Words like 'innovator' and 'genius' find themselves bandied around far too easily these days, yet whenever the name Alec Empire crops up in conversation, it's difficult to say anything else about him. Undoubtedly years ahead of his time, the fact Atari Teenage Riot have been making confrontational music for 20 years now yet still sound like nothing else on Earth speaks volumes.
Not that those past two decades have been plain sailing. Anything but in fact, with violence, inter-band fallouts and drug-related tragedy all playing a part in ATR's checkered history. Of course this wouldn't mean a thing were it for the fact that during their height of productivity between 1995 and 1999, Atari Teenage Riot were responsible for creating an altogether new brand of brain-crunching techno married to punk aesthetics with a political fervour. If Delete Yourself and The Future Of War sowed the seeds in an era where backward-looking Britpop reigned supreme, then 60 Second Wipe Out sounded like the storm erupting from heaven to wake such languid revivalists from their slumbering complacency. Perhaps not surprisingly, the band didn't quite receive the acclaim their groundbreaking sound merited at the time, but as with all good things that suddenly disappear, their decade-long hiatus merely highlighted the alarming fact that no one had taken up the mantle to challenge the status quo on such an extreme scale since.
At the tail end of last year, DiS was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to speak to Alec Empire at length about the past and more importantly, the future. What became clear from the outset was the unbridled levels of excitement in his voice about the impending release of the new record he was putting together. Changes in personnel mean that the nucleus of Atari Teenage Riot - Empire, long-standing accomplice Nic Endo and new committal to the cause MC CX KiDTRONiK - has augmented a leaner approach than before, yet as Is This Hyppereal? exhibits quite ferociously, the results are no less powerful.
Although not a concept album, there's little doubt that Empire and co. have conjured a visceral, incisive record bursting with protest songs that take in everything from human trafficking to politically motivated organisation via the Internet. As expected, Is This Hyperreal? bludgeons the senses from start to finish. From the outset where a harsh crescendo of drums introduce 'Activate', both Empire and Endo take it in turns to trade slogans ("Too much government control", "Countdown to the meltdown") with genuine self-assessments ("Music sounds like a threat"). As brutal, no holds barred opening statements go, 'Activate' is as direct as it gets.
Not that proceedings lessen at any point. The Nic Endo led 'Blood In My Eyes' and 'Shadow Identity' both erupt in a deluge of noise and insurrection, the latter's "They don't get it, they just don't get it" possibly representing the nearest Atari Teenage Riot will ever get to writing a hook-induced chorus. 'Black Flags' meanwhile, Empire calling out "Anonymous teenage riot..." provocatively over a barrage of metallic riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on a Slayer or Mastodon record firmly encapsulates the spirit of Is This Hyperreal? while rendering the so-called new wave of noise terrorism like Crystal Castles redundant in an instant.
The title track itself may sound in passing like a future tense re-write of the KLF's 'What Time Is Love?', but there's a sinister undertone to Empire's lyrics, elevating it from routine techno territories. 'Rearrange Your Synapses' also does pretty much what it says on the tin, Empire's mid-song call to arms "The internet is a working creation of a black hole that sucks up all our creation, time and freedom" ringing disturbingly true. 'Digital Decay' homes in at what sounds like a thousand beats per minute, while penultimate number 'The Only Slight Glimmer Of Hope' complete with heavily orchestrated industrial breakdown carries Is This Hyperreal?'s malevolent storm right through to the bitter end.
By the time Empire declares "I want to become a threat to no one but myself" before bringing both 'Collapse Of History' and Is This Hyperreal? to an end, the listener is left in little doubt as to the intentions of its creators. Indeed with such a raging fire burning through their bellies, this stands up alongside 60 Second Wipe Out as possibly Atari Teenage Riot's most potent collection of songs to date, and what's more, in a climate besieged with apathy and despondence, their relevance today cannot be underestimated.
An impeccable return.
8Dom Gourlay's Score