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Interview with Alec Empire from Atari Teenage Riot

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Just before the Spanish shows (December 2010) Those will end with the world tour of the brand updated version of Atari Teenage Riot. We talked with Alec Empire about what to expect from ATR and the state of the world and other themes that show nowadays.

Read the interview below.

1.-After stopping the band in a climax of excess and chaos surrounding band members your music and the envirorment surrounding the band what does ATR want to achieve now and what is offering to the world with this return?

Alec: The music industry is in a huge crisis. This is the reflection of our society as a whole. We get ATR up to date in terms of sound and message. Nobody is really doing the music for our times. This is not entertainment. We see a lot of people at our concerts who want that reality reflected in the music and just being fed candy while they demand real nutrition.

 

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2.-We are going to find changes on our established idea of ATR?

Alec: Not sure what an established idea of ATR is. In many countries people have a different idea of ATR due to the constant changes in the line up of the group, especially for the live shows. In Japan for example most fans think ATR used to be Carl Crack, Nic Endo and me, because Hanin Elias rarely made it to the Japanese shows. Same in the USA. In Holland many think ATR was Carl, me and Lisa B, who is Carl's sister and Nic Endo, because we played big festivals and a few clubshows with this line up around the time when our second album was released. I always wanted ATR to become a proper band, but due to all the confusion I ended up with a collective of different characters. Over the years I started to understand that this is what kept ATR exciting and moving forward all the time. When we started working with new MC CX Kidtronik during the summer of 2009, we only thought we'll record a song for his solo record on Stones Throw in Los Angeles. 9 months later, when the idea came up to play one ATR show in London, he told me how much Carl Crack meant to him as an artist. We felt that CX could bring something fresh into ATR. During the rehearsals it became clear that he wanted to rewrite a lot of the lyrics to tell his own story. Carl Crack often spoke about racism in Germany in the early 90ties, and CX wasn't in the same place during that time because he grew up in Detroit. But of course he understood where Carl was coming from lyrically. So we play the classic songs in the set but some of the lyrics are put into a new context. We found that very exciting. Many journalists started to speak more about an updated version of ATR, rather than a reunion in the traditional rock band sense. This is the challenge about doing this project.

 

3.- Any plans of returning in the studio? How do you see the musician and his role with the changing music industry nowadays with the network revolution?

Alec: We are in the middle of recording a new 'album' or better a collection of many new songs. I don't think in the album format anymore. ATR used to approach albums almost as concept records in the 90ties. That doesn't work anymore and was perhaps a mistake of the past Alec Empire solo albums which came out in the 00 years. You have can't develop this little world anymore and expect people to dive into it for 40-60 minutes. You can only say what you need to say in 3 or less minutes. That's ok with me as I come from punkrock.
I see the musicians being split even more into two categories…the entertainers who approach music in the same way as construction workers, they limit themselves to one certain skill only, without much creative expression. This is what we hear mostly on the radio and in the pop charts nowadays. TV shows like X Factor are good examples for that. These musicians do what others tell them to do. They are easy to handle puppets on strings. Now..that sounds negative, but I don't mean it that way. In the crisis that the music industry is in, it is one strategy to survive. And those who don't demand more from musicians seem satisfied with that. It's just music after all. But then there are the independent musicians who write and produce their own material and they live it 24/7. I belong more in that category. To me fame and profit is secondary, to put it simple…process of creating new music is very rewarding, more rewarding than the recognition or the royalty check. Over a longer period of time most of us make more money than the other musicians I mentioned first. But it is a lot more work, because you are the captain of your own ship. Music/file sharing has devalued music. But it has opened the door for people to discover new music faster. I wouldn't call it a revolution because it hasn't made music itself better in any way. There is just more of it available. Because the majority of musicians can't afford risks in times like these, they stopped to innovate and tried to stick to what worked decades before them. This is a viscous cycle not even Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails have managed to overcome. Many miss the past when pop music used to unite millions of people for the same idea. This time is finally over as we can see in other parts of our society as well. Mainstream politics struggle to get majorities, television and newspapers lose people more and more. I embrace what is going on right now. I believe that most people haven't found their favorite music yet. Most music is providing a grid that people can hold on to. Music in the military at marches or funerals, music at weddings, music in supermarkets, music at birthday parties, music for Christmas, music in churches… All those grids are threatened. I think that is good. Music should challenge people's minds, it should make people think about new ideas and not shut down. We make that kind of music since almost 20 years now and it keeps finding new listeners in many countries of the world. It's a great adventure for us and it has nothing to do with the rat of 'pop music' (which is being kept alive by the major record industry mostly to sell hardware. Sony is a good example of that. So pop music doesn't even have the economical basis to exist anymore.)

 

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4.- How do you create the visuals for your live-sets, I often saw scenes of Jodorowski films when you were playing solo. Can you talk about the process?

Alec: I worked with Philipp Virus on various Alec Empire electronic shows. He knows the corner stones of my improvisations when I do these types of shows. I don't play 'songs', I create moods and tensions with electronic instruments. It's more a journey of sound I am after instead of performing prepared material. He has a lot of freedom and can choose the right material for the moment. It's a VJ thing. He would react to my sound (that is mostly because I can't see what he's doing while I create the music.) but also almost by instinct select visuals that will fit music that I will create minutes ahead. We don't do these shows often, but when we do it, it's very great in terms of what we get out of it creatively.

 

5.-Your music always was highly political, pro-anarchist and radical against the power stablishment and the opressors, What´s your view now of the world that seems to be sunking in an economical, and values crisis. Where is the bottom?

Alec: There will never be a bottom. We can all sink lower and lower. There is no end in that process. Sometimes we all wish it was. It's all about balance.
Most of us don't want to live in a society which is about greed. The internet age shows this in the best way. People share so much online without gaining anything from it. To just think for oneself and not see the bigger picture is a worldview that belongs to the past. It's bad that those in power haven't understood that yet.
 

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6.-What did a Wall while you were growing in Berlin? How influenced your mind?

Alec: When you walk to school next to a wall that divides your city or even your whole country as a result of horrible crimes that were committed in World War 2 then that works on your mind. Soldiers with guns on observation towers looking at you from the other side while you think of the things kids think about at that age. Back then it seemed normal. Obviously I am more alert when politicians talk about technology that will control people or spy on them. We know what can happen when the wrong people get to power and abuse those things. In the 80ties Berlin punk was always connected to political activism. To me expressing an opinion through music was the only reason why music mattered to me. When the Wall came down it was a huge change. This experience and the excitement that goes with event like that help you understand that any society can radically change from one day to another. There is no safety net.

 
 

7.-If Atr would be 'The Makers' what would you do in seven days to fix the world in an ATR way?

Alec: I think it would take something like 60 years to change things for the better. Educate everyone in the way that it is understood that everyone matters . There is no hierarchy. Human beings are a huge network, nobody is more important than anyone else. Everybody is equal. This has the consequence that one puts himself into a wider context instead of trying to gain a short term advantage. Physical violence is only allowed as a sport, but is highly punished otherwise by the community and not some sort of police force. And I mean any type of violence, even a slap in the face. There was a time when religion brought people together, in our time where science is so advanced, there is no reason for religion to exist anymore. That's why we see that religion is creating the biggest conflicts in our world right now. We should preserve it somehow, we might need it again in thousands of years from now.
If you want to believe in god, focus on finding proof and don't just follow what other human beings wrote down in a totally different time and in a totally different context. This question demands a complex and long answer, but I believe that everything pretty much will come from what I mentioned above. If we want to survive as a species we should start to act now or nature will correct and make the changes for us and this will hurt a lot more.

 

8.-Your music is not made for all publics but there are also other styles differents from your styles targeted for a "small" people What do you think about distressing bands like Today is the day. Are you interested in extreme metal?

Alec: Metal always has been a part of ATR's sound. I don't look at music this way, like there is music for the masses and music for a small amount of people. The avant-garde is always ahead and will find its way into the mainstream sooner or later. ATR has sold a lot of records worldwide, way more than most national pop artists can achieve. I think that the metal scene with all its subgenres is very important because they are extremely skilled musicians and despite public opinion very intelligent and also full of humor. Any time I worked with musicians from that scene, if it was Dino Cazares from Fear Factory, Dave Witte from Burnt By The Sun, Slayer or others, it was an amazing collaboration. When a musician has found its own identity and sound, mostly with one instrument that always fascinated me.

 

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9.-What was the experience of composing 'No remorse' with Slayer? I listened that it was all done sending tapes through the mail did you ever meet Slayer guys?

Alec: We met in Los Angeles before we decided to do it. They send me raw ideas, like riffs, baselines, vocals. I didn't have much time to put the song together. It was basically done in one night. Sometimes I still listen to those raw takes…amazing stuff when you hear the sound of Slayer broken up into separate tracks.

 

10.-We have seen many examples that links art and drugs use to match real masterpieces what are your views about the drug influence in the creative process?

Alec: I have never taken any drugs. I don't believe that they can help the creative process at all. It is the opposite. The examples of those musicians who did take drugs were amazing and talented artists in the first place. The drugs didn't make them do it. I think there were more shitty songs recorded under the influence of drugs over the past decades than good ones. So that proves my point. The drugs don't make you do anything. Since centuries people have tried to find a formulae  for creating great art and have come up with those easy answers. The reality is much more complex than that.

 

 

11.-Are you going to battle again onstage with Merzbow? What does it mean to you Merzbow in music nowadays?

Alec: Merzbow is a very important musician since decades. His work has inspired so many artists. And he is a great guy. I'd work on any project with him any time…I am absolutely convinced that in the coming decades he will recognized by a much wider audience, because his work is so important in the context of the evolution of music.
 

 
 

12.- Can you tell us a few films and books that have impressed you in your life

Alec: There have been so many it's hard to really pick only a few. A film that always stayed with me is Polanski's Repulsion for example. The breakdance film Wild Style was very important for me when I was a kid. I read a lot of books but couldn't really name one that influenced my music.

 

13.- To finish what do you want to say to your spanish fans before your next shows

Alec: We are very excited to play in Spain. It is the end of our world tour and we can't wait to get there! Spain has always been a great country for us in terms of crowd reaction and energy. We are so looking forward to it!!!

 

Pictures courtesy of: The Hellish Vortex, Aaron Evans, Eduardo Molina and Oliver Rossol.

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