The Real Atari Teenage Riot

Cover art from one of the group's singles.

Atari Teenage Riot leader Alec Empire ought to be more careful about what he

wishes for. When Empire exhorted his digital hardcore minions to "Start the

Riot," on the band's domestic debut, Burn, Berlin, Burn!, and to "Fuck

All," he couldn't have imagined they'd take him so literally.

The band,

whose technology-meets-punk sound--a torrent of beats, shouted lyrics and

metal-crunching samples, is cut whole from a cloth of aggression and pent-up

rage--were recently in Chicago as part of their stint opening for Beck when an

after-hours show turned a bit chaotic.

The 2:30 a.m. show at Metro this

past Saturday night (April 12), began with a set from DJ Jethrox of the

Milwaukee-based Drop Bass Network, followed by Chicago scene veterans Seam,

and, finally, ATR, who hit the stage around 4 a.m. A witness told ATN that the

sell-out crowd of 800+ were primed for the high-energy show, so hopped-up, it

seems, that one patron pulled out a pocket knife more than a half-hour into the

show and severed Empire's microphone cord.

According to the witness,

Empire continued to scream into the mic for a bit, not realizing what had

happened, then got flustered and threw it down, tipped over his equipment and

left the stage.

We recently spoke to Empire...

We recently spoke to Empire about ATR and the (sometimes

mixed) response the band have been getting from American audiences on their

first tour of the U.S., including our suspicion that some of his new fans might

not exactly be down with the program as Empire envisions it.

"I don't

think what we're doing is aggressive in the way NIN is aggressive," Empire

said, citing the frequency with which ATR is compared with Trent Reznor's

more-industrial leaning band. "The energy is different, because we never

listened to that music and never really liked it. Ours is aggressive in a more

positive way, sort of like the aggression in 70's punk rock."

Empire spoke

of his doctrine that "riot songs produce riots," and of his desire to use his

music to "push adrenaline through the body and give people a push," a push that

sometimes results in excess energy that must be channeled somewhere.


Empire, anything that damages the "system" and costs the state money qualifies

as a riot, since "it always helps to destroy the system."

So, since Empire

told us that some of ATR's hometown shows in Germany have actually sparked

mini-riots, we wondered what he expected from American audiences in terms of a

response and whether he thought Yanks could understand ATR's message.


not sure about America," Empire said, a week before the cord-cutting incident.

"In Europe people listen to us because of the message. They get it and I

was surprised how many Americans seemed to get it also."

As for those, who

like the misbegotten youth who saw Nirvana's "Polly" as a call-to-arms for

violence against women, might take ATR too literally, Empire said, "I see a

danger in that there's always that percentage of people who are there just for

entertainment. But you must be very stupid if you shout these statements or

interpret these statements and don't think about it."

We can only assume

he was talking about knuckleheads like that pocket-knife-wielding fan in

Chicago, who, ironically, in Empire's world anyway, is more a part of the

solution than the problem.