Two parts jungle, one part metal, one part punk and 10 parts turret-inspired revolutionary manifesto, Atari Teenage Riot is what happens when revolutions fail. In this case, the subversive moment was the acid house revolution of the late 1980s in Europe. The promise held out by the first generation of rave culture – the possibility of a community built on a perpetual orgasm laying to waste the oppressive structures of race, class, gender and sexuality – had dissolved back into the dominant society from which it originally provided an escape.
In Atari Teenage Riot’s native Berlin, the annual Love Parade – the apex of rave culture with more than a million people filling the streets – had became just another tourist attraction. It was another sign that capitalism had fully recovered from the student riots and revolts of the late ’60s, when 1 million people under 30 in the streets would have meant the overthrow of a government rather than a triumph of mere spectacle.
Hanin Elias, the screaming vocalist and co-writer of six of the 13 tracks on ATR’s new CD 60 Second Wipe Out, explains that the band (Elias, Alec Empire, Carl Crack and Nic Endo) was formed in response to these cultural trends in a musical scene that had once brought so much hope to those bored by the intolerant, beer-inspired punk offered to German youth in the ’80s. But the Berlin rave scene quickly soured, as Elias explains, with clubs and raves dominated by guys, none-too-subtle racism and the cult-of-the-DJ. In Elias’ words: "Oh, look at the DJ, how he collects the records. Oooohh aahhhh."
Nonetheless, the techno revolution made its mark on Elias and company. Name-checking Iggy, the MC5, Underground Resistance and the unique vibe and energy of Detroit techno, she says, "There must be something happening; all my favorite musicians are from Detroit." Public Enemy and Bikini Kill round out the arsenal of ATR’s sonic-revolutionary cannon – all of these can be heard cut and programmed together in the band’s attack. The results are wonderfully devastating.
Elias, who is also in the process of putting out records on her own female-only label, Fatal (says Hanin, "It’s our own space to develop our own style"), also gives props to French post-structuralist theory, from Guy Debord and the Situationists to the schizo-analysis of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. But she denies any pretentious academic leanings. ATR, she argues, has always wanted to keep the language simple and obvious, partly to guard against right-wing co-option, but also to guard against indie rock elitism and the rarefied air of the academy.
Quoting from the best graffiti of May 1968, Elias declares that ATR has always been about "demanding the impossible," to let people know that there is something else besides fascists, racists and overall wankers. ATR opts for the role of revolutionary toasters using blunt and direct language to, ideally, inspire would-be listener-rioters (they should know: ATR was recently arrested for inciting a riot at a recent show) and provide a sound track that’ll cement riotous events – wildcat strikes, random violence against the state, disorder in department stores, etc. – together.
It’s an old theory that goes back to Marx’s essays on the Paris Commune in 1871, but welded to ATR’s programming prowess, all-star sampladelia fever and endless energy – as well as humor – it sounds downright frightening.Carleton S. Gholz writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org