Review : Atari Teenage Riot - Is This Hyperreal?
PitchforkAtari Teenage Riot existed at a previously unimaginable fulcrum of genres, using every ingredient they could find to come up with an ecstatically assaultive squall. Their twisting, roiling blare had elements of pounding industrial, of mouth-foaming hardcore punk, of brutally fast hardcore rave, of scraping electronic noise, of thrash-metal bombast, of wriggling drill-n-bass, of Bomb Squad-style attack-beats. Their specific chaotic combination added up to German-accented ridiculousness ("Deutschland! Has gotta! Diiieeee!") screamed over hyperspeed 808 pounds and digitally treated guitar fuzz; it seemed scientifically engineered to annoy as many people as possible. It was impossible to dance or talk or read or drive or do anything else while they were playing. I tried so hard to like them, and I mostly succeeded, even though my friends would give me tons of shit anytime I played their records.
For a brief moment in the mid-1990s, the group seemed like the future. They released records on Grand Royal, they opened the much-touted Rage Against the Machine/Wu-Tang Clan tour, and they spearheaded their own little mini-scene with their Digital Hardcore label. But after 11 years of inactivity, it's pretty clear that they didn't exactly change the conversation. You can detect pieces of their style in a few musical movements that have come along since: the Teutonic-accented confrontationalism of electroclash, the low-budget rabble-rousing computer-pop of early M.I.A., the squealing brickwalled dance-metal of Justice. But Atari Teenage Riot didn't transcend their moment. So their new album, Is This Hyperreal?, is a curious thing indeed: a nostalgic work that evokes an idea of the future that turned out to be absurd. Listening to it is like watching a remake of Johnny Mnemonic.
The reconstituted Atari Teenage Riot of 2011 isn't really the same group from that mid-90s moment. Unhinged hypeman Carl Crack died in 2001. Lead screamer Hanin Elias is long gone, though replacement Nic Endo sounds almost exactly like her. There's also a new member: laughably clumsy American MC CX Kidtronik (sample lyrics: "My fist! My fist! I bang my fist! Against a concrete wall!"). But even with a ton of membership turnover, Atari Teenage Riot sound very, very similar to what mastermind Alec Empire first unleashed a decade and a half ago. Then again, it's not like those early records left a whole lot of room for aesthetic advancement (what, were they going to find a new genre of noisy assault music to incorporate?). But it's still pretty weird that this band's overwhelming fury has not mellowed in the slightest since they've been away. They're not teenagers anymore, but you'd never know it from listening to them....full text
ConsequenceofsoundThe French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once claimed that “The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction…The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal…which is entirely in simulation.”
With that in mind, consider the following thoughts on the several lyrical embarrassments that comprise Is This Hyperreal?, the new album by Atari Teenage Riot. First, let’s look at “Black Flags”. Beginning, as songs sometimes annoyingly do, with the speaking of the band’s own name–“Atari Teenage Riot. Anonymous teenage riot. Are you ready to testify?”–the track continues, over loud, but not very interesting, beats and unpleasantly distorted instruments, with phrases like “The government dislikes you” and “What they call law is used to restrain us ordinary citizens who are opposed to this.”
It’s all a bit juvenile…and not all that hard to compare, given the subject matter, with veteran shouting rebel rockers Rage Against the Machine, whose own “Testify” knocks this out of the park. Still further, “Codebreaker” asserts that “We don’t ask for permissions because permissions are not granted,” without ever explaining what permissions the band want (if it is the band who’s singing, here, and not an implied “Us”), and who exactly isn’t granting them. “Re-arrange Your Synapse” has a nice little synth part, which, unfortunately, backgrounds more ridiculous lyrics: “Look at what society has become: any one can get tortured, any one can disappear,” it says....full text
TinymixtapesWhen Atari Teenage Riot were last together, I was still in high school. This was, according to Agent Smith in the first Matrix movie, the peak of human civilization. Francis Fukuyama imagined that The End of History had been reached. Seemingly, all that middle-class punks like me had to protest was corporate-controlled globalization, a nebulous term whose parameters I was never quite sure of. Ten years later, the global political landscape has become vastly more complex, or, at least, my understanding of it has (I hope), and Atari Teenage Riot, in many ways the soundtrack to the No Logo-reading, Adbusting, Battle-in-Seattle-style activism of the 90s, have reunited for a new album. How have they developed over the last 10 years? Their political rhetoric was always questionable, but what mattered most was never the content of their lyrics, but the sonic form of the music, a sound leader Alec Empire branded Digital Hardcore: an encounter of hardcore techno, anarcho-punk, and metal on a rapidly-mutating skeleton of anarchist pep rally chants set to punishing breakbeats. This form literally enacted the political values their sometimes cringe-inducing, badly-translated slogans could not. On this new album, it’s not so much a problem that they remain stuck in the 90s politically, but more that their music seems so irrelevant sonically and willing to wallow in a mid-tempo techno-metal goth-night ghetto.
Alec Empire and ATR have roots in hardcore techno as much as hardcore punk. First single “Hunting for Nazis” was released on Force Inc., and is a competent breakbeat techno track. Alec Empire’s compositions would explode along with the rise of gabba in the early 90s, utilizing the distorted kick drum running at speeds of 180 to 250 BPM that is the characteristic sound of gabba to bring an unprecedented mix of chaos and militancy to the basic midrange rock template. Gabba artist The Original Gabber arrived at a remarkably similar sound with Headbanger , but at that time, ATR’s embrace of hardcore techno was extremely forward-looking for a group with a rock-band setup. However, in the era of the ubiquitous laptop mashup DJ, not to mention the mashup iPhone app, ATR’s sound is less singular and essential. It takes more than this to start a riot....full text
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