As highly political, early ’90s electro pioneers, you’d have thought their return, after more than a decade, would have been eagerly anticipated. But somehow Atari Teenage Riot have never quite been handed the credit they’re surley due, and their re-emergence has been something of a muted affair, even if the noise they’re continuing to make isn’t.
They’ve never been of their time, and that’s not changed in 2011. When they first formed, they were experimenting with electro when the rest of the world was grunge. In the mid-late 90s they making anti-Nazi techno when everyone else was peddling guitar-led indie, and what the Berliners started back in 1992 they’ve easily picked up again almost 20 years later.
Front man Alec Empire (who went on to have something of a solo career and also dabbled as a DJ and producer) has described Is This Hyperreal? as “a protest album for the Google generation” and his mission statement is clearly set out from the very beginning. Opening track Activate is brutal from the first note; a shower of bullets announces their return, along with an eerie voice-over: “If they were tearing your world apart, would you intervene? Music is the weapon, sounds like a threat…”
It sets the tone; The Only Slight Glimmer Of Hope sees Empire and fellow vocalist Nic Endo chant the doom ridden: “How much blood will it take, How much bullets will it take…We’ve got to move now to real anarchy,” while Shadow Identity is a fierce blend of Bikini Kill inspired blood curdling vocals and Digital Hardcore signings Lolita Storm‘s simple but noisy as hell electro-keys.
If you’ve somehow managed to switch off from the aural hammering until track seven, Rearrange Your Synapses will force you to give in, as it snaps: “Some people ask if we’re still necessary, well very much so, Some people still live in an illusion…when in fact racism still eats the beating hearts of men every day…” before launching into an onslaught of chaotic beats, alarms and rants about the power of the internet (“Some believe the every day mobile device is as powerful as a nuclear hand grenade when it comes to starting a revolution”).
The album’s title track is its most unlikely song. A Blade Runner-inspired, post apocalyptic vision that’s more than just dark and chaotic, it’s downright bleak. As robotic vocals warn “The revolution has been activated…The streets smell like burnt rubber and urine, people are will to eat rats to survive” over jutting, unnerving keys, it creates an atmosphere they’ve always threatened but never quite dared strike.
With Collapse Of History, computer game blips give way to the more tuneful sound, heard across Empire’s solo work. In Ladytron-ish spooked, breathy, heavily accented English they warn of another generation moved to action…it’s an apt way to round off the album, and goes someway to restore calm.
Is This Hyperreal? is so shameless in its motives, so upfront and unashamed of what it wants to say, but somehow it’s far from being contrived, and is refreshingly earnest. If you interspersed its tracks with 1995’s Delete Yourself! or its 1997 follow up, The Future Of War, you’d barely notice a difference. While their chaotic, hyper-electro sound has remained largely the same, and at times feels somewhat quaint or retro, there’s an underlying sense of urgency that you can’t ignore. Atari Teenage Riot in 2011 are as raw and self indulgent as they ever were, and while their comeback record won’t seal their place in history, those who loved them the first time around will lap it up.