No one would argue know that the Sex Pistols were not influential to today’s music scene. The same goes for Public Enemy. Or Black Sabbath. Or Bill Haley. What do these all have in common? Well, at the time they broke into the music scene, lots of people questioned whether what they were playing constituted music in the first place. Sometimes, people are just not prepared for such a large leap in musical innovation (need I remind of you of Marty McFly’s sage words in Back to the Future: “I guess you’re not ready for this but your kids are gonna love it!”) Atari Teenage Riot will likely fall into that same category. 1997’s Burn Berlin Burn was a punch in the teeth of today’s modern, bland music scene.
And that’s exactly what Digital Hardcore Records (DHR) owner Atari Teenage Riot leader Alec Empire wants. Alec’s description at the DHR website (http://www1.digitalharcore.com/) sums it up like so: “Digital Hardcore – that is to say guitar samples, distorted breakbeats, 909, manga samples and shouting, very noisy. Riot sounds produce riots! We are left-radical. Anarchists perhaps, we do not want to change the system, we have to destroy it.”
The caustic fusion of European drum and bass/jungle with German metal/hardcore was spawned from a desire to take the protest music away from the neo-nazi skinheads who adopted it as their own. ATR’s first single, the oh-so-subtly titled “Hunting for Nazis,” caused quite an uproar in its native Germany when it was released in 1992. This just fed the fire, so Alec started Digital Hardcore Records, which today boasts an impressive roster of acts (Shizuo, EC8OR, Bomb20 and more) and a major distribution deal with Elektra Entertainment Group (the same people who bring you the Cure and Busta Rhymes).
Sixty Second Wipeout is the logical progression from Burn Berlin Burn (this writer’s favorite disc of 1997). Alec (shouts and programming), Carl Crack (mic), Hanin Elais (“vocals”) and Nic Endo (shouts) come barreling at the listener right from the opening note of “Revolution Action.” Sounding like demonic cheerleaders, Crack and Elais shout revolutionary slogans back and forth while Empire just does what he does best: create a truly unique sonic experience.
But whereas Burn Berlin Burn excelled in its brutality and cacophony, there is something more controlled about Sixty Second Wipeout. “Western Decay,” a slow, rolling song reminiscent of Ministry circa The Land of Rape and Honey, is one of the best tracks ATR has put together. The song’s sinister synth bassline and programming bring a focus to the angst and anger on Crack and Elias vocals that is sometimes missing on more violent tracks.
In other places, Wipeout breaks other ground for ATR. “Ghostchase” has much more of a drum n bass feel, and seems much more accessible for the radio listener. In a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, “Ghostchase” is most like Aphex Twins “Come to Daddy,” with sweeping sequencer lines and spasmodic breaks. The same can be said for “Atari Teenage Riot II,” the sequel to Berlin’s modern rock radio hit “Atari Teenage Riot.” The chanting and shouting, right down to the chorus (“Atari teenage riot! Go! Go! Go!”) can’t help but be catchy, but at the same time disturbing. That’s the insidious nature of Alec Empire.
At points, ATR flirts with self-parody, though. The downright laughable track “Too Dead for Me” consists of loud guitars and drums and the repeated line “Youre too dead for me.” That’s about it. Rather that capturing the anger and energy that other tracks contain, it ends up sounding contrived and artificial. “Death to the President D.I.Y.” also falls into the same trapping of going too over the top.
Overall, though, Sixty Second Wipeout still delivers the electro-shock therapy that music so desperately needs. Wipeout never reaches the anarchist highs of Berlins “Deutschland Has Gotta Die” or “Not Your Business,” but the controlled fury of “Western Decay” and “Ghostchase” more than make up for it. ATR continues to shatter the boundaries of musical convention.
Sixty Second Wipeout is not for everyone. On it, Atari Teenage Riot captures the raw energy on which the digital hardcore genre is based. Most radio listeners aren’t ready for the sonic assault and ultra-left wing politics that ATR delivers, but for those of you who want to hear something new, Sixty Second Wipeout is for you. Like the Sex Pistols before them, the members of Atari Teenage Riot balance the fine line between music and noise, but somehow anarchy never takes over.