Atari Teenage Riot's insightful frontman |


Atari Teenage Riot's insightful frontman

Alec Empire talks about being unmoved by Nirvana, his band mates, and more

To understand German techno-punk auteur Alec Empire, start with the knowledge that he may be the only person on earth who was unmoved by Nirvana’s breakthrough. ”I thought bands that smashed their guitars…it looked so conservative and old,” Empire, 25, says. ”In America, people got excited about it because it wiped away so many of these bad heavy metal bands, so maybe there was something good about it. But the grunge stuff, it didn’t make any sense to me.” He doesn’t have much use for the electronica scene, either, which he terms ”so boring.”

What makes much more sense to Empire is Digital Hardcore: the name of his record company and the name of the apocalyptic noise he both creates (with his band, Atari Teenage Riot) and releases on that label (like EC8OR). On such ATR albums as their current Burn, Berlin, Burn!, Empire and his band mates (Hanin Elias, Carl Crack, and Nic) combine a slew of mostly unauthorized samples — a guitar riff from an old punk album here, a drumbeat from a vintage hip-hop or soul record there — into a loud, scuzzy, intentionally abrasive whole. ”The idea was to combine styles of music that have a revolutionary energy to them,” Empire says. ”Our favorite record is Otis Redding’s Monterey Pop live album. Everything is very noisy and very fast and full of energy. That influenced us a lot.”

Empire’s music may be enough to clear a room, but it’s also attracted high-profile fans. Digital Hardcore is now distributed in the U.S. by Grand Royal, the Beastie Boys’ label. And Atari Teenage Riot recently completed a tour of the U.S. as opening act for noisemaker peers Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan. ”Most music that’s happening now is easy listening,” Empire sums up. ”It’s not exciting, and this is what music should be about. Even in the clubs, you have these beats in the background, but no one really cares. I don’t think that’s any fun.”