Alec Empire from ATR interview by Leftdance

Leftdance talks with Alec Empire, member of Atari Teenage Riot, the legendary german techno-punk band.

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Here the interview:

1)When and how ATR born ?

I started Atari Teenage Riot in early 1992. Hanin Elias and Carl Crack were the first members back then. But the group did change over all the years. You can see it in the Kids Are United video for example. There are two more girls in there, the two Carolines from Subotniks Crossing who did a lot of the touring with us at the time. Carl Cracks sister Lisa was also part of the band for many shows in 1997. And then of course we had many guests appearing…from MCs like The Arsonists, MC D-Stroy, MC Freestyle…then many guest guitarists…Tom Morello, Dino Cazares…Kathleen Hanna also recorded with us. That was just before Le Tigre. We wanted to create a music which would make people think and act politically, fight the neo nazi scene in Germany, make people alert of the corruption in politics and media…

we came from punk but were into techno…we knew we had to create our own genre of music to get across how we felt. That is still the same case. We are anarchists…anarchist libertarian.

2)Which was the first record you bought ?, which was the last ?

Alec: I don’t remember the first record I bought, I only remember the first record I got (for Christmas)…it was Trio’s album for “Da Da Da” and Kraftwerk “Computerworld”. I have to admit that I didn’t really like the Kraftwerk record. It sounded to sterile to me. Later on I started to appreciate them more. The first song that really blew me away was Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”. I still love that track. Anything that I ever liked about Hip Hop is in that track. From the lyrics to the beat and its whole production. Amazing stuff.It’s hard for me to like commercial hip hop right now…it has not much to offer apart from bullshit and nothing with meaning. But I guess that’s an opinion thing.

3)Apart from music, which art do you really love ?

Alec: All the arts…anything creative…if its films, books, paintings…I mean for me it’s not so much about the format the idea is delivered on…it’s about expression and what the person tries to get across…It’s strange I don’t think that capitalism brings out the best creative works though…we’ll see.

4)About the future of musical industry, do you think the cd will be extint ?, the record labels could redefine their role ?

Alec: The CD is already gone…it’s on its way out. Record labels, especially major labels lose money, they mostly belong to other companies who sell hardware…so the music industry has become so corrupt that the bubble it has created will burst over the coming years. I am always on the side of the musicians. As long as we live in capitalism, musicians have to get paid for their work. That’s why I despise all internet companies who use creative content and make money with it, expecting the musicians to provide that content for free.

Music fans have to understand this. If they don’t support the musicians they love, that music will either be financed by sponsoring or culture funds. Both corrupt the music itself. I see it happening all the time. I am very concerned about young artists right now, because I see them struggling to survive and make uncompromising music.

As a music fan I want that and not some polished crap that advertises another product. ATR and myself , we are very lucky because we built our own platform over many years. So we are very independent from all of that. But artists who start out are not in that position and they need the support even more.

Copyright laws have to be redefined as they just protect the powerful right now. They should protect everybody on an equal basis. Creative commons in my opinion doesn’t work with music, because if you don’t have the money to pay good lawyers , the creative commons agreements don’t protect the unknown artists from being exploited. There is a lot of work to be done to achieve a fair system which works for everybody. Right now we are further away from that than ever before. As a new artist you can put your stuff online, but you are a number amongst millions. It’s very hard to get noticed.

In my opinion we need to create a new underground which attacks the corrupt mainstream music industry. There is no other way. Music must evolve freely, and the best music will flourish.

5) Do you think the anti-capitalist left-wing political parties may have electoral chances in some European countries, due to strong economic and social crises affecting this region ?

Alec: The political mainstream gets more and more fragmented right now. All parties seem to have trouble finding the consensus. So we might see the left wing parties get more votes…but will they get enough make a real change happen? I am not sure about it.

6) From your point of view, today in the electronic scene which subculture is more avant-garde: digital hardcore, dubstep, drum and bass, electroclash, minimal, new house, goa, others?

Alec: None of the above mentioned. Music is standing still since years. There hasn’t been a major wave. Dubstep and anything coming out of the UK is manipulated by the British media….it has not much of a substance. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. But we are talking about a thriving music scene which is changing everything. That hasn’t happened in a while. But I am confident it will at some point. It seems that there are many musicians with great ideas working out new ideas.

The question right now is who invests in these artists to make them reach more people. Record companies won’t, music fans won’t.

7)How did the idea emerge of reunion of the band and tour 2010 ?

Alec: We wanted to play one show in London last May. We felt we owed our fans that show because when we played our last show in London at the Brixton Academy in the winter of 1999, Hanin Elias had walked out of the band on the day of the show, and the rest of us was in a very bad mind state. We played a pure noise show. No songs, just a wall of very old white noise in front of a few thousand people. It was very confrontational. The critics loved it for the sensation, but many fans were disappointed and angry because they had waited for the show where we would play material from the album “60 Second Wipe Out” which was released that year. Nic Endo, Carl Crack and me did the show, but it also demonstrated in which bad state the band was at that point. Years of endless touring had burnt us out…it was really the end of an era. We were asked by Nine Inch Nails to tour with them in the US for Spring 2000, but we had to cancel. When Carl Crack died in September 2001, a few days before 911, there seemed to be no future for ATR anymore.

Nic Endo and me did released the Alec Empire album “Intelligence and Sacrifice” that same month and we had played a massive show in Japan a few weeks earlier. Charlie Clouser, Merzbow, Gabe Serbian had joined the Alec Empire live band. So we were on a different path already. Last year we ran into America MC CX Kidtronik, who had worked with Saul Williams, Trent Reznor and Kanye West and many others before. We recorded a song for his solo album on Stones Throw Records.

It was a very creative collaboration, so almost 9 months later, when the idea started to grow about that one off London show, we all thought he might bring something fresh into the band. He was totally up for it. But then we faced some challenges. Hanin Elias had really lost the energy in her screaming voice, and it seemed absurd for CX to just copy Carl Cracks lyrics. A lot of that stuff was about Berlin in the early 90ties, and the racism and so on…CX was in the US in that time, so it didn’t make sense for him to sing something that he hadn’t experienced. So we all decided he should go ahead and write his own lyrics for the songs.

New context, new meanings…We realized that because of America’s dominant role in world politics CX can bring a very interesting view into ATR. He can for example criticize Obama in a different way than we can. So by the time we hit the stage in London ATR was not really a reunion, it was more like a software update. We faced a young audience. Most of them had never seen ATR live before, the songs had been updated, there was a new and fresh and very unexpected energy. The critics went crazy about the sold out concert and we got a lot of requests in.

So we kept adding more shows. There is no masterplan. We just go along by instinct….we might stop again tomorrow.

8)Will there be a new ATR`s record out soon ?

Alec: We might record more songs. Activate has been out as a free download, but we are putting out a record on Steve Aoki’s label Dim Mak! So at the moment we know we have to take ATR’s sound one step further again. That’s a very exciting task. If this ends up being an album, like they used to do ten years ago, I don’t know…we might just put 30 songs online for free or do 7 EPs or something…music comes first. We don’t produce for a platform, to be limited by that.

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