ATARI TEENAGE RIOT are back. After ten years of silence, they are touring again and spreading their political activism. We met ALEC EMPIRE at their tour stop in Jena and talked about the reasons for touring again, about the new political challenges and why they will not get friends with SONY.

Photo by Daniel Sims

Hi Alec, thank you for having us. You’ve been off the screen more or less for ten years. Why the reunion, if you want to call it like this?
Alec- Well that’s not so easy, it’s gonna be a long answer…
It happened rather by coincidence. I was pretty skeptic and it was Hanin Elias who made the first step to working together again. In 2009, she suggested if we should not play that London show, after we kind of broke up after the last show in London ten years before. Hanin asked if we wanted to make up again, because before we were pretty much at odds with each other. Hanin always was the uncertain variable in the band, being in one day and leaving the other. The whole situation escalated at the Brixton (Brixton Academy London, Ed.) show, which also was released as a live record. There you can see how done we have been at that time. We were burnt out and Hanin had again left the band on the afternoon right before the show. We always have looked at ATR more open, as a project, but of course we needed to work together as a reliable team and that was not given anymore.
We have been touring and releasing records steadily for years. In 2001 Carl Crack died and that was the definite end of the band for me. (Carl Crack was founding member of ATR, Ed.) I didn’t see a reason to go back. I also was quite busy with my ALEC EMPIRE stuff, the record went pretty well. It didn’t feel like ATR needs to come back. Also times have changed. After September 11, we wondered if it’s smart to further add fuel to the fire with our lyrics. We had the impression that our lyrics didn’t fit the society at that time anymore.
With all the strange feelings connected to the new approach of Hanin, we still wanted to give it a try, also because we felt we still owed the fans in London another show. 1999 was not really a show we wanted to be our last one. That would not have been a good end point.

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Overall we are surprised meeting so many people still digging our stuff 10 years after.

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Overall we are surprised meeting so many people still digging our stuff 10 years after. I’m mostly skeptical with all the bands coming back after a long time. There are not many good examples in my opinion, so we are careful about that.

Photo by Daniel Sims

Back to the London show: We wanted to make that show to kind of compensation for what happened before but found us in the same situation again. The location was sold out and Hanin was not showing up. So we agreed that Nic Endo should do many of her parts, as she did before already sometimes. Additionally, CX (CX KiDTRONiK, now member of ATR, Ed.) asked us if he should join the show. It was not about replacing Carl Crack or anything, but to create something new. CX brought his own lyrics and influence and we really liked that. All those new influences and constellations lead to the new ATR so to say.
Before the show, we also released the song Activate. In London, the majority of people where actually new fans who probably only knew our records. They were all going crazy and the British press, which already looked forward to write us down afterwards, was very surprised as well. They all shared the opinion that this sounds pretty new and not like a band just continuing after a break. We had a lot of fun and from then just continued on a step by step basis. There is no master plan. We just take what comes as long as it feels good.
We also saw a lot of political subjects which just needed to be talked about, like Wikileaks or Anonymous. And now it’s already two years since then.

The video to your new single “Collapse Of History” was shot in a mental institution. How was it working there?
Alec- That was pretty strange indeed. The song is about information overkill in which you loose your sense for place, time and history. We also reflect ourselves with that. The location in the suburbs of Paris really created a very special vibe. The institution is still in use, and so it happened that people walked through the set and we needed to talk and manage that. I think the actors playing the doctors also where influenced by that. It’s all in this special European, Northern aesthetic having an influence on the whole mood of the clip.

Photo by Daniel Sims

Let’s talk about SONY and the Playstation Spot.
(Alec was asked by SONY for a song they could use in an advertisement spot. He agreed and took all the money they got for it to support Anonymous members in the lawsuits also SONY, Ed.)
Alec- This story starts much earlier. With the video to Black Flags, we got in contact to many Anonymous activists. We had the idea that people covered their faces with black flags and where just laying around in public. Interestingly, people feel pretty uncomfortable with that and the police was showing up a lot. We also wanted to include kind of a gang shout sequence, with people rising up for their political message with a black flag. After the first version of the clip, many Anonymous people contacted us and wanted to hand in material. So we received more and more clips and sequences and Anonymous groups where using the track which we really liked. Then also clips of occupy demos, from Chile or from the Fukushima protests in Japan where sent. In the end there also came material from Julian Assange and we made the clip kind of a donation video for the different movements. So the clip got edited several times and really became a group project with many different contributors.

…copyright issues are also about big
companies taking your art without asking
you and you cannot really do something
about it

Then the request from Sony appeared. They needed a track and didn’t have much time as the ads where already booked. Some years before, they used music from us for a clip without asking. That was the first time I realized that copyright issues are also about big companies taking your art without asking you and you cannot really do something about it. I was really frustrated that they just can do it. You get a little compensation and that’s it.
Anyway as the new request came I saw the chance of making a point. So we gave them Black Flags. The money went directly to an organization which at that time also supported the Anonymous lawyers in the Sony Hacking case. I thought it would be pretty cool if they got the money right for their lawsuit with Sony. Originally, I wanted it to be more of an insider thing. But it just came together with Anonymous people arrested by the FBI and so on. So it became a big story in the US media and got a very special energy. Of course the Sony guys didn’t make me wait long. There was yelling at the phone and so on, but I just said I can do whatever I want with the money and they had nothing in their hands against me. It’s a scandal that kids are sued with 200.000 Dollars just because they brought their own software on a playstation. There must be at least some money to help those people.

But wasn’t it very naïve of SONY to think you give them a song and that’s it?
Alec- Well, in the big enterprises and record companies, they have the attitude that artists should go on their knees just to get some money or a contract. Artists are treated very nasty nowadays and seen as the douchebag singing their songs. If he doesn’t want it anymore, hundred others are waiting in line to take their place. It’s not about releasing records and developing artists over a longer time.

How was Dresden?
(ATR played a show during the anti-Nazi demo in Dresden in February 2012)
Alec- It was great and I’m happy we did it. Great show and very positive atmosphere. You know, it’s a pretty frustrating subject and there is a lot of aggressive power led in the wrong direction. But there, many people just made their point that they are annoyed of all the Nazi shit. I think it’s different than back in the 90s. People are standing up in a different way and the support of protest from all kinds of people is broader. On the one hand we should not make the problem bigger as it is but on the other hand it is just not to tolerate. In England and other countries I’m constantly being asked how we do that with only having Nazis in especially Eastern Germany. They really think that this is a majority here. We tell them, and that was one important point of playing there, that people are working against it all the time, not just at some demos. But many people just see the protests once in a while. I think there is a big need to clarify something and transport a correct picture of what is going on here without losing the sense for the dangers. But mass media always likes the rather dramatic stories.

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Photo by Daniel Sims

The real danger comes from several ideas which come to people’s minds through the backdoor and stick there.

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How do you see the Nazi scene today? The violent guys on the streets don’t seem to be the core of it anymore?
Alec- Sure, already back in the 90s we said that the real problem is not on the streets. The real danger comes from several ideas which come to people’s minds through the backdoor and stick there. If you look at how people can be spied through the internet for example, you can see inhuman tendencies violating privacy. One needs to be very careful not to step in those traps just because it looks modern. 
I’m also very skeptic about the direction Germany went with all the national attitude, not in a Nazi sense, but with all the flags and the new self-awareness of the state. Also in regards to music, with discussions about quotas of German music and so on. You should not regulate that, artists should just do what they like and if they want to sing in German, fine. But not because of a quota. I think it’s not very helpful to foster a German image or something.
Also looking at the current European crisis, the national attitude brings more rivalry but we should rather search for a common solution. Nobody has an easy answer here.

What is your opinion towards capitalism? Abolish or reform?

Money is just an agreement,
not the root of all evil.

Alec- First, I see a misunderstanding here. Many people think that money is the problem. I never shared that opinion. I think money is just a tool. If you look at what goes wrong at Wall Street then money is not to blame as still people are making the decisions. Money is just an agreement, not the root of all evil. I also don’t agree that all people are greedy, a pretty common believe. In business, in relations even in marriages many theories base on greed. I think that’s not the reality. I see the exact opposite in many ways and therefore I think there is also a good way to use money as a tool.
What I really see as a problem is the role of the state in connections with big corporations. It causes much frustration if you have the impression that politicians are just put there to manage the population. That led to raising problems. For example the banks: Many people lost their money but still trust banks and put their money there. Why? Because there is always kind of a state certification that it’s proven and regulated. So you trust it, just because of this label. You would not put your money in somebody’s hands you don’t know normally. I think many people would be much more careful if the state would not be involved. There would be no bale outs of bad banks or anything. The system would rely more on who you trust and who you don’t trust.

Photo by Daniel Sims

Of course now it’s too late and we have many victims who need help. The frustration comes because many people lost money and the responsible people are hiding. In big corporations, single managers don’t take responsibility anymore.
The crisis also raised a lot of insecurity. You can make a good job in a growing company but still be fired. The old rules are invalid. We don’t talk enough about the destructive forces for the individual. I know many people in their twenties who have zero motivation. They don’t know why they should put their energy in something which they cannot influence or worse, you get fired in the end. But I don’t trust politics to change something here as this system is very static. I believe in the forces of the community and that we can find solutions amongst us with the help of rationality and our ideas. That’s new as we always relied on the state that would put money in and start programs. But many things can be managed between us. To come to that we of course need to be active. A wait and see attitude doesn’t help here.
But I’m optimistic that people will manage that. I think people use their minds once they need to take responsibility. Many people just do not use their potential enough. I hope we can take something positive out of all that and change the passive minds.

Our always final question: What does hope and passion mean for you?
Alec- Passion is the engine for everything. I’m aware that passion can change and it’s not always about the same things. In change you always learn new things you didn’t expect. And hope, well I don’t just want to sit and hope, but sometimes a good portion of hope is also helpful.

interview by Axel Kunz & Robert Helbig

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ATARI TEENAGE RIOT
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electropunk / digital hardcore

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