Alec Empire / Atari Teenage Riot
Extreme Noise Terrorist
Alec Empire makes it no secret that he is powered by aggression and that nothing short of a complete destruction of the social order is necessary. His tool for this anarchic act – noise. Alec Empire’s emissions in a number of guises since 1991 for Force Inc, Mille Plateaux and his own imprints Digital Hardcore (DHR) and Geist have seen him fly in the face of German trends. Sonic revolution takes many forms for Empire from the edgy horror-movie ambience of Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes to the off-kilter slow breakbeat on Hypermodern Jazz which uses slightly out-of-time beats to disrupt the listener; from his almost disco-ey SuEcide, his ode to Ecstasy-takers eventually bringing down the ‘System’ by their own hedonism, to the 200-miles-an-hour distorted jungle of his Force Inc 12"s in 1994/5 or the ragga-tinged Follow Me To Death.
After five albums on Mille Plateaux, Alec Empire split from the label to set up Geist , a side project from his already prolific Digital Hardcore imprint. "I left Mille Plateaux because I felt that they were no longer being true to their aims". A label set up by Force Inc’s Achim Szepanski to explore, through sound, the ideas of European philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Mille Plateaux was home to the more ambient and experimental output of Empire. Empire explains; "In Germany I felt that Mille Plateaux was becoming limited in its appeal because of the development of a kind of pseudo-intellectuals who didn’t want to engage with the politics of the music . . . the spirit of co-operation that the label initially fostered had, for me, changed to one of competition. . . . my first release on Geist was a 3CD set that brought together what I felt was the best of what I did for Mille Plateaux but presented it in a more positive and open light". Seeking a social and cultural revolution, Empire feels electronic music should aim to incite such a change rather than being a means to placate and entertain. His DHR slogan "riot beats produce riots" is not so far from Underground Resistance’s own early 1990s use of hard techno produce at least a sonic revolution and it is not surprising to find that UR inspired Empire’s early work. Railing against the teutonic trance movement, Empire has been highly critical of the rise of the Love Parade and its corporate trappings drawing attention to the anti-Semitic remarks of Dr Motte and discriminatory behaviour of clubs. He draws parallels between the rise of this ‘patriotic new German sound’ (German techno trance) and attacks by skinheads on foreigners and immigrants. His 1992 anthem Heztjagt Auf Nazis (Hunt Down Nazis) which many German records shops refused to stock makes his position very clear. Embracing the breakbeat for Empire was a conscious political decision to ‘blackify’ the scene, as well as the logical conclusion of a long-time interest in dub – confirmed, he says in an interview on the DHR website, when Mark Spoon of Jam & Spoon went on MTV to disgustingly state that "the blacks have their hip hop and us whites have our techno".
As Atari Teenage Riot, a group formed by the subversive use of a record company advance by Phonogram in 1994, Empire is joined by Carl Crack as MC and Hanin Elias as singer creating a full-on punk-over-gabber sound. With sampled guitar riffs from X-Ray Spex, Sex Pistols and other 70s punk outfits, Empire, Crack and Elias drop an in-your-face noise with lyrics to match. Compared to his solo work (and that of Crack and Elias), ATR is comparatively throwaway but to Empire ATR represents simply another way of getting the message across. "A totally mixed audience is an advantage because its not so closed and there’s no real ‘scene’ connected. [Not being limited to a ‘scene’] questions the whole structure of the music industry anyway . . . . we try and make what we’re trying to say [with ATR] as direct as we can and even if some people are there because they want to see ‘some German freaks who think they can change the world’ then they’ll be confronted, or if some people think its hip new thing then they usually leave after a few months of interest and follow the next trend that the media dictates in any case. Even these people, maybe three years later when they are in a certain racist situation, will understand what we’re saying". For Empire the means justify the ends and if that necessitates a deal with Grand Royal to get their message over to America and heard by more people or the release of compilation CDs rather than limited vinyl 12"s then so be it. "We’ve tried to do everything totally independent from the capitalist music industry but to be effective you can’t limit yourself like that" says Empire.
Pioneering jungle in Germany well before it became fashionable, Empire is annoyed by the way it has changed, comparing its absorption into the corporate structure to the corporatising of American hip hop in the late 80s. The precision of the production techniques employed by British junglists – even those at the darker end of the spectrum – is too ‘exact’ for Empire, denying the natural imperfections of noise. Marketable because of this precision, it fills the needs of people to fetishise the production process or particular ‘novel’ sounds. Even his German contemporaries such as Panacea, Goner and the rest of the Position Chrome crew whose take on jungle is distorted and dark fail to impress Empire. "I don’t follow jungle anymore although I like what Panacea is trying to do but it is something I was doing back in 1994 and a lot of [Panacea’s labelmates and the UK techstep crews] are simply recycling the old rave sounds . . . Panacea promises me a demo of some ‘more experimental’ stuff he wants to release of DHR . . . .we’ll see". Finally, in a missive meant to disconnect him from his German compatriots, on the DHR website he writes; "As a result of the compromise which the German rave scene has made to industry, It has been destroyed. Rave is boring, rave is dead. It's as simple as that! The rave scene has even disowned it's drugs. In the final analysis, rave has not created a transformation in society which now produces Madonna and everything with 909 bass drums. House is disco music, and raves are progressive rock concerts of the 1970s: laser shows and tedium! Everything is simply a little more 1990s!".
Yellow Peril May 1998.