You smell that? You smell that? That’s Camden Town, son. Nothing else inthe world smells like that: a heady cocktail of skunk, dogshit, exotic fastfood and solvents. Camden: home of the leaky Doc Marten, the inkpen tattooand the crude home dye-job, and maybe the most fitting location to place afinal punctuation point in the history of one the underground’s most belovedand feared acts.
It’s been over a decade since Atari Teenage Riot’sfearsome wall of 200 BPM digital distortion and screamed political polemichas risen in this city, and anticipation is through the roof. The queueoutside the Electric Ballroom is full of young men and women with murder intheir eyes. Clothing is predominantly black, with the occasional slash ofred.
After an eternity spent enduring a hideous and totally inappropriatesupport act whose sub-Fields Of The Nephilim meanderings and corny rockstar posturing would have been dated in 1986, a shuffly hip-hop drum loopsplashes off the walls as three figures take the stage. The skinny Japanesegirl with the painted face, you know her as Nic Endo, ATR’s resident noisemaker. Alec Empire, you know him as well, wiry and intense in tight blackt-shirt and jeans. He has, it is pleasing to report, ditched the blondhighlights which until recently made him look like a noise-rock DavidBeckham: pretty, but silly.
The third guy is a new addition, one CX Kidtronik, an American MC of limitedbut respectable reputation filling the hole left by the untimely death ofCarl Crack in 2001. Where, might you ask, is Hanin Elias, the bewitchinglyshrill yin to Alec’s yang? After all, this whole reunion was allegedly heridea. She has not made it, alas, amid rumours of a permanent rift betweenher and Alec. So tonight, Nic Endo will essentially be playing her role,bellowing her words, replicating her scream.
As the audience chants of “AY-TEE-AAAHH! AY-TEE-AAAHH!” begin to drownout the beat, the trio launch into new (and apparently final) releaseActivate. The audience become a grassland of thrashing limbs, the strobelights boil white-hot and the band’s scissor-kicks and throat-scouringvocals are exactly as they were in the Astoria 10 years ago.
Subtlety wasnever ATR’s strong suit, so sonically Nic Endo might as well be Hanin Elias.It’s a strange sight, this former ice queen of the laptop pitching forwardinto her mic in a tight white vest, inciting us to start the riot, squealingabout being sick to death like she’s never been sick before. The stocky,swaggering Kidtronik is all wonky ‘fro-hawk and funny light-up specsclimbing on the furniture and whipping his console with his sweatshirt.
Bythe fourth song (a fearsome Destroy 2000 Years of Culture) Alec hasditched his black T-shirt and started luxuriating in his own physicalbeauty, arching his back amid the roaring wind-tunnel of beats and whitenoise, stretching his pale, sinewy arms out to the audience, mic in hand(he’s one of the few people who can get away with “I can’t hear you,London!” without sounding like he’s cheerleading a pantomime), oftenraising them to his sides in a classic rock ‘n’ roll crucifixion pose, eyesclosed, head tilted in quasi-religious ecstasy.
As sheer spectacle, as sheer fun, Atari Teenage Riot are hard to beat,even in this truncated, cannibalised form. It’s hard to see it as a properreunion though, as much as we in the crowd want it to be, since Endo is apermanent fixture in Alec’s touring band anyway. The hits come thick andfast, Get Up While You Can blurring into Too Dead For Me as the randomaudience members pop out of nowhere, crowd-surfing toward the stage,bouncers suddenly appearing like a colony of vigilant meerkats to drag themout.
The rotor-blade blur of the beats is the same as it ever was, Alec’sspindly physique, Teutonic charm and willingness to get in amongst and bepassed above the crowd like a sacrificial offering are the same, but theabsence of Hanin Elias and Carl Crack is felt: the legendarily tense,waspish back-and-forth banter between Alec and Hanin was always a highlightof any ATR live show, and while Nic has her vocal patterns down pat shebrings a different energy to the room, more aggressive, less coquettishlyself-aware. Likewise CX Kidtronik is a fine substitute for Carl, a lot offun to watch as he prowls the stage menacingly, abuses his equipment andplays Spider-Man up the side wall, but his inter-song cries of “Blat Blat!”and “We are the A T motherfuckin’ R!” sound kind of generic and recycledbeneath the weight of Digital Hardcore’s legacy.
It doesn’t matter to the kids down the front however, some of whom weresurely only of primary school age when ATR were in their prime. As the bandencore with Ghost Chase and Alec and Nic tumble into the crowd once more,the kids reach for them hungrily, like lepers would for Christ.
The showends with an oddly subdued and touching coda. Alec reminds us of the band’snotorious performance at Brixton Academy where they sabotaged their ownsupport slot with Nine Inch Nails and pushed volume and attitude topunishing levels by stoically building a wall of formless white noisebetween themselves and the audience. “When it was over.” says Alec, “Carl cameto me and said ‘We still owe one more proper show to the London crowd.’” Hepoints to the floor. “That was it, man. That was the one.” The roar ofapproval and agreement that greets his words is as deafening as anythingAtari Teenage Riot could muster. The kids are united.