Atari Teenage Riot - Electric Ballroom
The last thing that goes through your mind before an Atari Teenage Riot gig kicks off is probably, “Maybe I should’ve worn ear plugs? Nah, they’d make me look like a loser”. Two days later and your ears are still ringing, your legs still aching and your endorphin levels are dangerously depleted. You feel decidedly less resilient.
In the early nineties, Atari Teenage Riot introduced digital hardcore to the world. Front man (if ATR could possibly be described as having one), Alec Empire recently explained that digital hardcore was born out of a rave culture very specific to Germany. In England there was a sense of togetherness and ecstasy-fuelled unity whereas Germany was riddled with a more troubled heroin and speed scene. Rather than an aid to hedonism, digital hardcore was the product of dependence; something darker ran through its veins.
This is their first UK performance in a decade and despite a shuffling of the line-up, the gig lacks nothing. Carl Crack’s death in 2001 was one of the key reasons the band split, as were the disputes between Hanin Elias and the rest of the band which resurfaced as soon as talks of a reunion emerged. But, the triumphant entrance of Alec Empire, Nic Endo and new addition, MC CX Kidtronik was met by a genuine adrenaline frenzy. Unlike some reunions, it didn’t feel like an excitement based on nostalgia. Mere days after the country shifted to Tory power, the crowd of punks, cyber-goths and noise fans are genuinely angry. The army is mobilized: activate!
It took Empire all of two songs to rip off his top, reminding the audience that despite being 38, he’s still got the body of a teenager and the energy of rebellion that only angst and idealism can fuel. ATR pedal far too much aggression for one front man, so each of the trio tag team to be the leader of the revolt. From this side of the stage, it’s bloody relentless. Nic Endo was feeling suitably insane; ramming her head into the monitors and screaming the mantras of the band with absolutely terrifying commitment. Her face was daubed with her trademark Japanese war paint, meaning ‘resistance’. She expertly bridges sexy and psychotic. Replacing MC Carl Crack with MC CX Kidtronik was a risk that could have deflated the whole reunion, but from the second he took the focus, we were sold. He shared the mission statement. He wasn’t a tourist filling a vacancy, he was a fully qualified noise terrorist. Midijunkies, we’re gonna fuck you up!
At one point, rammed against the barrier, I had Alec Empire towering over me, Kidtronik tumbling around the crowd, rolling into my neck and about a thousand shoulders bashing into mine like a Newton’s Cradle. I looked to my left to see my housemate grinning through a bleeding lip with his top off being thrown around the room. It always strikes me that as a rule of thumb, the more hardcore and chaotic the gig, the friendlier the audience are. I was filled with dread when I lost my footing as the whole of the crowd lurched against me and I was dragged under. Before I had properly processed the situation though, the same people I was sandwiched by grabbed my disgustingly sweaty torso and yanked me back to safety. We are lucky that health and safety restrictions haven’t cracked down on this level of nihilism in art and it seems that the fans realise it can only continue if we are responsible with it.
The night imploded to an end with a great crashing noise finale. Every sampler was treated like a percussion instrument. Empire brandished his synth guitar – a Yamaha SU10 sampler that he’s Blue Peter-ed to look like a death metal guitar and attached a strap so he can rock out on it. Kidtronik climbed the rafters and put each of the monitors on their side, facing the audience, doubling the wall of sound. The work of the noise terrorists was done. They had subjected us to an aural devolution and sent us home walking like Neanderthals, deafened to the extent that you couldn’t tell if the Underground train was moving or not.
Alec Empire made a brief speech about how they felt England were owed a proper show after the notorious white noise shambles that was their Nine Inch Nails support slot in 1999. This was that show. If we needed any proof, the two-day Tinnitus was surely evidence enough.