Of all the bands that sold a million records in the 90s Atari Teenage Riot’s reformation in 2010 beckoned the critic’s cutting condemnation. A triumphant sellout concert in front of nigh on a thousand rabid fans stopped them in their tracks and instead the blogs were covered with reports of an electrifying return.
Asked how they managed such a startling reinvention Alec Empire described it as a ‘software’ update, a dramatic change of view drawing from the core of ATR’s anger in the 90s but zeroing in on the festering mess that had sprouted from the mouldering problems of the past. Two world tours and a US record deal with Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak label brought back old fans and drew new ones into the fold.
Alec Empire stated: “to relive history never really works, it only leads to despair. We don’t do that. We don’t think long term; we decide on the spur of the moment what feels right and what doesn’t just as we did when we started out. The internet has alerted a whole new generation to our back catalogue and made people equally aware of our biggest records and our rarest recordings so that when we played live, and travelled to places we’d never been to before, the fans stormed the stage, screaming along to our songs, dancing like crazy…and I knew we never really had even properly released anything in some of these countries.”
Their album ‘Is This Hyperreal?’ was celebrated as “the ultimate protest album of the google age,” dealing with WikiLeaks, Anonymous, Hackers, the freedom the internet brought to the suppressed, censorship, the surveillance state, cyber terrorism and digital decay, a term which describes the disaffected masses abandoning the internet when they realized that it wasn’t free but infested with government controls.
The campaign for “Is This Hyperreal?” took an interesting turn when the Black Flags viral video was taken up by Anonymous whose members and supporters sent in clips from the Occupy Wall Street protests last autumn. Remixes, mash ups and alternate versions created by fans to represent their own dissatisfaction proliferated and captured the mood so accurately it was played in a CNN broadcast to summarise the zeitgeist behind Anonymous’ cyber attacks.
Alec Empire: “Suddenly the audience was full of people wearing Guy Fawkes masks raising black flags which I welcomed because it questioned the ‘rock concert’ top down hierarchy. Talking afterwards to the hackers we met at shows, then later online we realised that they are not out to destroy but very inspirational people with a lot of passion, knowledge and the technical skills to make the positive changes we need…”
In December ATR got the news that WikiLeaks could provide exclusive footage from Julien Assange speaking at Occupy London. Nic Endo: “This was such great news. Because we wrote the song about WikiLeaks, Anonymous and the whole way whistleblowers are treated by authorities. We decided to make the 3rd edit of the video about the financial blockade that is happening against WikiLeaks and added the donation link in there.” Boing Boing blog and Dangerous Minds were calling it the first anthem of the Occupy movement.
Dangerous Minds: “While personally I would have thought it would be a new act to break through representing a new generation, no-one can doubt ATR’s credentials when it comes to this kind of thing. In fact, maybe in this age of ultra-commodified music it would HAVE to take a more veteran, established act to represent OWS and Anonymous so as to avoid claims of false appropriation? You have to hand it to ATR though; “Black Flags” is a pretty great tune. I’d say it’s one of their most accessible yet while retaining all that dark techno-punk scuzzy energy we know and love.”
So what’s next?
Atari Teenage Riot doesn’t stand still and has announced ATR 3.0. which features Rowdy Superstar from the UK as a new MC and vocalist.
Alec Empire: “It always annoyed me when journalists described ATR as a ‘German techno band’ which was never correct. I was always the only ‘German’ in the group. Nic Endo is from Texas in the US, CX Kidtronik from Brooklyn. Back in the 90s members represented different countries and races each with their own history of repression. Recently we have toured with Rowdy and collaborated on a bunch of tracks – he’s perfect for ATR. You can’t listen to his solo records and try to foresee how it will fit with ATR. It’s interesting that he’s the first English member. Britain always played an important role in Atari Teenage Riot’s history. We had our first record deal there and the support from John Peel gave us our first major break. We started our label DHR there as Germany was dead to new music then. We need a true voice from Great Britain! The London riots last year, the politics, etc etc … it is more important than ever to hear a musician who is so close to all that while the musical mainstream doesn’t reflect the reality anymore.”