Intelligence Meets Sacrifice
CoC interviews Alec Empire of Atari Teenage Riot
by: Xander Hoose
I got acquainted with Atari Teenage Riot somewhere in 1998. How exactly it happened I forgot, but it must have been the ATR/Slayer collab on the Spawn soundtrack that caught my initial attention and forced me to purchase the two ATR albums that were out at that time, _Delete Yourself_ and _The Future of War_. I derived much joy from these two albums, although I would never consider myself being a 'fan' of their music. Alec Empire's solo material, especially the The Destroyer album, did more for me, as I was more into harsh electronics than punky sounds at that time. When I received a copy of ATR's 1999 album _60 Second Wipeout_, it even took me two weeks before I gave it a first spin, but from that moment on it had me hooked. The thrashy sound was exactly what I was looking for, and even to this day it remains my favourite album. But the real shock came with the live recording of Brixton Academy 1999: it showed a band that was near the end of the road, exhausted and almost totally destroyed. No more songs, no more structure, just a wall of electronic noise that would have made Merzbow and Masonna nod their heads in total agreement. The liner notes of that album reflected the music as well as the state that the band was in. Things were not going well...

"The show at Brixton Academy was one of our last in a long series of shows. By that time, we knew we had to make a decision: whether or not to stop touring, because we were physically too exhausted. Carl Craig had very bad psychosis attacks; and with the increasing success of the band, the problems in the band were getting bigger. We just did too much, touring for years and building up a fanbase without help from commercial radio and TV -- it gave us a physical burn-out. I was on pain-killers for months on stage, up to the point were the doctors said my immune system was nearly destroyed and they warned me that if I didn't stop with what I was doing I wouldn't survive it. Still, I continued touring for another eight months."

"Another thing that made me realize I wanted to get out of it for a while was the _Intelligence & Sacrifice_ album that I started working on. I had all these ideas, and it was really frustrating being on tour and not being able to record, so I told the band that I -had- to do this album and then we decided to take a break. We would take a look again at ATR three years later, in 2003, and until then we would be doing our own things. Carl Craig was supposed to do long-term therapy, and after that record parts for the album, but it never came to that."

Carl Craig was found dead in his apartment in Berlin on September 6th 2001, a month after the recording of _Intelligence & Sacrifice_ was completed and a month before its scheduled release. Understandably, the release was postponed, giving the band time to recuperate from the terrible news.

"When Carl died, the album was the last thing on our minds. I was supposed to do promotion, but I decided to let that pass. On top of that, nearly a week later, another shock came with the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. It was all very strange, because I had just made it through some very dark times in my life where I felt suicidal and didn't find anything worth living for. With the creation of my album, I had found a reason to stay alive again and things were getting better: I was getting my energy back and even looking forward to playing shows, and then it all collapsed in September."

"What made it even more difficult was that the whole world was in shock, many people were coping with depression from the September 11th aftermath, so it wasn't really possible to find any understanding for our situation. People were like, "yeah whatever, many people have died and there's a war". We felt very alone at that time."

With Carl Craig being an integral part of the band, his decease -- added to the fact that ATR was already on hiatus -- has made fans speculate on whether or not ATR will ever come back together.

"I don't think we should replace Carl. It would feel wrong to try and find someone who would fill the gap he has left, and I also think fans wouldn't accept it. But that's not necessarily a problem: we did a lot of things without him. To be honest, _60 Second Wipeout_ was already done with very little input from his side. Still, at the moment it still feels wrong to think about that kind of stuff. We'll have to wait until the moment when we will know what to do, maybe wait until we meet someone who can bring something fresh into the band."

Many people who have listened to the _Intelligence & Sacrifice_ album, or at least to the first CD, have said that it does sound a lot like what ATR was doing and is very much unlike Alec Empire's previous solo outings. Alec Empire himself doesn't share this view, however.

"I think the first CD of _I&S_ is a different step from ATR. Songs like "The Ride", "Addicted to You", "Killing Machine", all these songs would never be ATR songs. I think it's a case of people looking at my role in ATR. If you isolate me, you get a very big portion of the band, especially in sound and vocals. The metal element, the punkrock element, the harsh sounds, that is my part of the music and you'll find that on both ATR and my solo albums indeed. But there still is a big difference, also in production: it's recorded very differently, the sound is very different. I think the only thing that both my album and ATR albums share is that they stand out very prominently from mainstream music."

"Lyrically, my solo work differs from ATR in where ATR can be described as "demonstration", "messages" and "inciting people to do something". With my solo work it would never be so direct, it's not the language I would use. My songs do not have to be political, and that gives me much more freedom to bring up other things as well."

The music featured on _I&S_'s second album is quite different from the first; a usually-mellow-sometimes-harsher mix of electronic landscapes, ambient drones and patterns, even some click and cut. The appeal of this music to metal-minded people is probably very limited, but one can't deny that there's at least a little bit of genius needed to create all this. It would be hard to pinpoint influences or similar artists, but as far as 'atmosphere' is concerned one can think of Squarepusher and DJ Spooky. Also quite unexpected for those still thinking along the lines of the two previous full-lengths (_The Destoryer_ and _Squeeze the Trigger_).

"Yes, the second part of _I&S_ is more style-oriented towards my Mille Plateaux work. A lot of people don't know where to get that material, but we re-released it on our Geist label. But anyway, that material was a big reason for doing this album: I wanted to bring both styles together in some way. They are two very different sides of my personality and they can't live without each other even though they're very separated. The Mille Plateaux releases have always been ignored by the press, and I have always felt cornered by their attempts to push me into the corner labelling me as "the guy who does this one thing". Hopefully, they won't be able to deny my work on this kind of music anymore, as well as the many collaborations I did with a wide range of musicians. Bjork, Nicolette, Einsturtzende Neubauten, Anti-Pop..."

Considering Alec Empire has been remixing artists in very diverse music styles, one might wonder what he himself likes to listen to when he's not working. Obviously, there must be some interest in both electronic music as well as punk, but what does he really consider to be a good listen?

"At the moment I listen to a lot of jazz, especially Sun Ra, but on the other hand I listen to a lot of rock as well. Usually the very dumb stuff, like AC/DC, but also metal bands like Annihilator. Honestly, I don't really listen to a lot of electronic music myself. We get sent a lot of stuff for our label, and I'm very often not that excited about it. There's a considerable lack of personality in electronic music nowadays. Most artists make music with a laptop, and I am really against that philosophy. You cannot create that physical energy that music is all about. On the other hand, there's a good upcoming digital hardcore scene in the United States and I think they're doing things with a fresh approach."

Now that the album has been released worldwide and some shows have been played (and there are more to come), one might wonder if the effect that _I&S_ has had on the fans has been as good as hoped. All the shows I have seen ATR play in the Netherlands were usually sold-out or jam-packed, but will Alec Empire solo draw the same audience as with ATR?

"This time around, we've had some really positive reactions from Germany, which is the most surprising thing we could think of. It might sound strange, but Germany has always been difficult territory for us. People don't understand our English. Actually, since last week the record _The Future of War_ is on the sales blacklist in Germany. We're still going to court to fight that decision, but what happened is that some school teacher found the booklet of that album on one of his students and he thought we were dangerous. The whole situation reminds me of how jazz music was treated in the Third Reich, it's ridiculous."

"Anyway, the reason we also didn't actively promote ourselves in Germany is because we have always gotten better offers from America, Japan, England and other countries, so we never really played that much in Germany. We never did a Germany tour to begin with. Nowadays, it's turned into a love/hate relationship, because now that the Beastie Boys have promoted us people suddenly start to like us as well. But now I want to build Germany."

"Japanese people have always been good to us, but they are very difficult. If they 'love' you, they go insane, almost over the top. If they 'like' you, they don't show any emotions. I've seen bands play in front of audiences where everybody is just standing there and not even applauding, but that still doesn't mean they don't like the music. It's very strange. But I don't think there's any country which has been particularly easy for us. I can however name you countries that have been difficult for us: besides Germany, it has always been difficult to get a gig in Finland! Same with Norway, although I don't know why. But this time around, we're going to do our best. We're going to destroy every country, I can assure you!"

(article submitted 1/9/2002)

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