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Atari Teenage Riot

Article from Music Technology, October 1993

Berlin's techno anarchists Alec, Carl and Hanin are here to cause a riot. Ringleader Alec Empire mouths off on the ambient backlash


ATR stands for Atari Teenage Riot, and Alec Empire, Carl Crack and Hanin Elias are a multi-ethnic slice from the new generation of post-ravers. Based in Berlin, they also regularly come face to face with the neo-Nazi element threatening to co-opt techno music for its own ends. Combining punk aggression, hip-hop radicalism and a refreshing attitude to technology - which takes it entirely for granted, ATR are providing a blueprint for future pop and having a damned good time to boot. While Hanin sings and Carl DJs, Alec Empire provides the sampled and sequenced musical framework for their frenetic polemic. Here, he tells Phil Ward about the band and its aims, and why it was time to immortalise a certain computer...


On the Atari



"Yes, we do almost everything on the Atari as a sequencer, but then everybody does, I think. That's only one side of it. It's a bit difficult to explain, but for us it's a kind of symbol. There are techno acts, like The Prodigy, who are named after synthesisers, and to us the Atari was a stronger symbol, a symbol of Japan, of Tokyo, of computer games and everything. There are tracks which we do without the Atari, just using the 909 and 303 in sync and arranging live, but when we started it was the most important thing for the music. There are different techniques for creating a track, and we know them all, so it depends on the track which is the easiest way to get there.

"The first rule is that we have to develop the tracks very quickly. Speed is very important when we are working out the ideas. Sometimes the Atari can be too slow! If you just have the machines sync'd up and you're arranging while listening, you have to think everything through much more. It's like improvising; you do things you perhaps wouldn't do on the Atari. In a way, it's more like remixing. But some things you can't do 'by hand'. So it depends on the track."

On dirty machines



"The Casio FZ1 - which in Germany is called the Hohner HS1 - was one of the cheapest samplers you could get, and it has that scratchy, cheap sound which I actually prefer now to the Akai. We only use the Akai to record vocals, or if we don't have enough memory, but normally the Casio is exactly the sound we want. If you sample something short, like a bass drum, it kind of 'breathes' - it gives this little squeaking sound which I like. And the low notes are really scratchy and bad, which is what the band's philosophy is all about: trying to get dirty sounds out of the machines."

On choosing gear



"When we first started we only had three instruments: the Casio, the 909 and the Juno 106. That's all we used to record our first demo, which got us the record deal. I've had to buy back a lot of the equipment I sold in the late '80s! After acid, everyone was using the 303 over and over again, and I got so bored with it I sold mine. Only about half a year ago I decided it would be good to have one anyway. So I told my friend I wanted it back...

"It's difficult to use these machines because everyone uses them so often, while on the other hand you want to use the best sounds. On the single 'Atari Teenage Riot', we use sounds which are very general, but we try to use them in a different style. Sometimes it's quite funny to use a sound which absolutely everyone knows, and to use it really obviously! It's the same with normal instruments, where you can use a particular guitar sound or something which everyone associates with a record, and make a parody of it."

On electronic music for the '90s



"I made some EPs for the Force Inc. Musicworks label in Frankfurt, which was a very progressive scene, where we would spend at least an hour just finding one new sound, so it's a good change for me to be in ATR. It's not ATR's function to look for new sounds - that's old-fashioned, '80s way of looking at - electronic music. In the '90s, there are a lot of people claiming new sounds but they're not really that much different.

"Our philosophy is to write the lyrics first, and then express those feelings through the music - like film music, where you have to underline everything in the music. 'Atari Teenage Riot', for example, has the often-used sounds of European techno, from Joey Beltram or whatever, mixed with guitar samples, to suggest a modern teenage riot. Every sound has to underline the sense of the lyric. People should get more ideas down first, and then use the machines to amplify those ideas. The emphasis on new sounds comes from Kraftwerk in the '80s, but perhaps we should get back to something more like Kraftwerk in the 70s, where the search for sounds was to illustrate an idea.

"That's my problem with trance, or ambient: take a choir sound, add a 909 beat, and the track is ready. I've done some stuff like that on Force Inc. too, more like early Detroit trance stuff. But I'm more interested in communicating ideas now."

On 'personality'



"A lot of people were surprised when we decided to form a 'band', because coming from the hardcore rave scene the philosophy always was to do 'projects', and not to show any personality. We sometimes have problems with organisers at raves, because when we appear on stage, the idea is to see us as personalities. We want to provide a little more of a performance. The industrial/EBM approach of hiding behind the machines is very old-fashioned. Sometimes people criticise us for 'acting', but if you accept the music you must accept the personalities as well. It looks all right, I think.

"It's important for there to be somebody to identify with, if you've got something to say. It's not so much an issue at raves, where the important thing is just to dance, but I've seen bands like LFO, and even Kraftwerk, and I've stood there feeling bored. A gig or a concert is more than just making music. Our music is very aggressive, and we want to get that across to the audience. I don't think you can make the kind of music we are making and just stand still!"

On anarchy



"We're using technology to f**k up the system. For us, all this musical history is just something we've read about. We can't really understand The Rolling Stones! It's all just sounds that we can sample. That's the kind of anarchy that's happening now: you can sample a 10-second loop and put it out on a white label, and the big system of the record industry can't get you - it's not quick enough. OK, it's a bit different for ATR now that we're signed to a major label, but that's the culture we came from. The original 'riot' was to create anything we wanted, including illegal stuff as well.

"Technology is the quickest way to get our ideas across, but also there are just more sounds available to you. I played in a punk band, and after a couple of years I just got so bored with the sounds. OK, you can create new sounds on the guitar using effects, but it's still basically a guitar. That's why samplers are so important. You can take the whole vibe from another record, or a film soundtrack. If you use short samples, and use them, for example, an octave down for your melody, I think that has a special mystery. You get something of the original vibe, and create a feeling that never really existed before, at least not in that form. In a way, you're changing history.

"As the instruments become cheaper, in sampling, in graphics and whatever, we will be able to see who has the best ideas: not just who has the most money."

Riotous assembly - Alec's home studio

Atari 1040STFM, with SM124 monitor
Roland M-16E mixing desk
Hohner HS-1 sampler (the German version of the Casio CZ1)
Roland Juno 106
Roland SH-101
Korg M3R
Sequential Circuits Pro One
Roland MC-202
Roland TR909
Roland TR606
Roland TR808
Roland TB303
Alesis Midiverb III


On record

Alec Empire:
Tripmen EP (with T'N'I)
Yobot EP
SuEcide (Part 1) EP
SuEcide (Part 2) EP
Destroy Deutschland EP
Das Duell EP (with Biochip C)
Limited Edition EP
'Totenposse Rides Out' single (on Structure, Cologne)
Star Trax EP (as LX Empire)
'Unequal Chord' white label (as LX Empire)
'Theme From Tekknology - Yobots Round My Neck' single (on DSB)

Hanin:
Parfum EP

ATR:
Atari Teenage Riot EP (Vertigo) 1993
Midi Junkies single (Vertigo) 1993
Atari Teenage Riot album (Vertigo) 1993



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Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Oct 1993

Donated by: Ian Sanderson

Interview by Phil Ward

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