Digital Hardcore

Jun 2, 1999 at 12:00 am

A week or so before the release of its second album, all three members of Berlin’s Atari Teenage Riot were arrested while playing an anti-war protest in their native Germany for, of all things, inciting a riot. Footage from the scene, available on the band’s Web site, unintentionally plays like a promotional film and serves to show that if an angry mob needed theme music, ATR stands ready to provide it. Alec Empire and his cohorts in ATR are bent on bringing a political revolution to the dance floor and destroying the hippie-go-druggie feeling of the techno-dance scene. Along with a small group of like-minded musical anarchists, ATR has created its own genre: Digital Hardcore. It’s the sound of blind rage and machine guns, a mix of the anger and politics of punk and the pure, black hate of death metal mixed with today’s video game violence technology – a sort of Rage with the Machines.

ATR’s first album, Burn Berlin Burn, hit like a bomb. The group’s goal was to make music threatening again. The formula was a vehement mix of breakbeats bashing away at more than 200 bpm and guitar samples molested into a squall of distortion and noise, with shouted sloganeering attacks on pretty much everything the modern world has to offer. The only problem was that, for as refreshing and new as the ideas were, the songs all blurred together and the lyrics could be boiled down to "kill," "destroy," "dismantle," "riot."

On the follow-up, 60 Second Wipeout, the attack is both expanded and intensified. The group wields an array of new technology and studio mutations to avoid relying so heavily on outdated metal guitar riffs.

The resulting sound is a frantic, full-force attack that seems almost as though it could speed out of control into a blizzard of white noise, but is held teetering on the brink. With ATR now a four-piece, Empire and über-grrl Hanin Elis have developed a call-and-response tag-team approach to barking vocals that comes awfully close to rap. The jungle-hip hop influence is allowed to come out as beats are given just enough room to breathe and members of the Arsonists even rhyme on a couple of tracks. But the crux of ATR is still speed, anger and all-out sonic warfare. Atari Teenage Riot makes music to bludgeon the beast, pushing sonic aggression to new extremes. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those who think anger is a gift, ATR is heaven-sent.