic equipment in a completely different way than techno artists. It’s a more rock’n’roll approach, having this low-fi thing creating an atmosphere rather than having perfect programming. Music makes you feel alive, but electronic music is so clean most of the time. It’s all about perfection, and the human being seems not to play a role in that.
You’re extremely critical of the rave scene; what do you think of the term “electronica”?
I just know we are not a part of it and we don’t want to be.
Okay. So your U-boat gets torpedoed and there are two lifeboats left. One carries Prodigy, the other carries Saddam Hussein. Who do you take your chances with?
I would jump first on the Prodigy boat and bum a hole in it so they’d sink. Then I would jump over and kill Saddam and take his boat.
Isn’t rave culture at least theoretically trying to create a Utopia on the dance floor?
You have to make so many compromises to get people on the dance floor. It’s like TV; you have to lower your standards. I have this theory that the rave scene doesn’t exist anymore. Most of the people are just there for a year, they take all the drugs and then they leave.
What drugs are right for an Atari Teenage Riot show?
I don’t take drugs. I never have. But most of the time people take speed, acid, cocaine, and heroin. I think stuff that makes you euphoric, like Ecstasy, is completely wrong. People on Ecstasy, when they hear our frequencies, they freak out.
What’s with your frequencies?
We use the mid-frequencies a lot, and that’s a big difference from most electronic music, like hip-hop and techno, which pushes the bass. The mids are pushing the adrenaline in your body. It’s very simple: if you hear somebody scream, it’s about the mids. That’s a signal for your body of danger. You feel more safe when there’s a lot of bass, because you heard a lot of bass frequencies when you were in your mother’s womb. We want to disturb that.
Why Is Baywatch so popular In Germany?
Maybe because David Hasselhoff was singing ‘Looking for Freedom’ when the Wall came down. A lot of people booed him but he got great publicity anyway.
Are you shocked by U.S. teens’ lack of political consciousness?
I wasn’t surprised once I’d seen what TV was like. I am shocked that there are not 20 other bands like us already. That’s why I don’t understand, because so many people live such shit lives in America, and they accept it! Maybe it’s down to Christian religion, where they say, “Okay, I have to accept this kind of structure.” We started getting e-mail from Christian organizations over here. They were like, “You are just misguided.” They gave us information. Well, they tried.
Which Is more revolutionary: Dead Kennedys’ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ or Nena’s ’99 Luftballons’?
Of course Dead Kennedys! People don’t get the idea of the Nena song anyway. People just see a girl, it’s what Hanin [singer of ATR] always says: If you act like a girl — pretty, sexy image, everybody’s looking at her body — if the music is “nice” no one cares what she is singing. If the Spice Girls did one of our songs, it wouldn’t change anything because no one would care.
How does it feel to have Digital Hardcore, currently distributed by the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal, be the subject of a major-label bidding war?
To be honest, Grand Royal is cool, but DHR is about a lot of other stuff, too. At some point there will be a question of “Okay, how far do we want to take it?” I think it makes sense to become more and more powerful and let people get the records everywhere. To make people have access to DHR, that is the important thing. Not to sell records, to spread information.
So where will Atari Teenage Riot end up?
We don’t think ATR will go to a major at all. With or without Grand Royal, we are going to set up Digital Hardcore Recordings US. Maybe we would work with a major distributor here. The whole DHR thing is such a long-term idea. Atari Teenage Riot could end any day. It’s a very spontaneous thing. If we don’t feel that it makes sense anymore, then we stop. People should know that we are not like Sonic Youth or something.
© RJ Smith, Spin, March 1998