Helping the system to implode
Hanin Elias and Alec Empire of German techno-anarchist noise terrorists, Atari Teenage Riot, discuss their philosophy and their music.
ATR is the band that invented Digital Hardcore - one part techno, one part punk and at least five parts politically fuelled rage. They create music to form the soundtrack to their revolutionary ideas. Hard, fast and, in a live setting, completely chaotic, their music has elicited extreme reactions, not all of them positive.
ATR's philosophy is a rather inventive take on the anarchist views of Karl Marx's main revolutionary rival, Bakunin. While he spent most of his life running around Europe joining in rebellions and revolutions, however small, Alec, Hanin and Co.'s version takes place on the music stages around the world. However, while they are always happy to spark off actual riots, for Alec the riot is a symbol of anti-establishment action.
"Riot is only the action against the society or the establishment because things are being destroyed. There's no other thing about it. A riot has always something good if people throw in windows of banks and rob supermarkets, set police cars on fire. This does damage to the corporations, it helps the system to implode. It shows the position of each side. Because, at the end of the day, these people demonstrated that they have the power to do just that."
However new their focus or original their methods, their message is the same as anarchists through history. They aim to open their fans eyes to the exploitation of the worker and the inequalities in society.
"I think people have to see what the society, the structure, is really all about. It's not about a happy family thing, where people can, if they work hard enough, they can achieve everything - that old fake that is being sold to most people in capitalism. It's not true; it's about social differences. That structure is there and the majority of the people are just gonna be exploited no matter what they do."
Hanin explains that what their aim within anarchism is to give it a new image. They want to move away from the clichèd perception of anarchism as being about chaos and lazy drunken punks.
"I think we should give anarchy a more positive new image; that is what we stand for. We also explain the ways we imagine anarchy and everything that goes in that direction when people get more power themselves. That's a step into anarchy."
A band that has actually managed to live up to their name and cause riots with their concerts is not likely to be to everyone's tastes. However, they know that their message will not reach everyone, and they are not too concerned. Hanin is happy if people get a little bit of the information and they like the music, because that brings them a little step forward.
"I don't expect to change the world after one show, just to get step by step. Eventually in America, lots of people came to us and said we were a big impression onto them. They try to change things. On the internet, you see more and more people who react to things they see."
The initial reactions to the band in the States were particularly strong and often hostile.
"Sometime we had to jump off stage and hit some people because they reacted very extreme against us - tried to spit on us and throw stuff at us and said really stupid things. Especially when we played as a support band with Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan. You always expect that Rage and Wu-Tang fans would be interested and tolerant people, but they were absolutely not. I think that RATM were very disappointed with their own fans."
It is often the case that extreme bands like ATR, even if they are never commercially successful, will live on longer than others in the influence they have. Hanin points proudly to one hugely successful band in which they see their stamp.
"Nine Inch Nails - this guy Trent Reznor always says that he's inspired by Atari Teenage Riot. And he has the same haircut as Alec, he's wearing the same clothes and he's wearing ATR T-shirts."
However, despite this, and the fact that they have toured with Ministry and KMFDM in their time, they reject any suggestion that industrial or its more European-based electronic cousin, EBM, has influenced them. In fact, Hanin claims they represent the opposite of their electro compatriots.
"We don't represent Germany in a strange cold, computer kind of way. We represent an 'anti' version of Germany. With tracks like 'Deutschland has gotta die!' and stuff like this, the Germans never support our ideas. We are like people from four different countries. It's not like a 'planned multicultural project', it just happened like this. I think Germany just has this big new self-esteem and they just want to feature German stuff. It's just really typically German, which I think is really dangerous. So they ignore us totally and we don't even tour there."
And the very Germanic EBM doesn't fit into the styles of music the band-members listen to. "We are more from this '77 punk or '60s soul, like Otis Redding, or Nico comes from a jazz background. I listen to lots of Goth stuff and metal. Everybody has different influences, but nobody ever listened to EBM."
As their music is mainly a vehicle for their radical views, they have no expectations of having mainstream success. In fact, experience has shown them that the music biz establishment is far more interested in keeping them out of the public eye.
"MTV don't want to play us, that's why we can't be the next big thing. The press mostly takes our message wrong. Everybody seems to misunderstand what we are saying, because some people don't want to understand. Maybe people willl recognise that we were a very important band one day, but I don't think the time is right now. We hope that some people get it, but we'll never be a big thing, we'll always be an underground thing."
The band does not see their music as being the only outlet for their views. They have got a lot to say and they find other ways to say it, whether people want to hear it or not.
"We also write lots of things, I think it's important to do interviews with all magazines, all TV stations and not to differentiate between them. It's good that all sorts of people can get the information. Also, taking part in actions, which we have done too."
Like all rock musicians, there's some ego involved here too. While Hanin gets annoyed by hacks who focus on her looks rather than what she has to say, she's not totally against it.
"Of course that annoys me, but it would also annoy me if they wouldn't say anything about how I look. It's the same with Alec; he would be annoyed too. I think that it doesn't really matter."
The biggest danger for a band like ATR is that they become irrelevant and nobody listens to what they are saying. Their music is unlikely to remain at the cutting edge for very long, so, is there a chance of there being an Atari Middle-aged Riot? Alec doesn't think so.
"It could stop any day. It's a spontaneous thing and it can end tomorrow. If we think it doesn't make any sense or if we think we have to do something forever, we don't want to do it."
by Donnacha DeLong