Many big artists have embraced ATR for over two decades: from Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl to Björk to Trent Reznor to Rage Against The Machine to Steve Aoki, and Skrillex.
When ATR’s leader Alec Empire created the group’s ‘Digital Hard-core’ sound in 1992 (!) in the Berlin techno underground, he combined the most powerful elements of techno, punk, and hip hop and, subsequently, disrupted the music scenes on all continents for years to come.
Radio legend John Peel was the first in the 90s to push Alec Empire’s music in his weekly radio shows on the BBC and helped to establish it worldwide.
When The Beastie Boys released the Atari Teenage Riot album “Burn Berlin Burn!” in 1997, it reached gold status in the US and ATR started touring with Rage Against The Machine, Wu Tang Clan, Beck, Moby, Ministry, and Nine Inch Nails.
In September 2001 the band was forced to stop because its core member Carl Crack was found dead in his apartment in Berlin. A few days later terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th and the world changed.
Just a few months earlier ATR had released the single “Rage” which featured Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine on guitars. It was planned for this track to lead into the band’s fourth album. Everything came to a halt and the label DHR put out a "Best Of..." compilation and the live recording of Atari Teenage Riot’s legendary noise show at London’s Brixton Academy in 1999.
While the band was working on a new strategy, Alec Empire and Nic Endo were very active as solo artists with soundtracks, remixes, and critically acclaimed solo albums. Alec Empire’s “Intelligence & Sacrifice” -- which garnered him the cover of Kerrang Magazine in 2002 -- was honored with the “Spirit Of Independence” award the same year.
Nic and Alec kept touring as Alec Empire solo and added musicians like Nine Inch Nails’ Charlie Clouser, Masami Akita (Merzbow) or members of bands like Amen and The Locust to the line up. Alec Empire headlined festival stages such as Fuji Rock, Redding & Leeds, and many others.
When Atari Teenage Riot’s song “Speed” was used in a key scene in the film Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift in 2006, a whole new generation was introduced to the sound of Atari Teenage Riot. When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, new and old fans expected the group to become active again. The War Against Terror didn’t seem to end, and people feared the collapse of the global economy.
Hacker activists like Anonymous and Wikileaks pushed ATR songs online and added to the buzz and excitement surrounding the band. Alec Empire was invited by the Chaos Computer Club to give the key note speech at the international hacker convention in front of ca. 10.000 people in 2014. In 2016, the hacker and security conference Recon in Montreal, Canada invited the band to play live at their opening event.
This was no coincidence. In the 90’s, ATR’s lyrics described a dystopian future in which multi-national corporations would team up with governments to create a modern surveillance society with the help of technology, creating an evironment where the individual loses many of the freedoms gained in the 20th century.
Germany’s dark history of the Nazis and the socialist GDR that followed them made the musicians aware of the current threats to democracy. Because Atari Teenage Riot was so close to the hacker scene from the beginning, they knew of many worst case scenarios that modern technology could potentially trigger.
In 2010, suddenly these threats felt more and more like the reality many people faced in their everyday lives. It was not regarded as some pessimistic view of the future. More people started to understand why Atari Teenage Riot was addressing these topics. Younger people who were into the harder side of Dubstep and EDM were especially thralled by ATR, who they thought of as more than just dance music; which often has little or no meaning at all.
Atari Teenage Riot’s strength has always been their huge live show. The band creates a tremendous energy on stage that is not matched by any other electronic music act. They do it with an Atari 1040ST computer. They apply the hacker’s mindset to music. These extremes make ATR’s sound unique. They digitized the spirit of punk.
Atari Teenage Riot are the glitch in the system.
They speak out against conformity, fascist tendencies when they arise in modern society, and they address often uncomfortable truths in their lyrics. These "uncomfortable truths" led the German authorities to put the ATR album “The Future Of War” on the “index” in 2003, labelling it as a threat to society, blacklisting it. It was illegal to sell or play this album in public. Why? Because ATR described a Germany that the establishment wanted to hide: the growing militant far-right; the underlying racism; and secret arms deals with oppressive regimes. While the international music press celebrated Atari Teenage Riot as a true authentic voice from Berlin, Germany’s authorities tried to shut them down.
When the popularity of the far-right party AfD expanded during the last elections in Germany, many of Atari Teenage Riot’s critics understood that this development in Europe was something that ATR had warned about the whole time.
Alec Empire says:”I think it is a must for all artists to educate their audiences about these problems - A boxer wouldn’t simply go into a match unprepared, wouldn’t start training on the day of the fight. We as creatives have to look at reality every day or we lose the ground under our feet. It's also bad for the music itself, if you lock yourself up in an ivory tower and ignore what is happening. Especially many young people don’t have the tools to understand and analyze what gets thrown at them on social media. They react emotionally and don't know how to control their anger, don’t know how to channel it into something positive. Music can help people to self-determination. It can be far more than just entertainment. It can really make you think.