Atari Teenage Riot – Is This Hyperreal? (2011)

Posted: May 10, 2011 in Music

Back in the early/mid 1990s when I was working in a seedy record store in downtown Denver, I was subjected to tons of interesting bands that were considered “underground” at the time. Bands such as Type O Negative, Ministry and KMFDM went on to various levels of success – but one of my favorite bands from that time that never really surfaced to the ranks of commercial popularity was Atari Teenage Riot.

Formed in Berlin in 1992 as a counter-attack to the neo-nazi techno scene, founding members Alec Empire, Hanin Elias and MC Carl Crack fused an energetic mix of industrial techno with heavy guitars and punk lyrics. The result was one of the most chaotic, heavy, violent forms of music ever recorded. Their unique style and vicious live performances led to a contract with Europe-based Phonogram Records – which gave the band an enormous advance in 1993. The band used the money to create their own label (Digital Hardcore Records), but never gave Phonogram anything they could release commercially.

After cutting a few records and countless live shows (many which led to the arrest of Empire and mates for inciting violence), the band joined forces with vocalist Nic Endo in 1997. The first record featuring Endo was also their last – 1999’s 60 Second Wipeout. The band broke up in 2000, ending a near decade-long run of groundbreaking chaos and political messages that caused quite the stir in the underground scene. Hanin Elias formed her own label for female artists, and MC Carl Crack, long known as a rabid drug abuser, died of an overdose in 2001. Empire, meanwhile, went on to find decent success as a solo artist/DJ/producer. He released four solo albums between 2000-2010 as well as mixed, remixed and produced many albums from other bands along the way.

But like all great bands that break-up, a reunion was inevitable. In 2009, Hanin Elias contacted Alec Empire in hopes of reuniting the band. And while she later had to rescind the offer due to vocal problems, Empire and Nic Endo moved forward with the reunion, bringing MC CX Kidtronik into the mix. Heavyweight Steve Aoki & Dim Mak Records signed the band in 2010, and released the first piece of new music from Atari Teenage Riot in over ten years in the form of the single “Activate” last October. The single garnered rave reviews (no pun intended) and would inevitably be the first track for the new full-length recording Is This Hyperreal?, scheduled for a June 7, 2011 release worldwide.

Which brings us to the now. I had the chance to listen to the album – and while my anticipation was elevated, the realist in me was mildly concerned that the energy and frantic sound would be replaced with the technical noodlings Empire has now become famous for.

The verdict is in, and Atari Teenage Riot are definitely back, and definitely ready to regain their glory in the underground industrial scene. But before you dig out your strobe light necklaces and procure a sheet of acid to take to the all-night rave, you have to take a few things into account:

First off, the band is older and wiser than it once was. While early messages from the band conjured up feelings of violence and anarchy, the modern-day version of ATR is a bit calmer. The messages today are just as anti-establishment as they always were, but they come across smarter and with a sense of solution.

Secondly, while early efforts from ATR were layered heavily in drum-and-bass sound, those elements are all but gone from this album. More modern instrumentals and arrangements are the new sound – but fear not: it’s just as panic-inducing and frenetic as it was ten years ago. Empire has proven that while his skills have vastly grown, his soul still thrives for the anti-nazi, fist-pounding anthems that stir one’s groove and rattles one’s mind simultaneously. Call it subliminal recruitment, but one can’t help but ponder the state of the world while jumping up and down to the craziness that can only be Atari Teenage Riot.

The album has plenty to offer from a message standpoint. “Activate,” “Black Flags,” and “The Only Glimmer of Hope” are standard anti-government anthems, while the band takes on the internet and technology full force with the magnificent “Codebreaker,” Digital Decay” and “Shadow Identity.”

The Nico-heavy “Blood In My Eyes” addresses human trafficking and sexual exploitation from a woman’s perspective, and the title track – though a stretch in style for the band – is a beautiful, atmospheric piece telling a tale of revolution through protest (which, I imagine, is directed towards the German government of today as a bit of a warning.)

The crown jewel of this album, however, is the closing track “Collapse of History,” which opens with a recreation of the classic Atari video game “Pong.” The lyrics bring forth the message of diversity and the advantages to an info-ready, internet driven society where the past present and future are seamlessly intertwined through the internet and technology. There is even a huge choral arrangement heard during a refrain that, after researching, was simply Empire layering 40 tracks of single vocals to create a sound echoing a Russian military choir.

The album, in it’s entirety, is a welcome return to form for one of the underground’s brightest bands of years gone by. Couple it with a renewed energy from Empire and a maturation band-wide, and Atari Teenage Riot is definitely back on the map.


01 – Activate
02 – Blood In My Eyes
03 – Black Flags
04 – Is This Hyperreal
05 – Codebreaker
06 – Shadow Identity
07 – Rearrange Your Synapses
08 – Digital Decay
09 – The Only Slight Glimmer Of Hope
10 – Collapse Of History

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  1. shamtest says:

    I can’t seem to fully load this post from my droid!!!!

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