Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire on Reuniting, Neo-Nazis, and Otto Von Schirach

Categories: Q&A
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When Atari Teenage Riot started its revolution in the '90s, the world seemed like such a relatively peaceful place. Sure there were horrors happening around the globe, but looking back, it seems small when compared to the conflicts brought on in the 2000s.

Terrorism and all the limitations of freedom it brought one in the name of "patriotism" seemed like the perfect dialogue for an ATR track. Unfortunately, right around that time, the band -- consisting primarily of Alec Empire, Hanin Elias, Carl Crack, and Nic Endo -- found itself in turmoil. The fatal blow seemed to come on September 2001, just days before 9/11, with the death of Crack.

Thankfully, ATR is back thanks to the unlikeliest of reasons, which Empire revealed to us over the phone. He also discussed the state of electronic music today, the government's push to limit our internet freedom, and what he's been up to for the past ten years. If you think the past decade has wavered Empire's knack for political discourse -- well, let's just say he's still got plenty of teenaged rebellion left in him.

County Grind: Why did you feel the need to revive Atari Teenage Riot?

Alec Empire: I really didn't feel the need to bring back Atari Teenage Riot. It was really just a chaotic accident. There was this idea to play one show in London in 2010. We very were surprised that there was a new audience [at the show]. You know, people in their early 20s who, I suppose, are into that new electro stuff -- Crystal Castles, M.I.A., Bloody Beetroots.

I totally underestimated that Atari Teenage Riot is still relevant for this generation for some reason. I was doing other stuff in the last ten years, like [solo material], a few independent film soundtracks, and things like that. It wasn't really on my radar that people were still discovering Atari Teenage Riot.

It was a very spontaneous decision to go, "Hey, let's add more shows." Then we played in Japan and ran into [Dim Mak Records founder] Steve Aoki, and he was like, "I'd love to put a new record out by you guys." So we made the decision to make a statement of the times now. There are a lot of issues, like the way authorities clamp down on internet freedom and issues like that, that we felt we didn't get to talk about on the previous records and thought it would make an interesting addition to the stuff we've been saying in the past.

Funny that you mention acts like M.I.A. and Crystal Castles, because if ATR hadn't come before them, they might not be here today. Is the band's influence on electronic music today evident to you?

Music is like language. Once it's out there, people can adapt it and do their own things to it. Sometimes people approach me saying I should be pissed off that these bands are taking my ideas. But I don't really feel like that. All these bands and producers have maybe taken a few elements, but they have their very own ideas and approaches.

That's how we started, when we were listening to Public Enemy or Suicide. There never is that moment where you go, "OK, I'll start completely from scratch." It's always on evolution that's being passed on from generation to generation. I think it's great. It's really interesting.

All the stuff that's happening now is more interesting now, for example, than electronica in the '90s. In the '90s, it was just a lot of DJ music. Now people are doing much more interesting things. Not everybody is my taste, but, in general, people have accepted that you can do so much more with vocals and express all these different kind of ideas, while in '90s we were really outsiders.

ATR's absence started at the beginning of the George W. Bush era. It seems that it would have made perfect ATR material -- the general fucked-up state of the world, the blatant disregard for human rights. Looking back, do you wish, given the opportunity, you would have addressed some of those ideas as ATR?

Weird thing is, if you look at the records we've done -- Burn, Berlin, Burn! and 60 Second Wipeout -- a lot of that stuff that we talked about became so obvious in the decade that followed.

For example, the way terrorism is used to create laws to use against your own citizens. The danger that comes in this way of thinking. Also, the way corporations work together with the government to basically make profits for war. All these things we really addressed already and it's almost like this nightmarish scenario we described: What if it develops into something worse?

A lot of the criticism in the '90s was, "You guys are a little bit pessimistic. This would never happen. We are so far off as a society. We are so free. There is no danger coming."

Now people are like, "Wow, you actually described what was going on."

So I feel like even if we weren't around as Atari Teenage Riot, a lot people still listened to our music thanks to the Internet. That really helped because it was always accessible and they were looking for music that spoke about those issues and they were able to kind of find it. It think we were kind of lucky that that kind of technology was starting to be used by everybody.

Yeah, in a way it would have been good to make a record [during the Bush era], but on the other side it probably wouldn't have sounded much different than the stuff we put out before. I feel like we spoke about a lot of these things.

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