The creator of digital hardcore on how to start a riot.
You can learn a lot about Alec Empire from watching this video. That's his old band, Atari Teenage Riot, playing live amidst Berlin's May 1st "demonstrations" (read: riots) in 1999. If the German capital's music scene is a "historical accident," as Tobias Rapp once put it, then Empire is a quintessentially Berlin artist, a direct result of his city's unique history. The grandson of a radical leftist killed by the Nazis, Empire was born in West Berlin in the '70s. Every day on his way to school, he walked by The Wall, whose physical presence and political implications greatly colored his world view. Soon he was a radical leftist himself. Over the years he dabbled in both punk and rave, at one point making what he called "faceless DJ music" under the name LX Empire, though he found club culture indulgent and frustratingly apolitical. Ultimately, he'd combine both styles, forming a cacophony of breaks, noise and punk-inspired lyrics that would become his signature sound—"digital hardcore," as he called it.
For something so ear-splitting, digital hardcore found quite a wide audience. Ian Pooley signed Empire to Force Inc after hearing him DJ. Atari Teenage Riot, which he formed with friends in 1992, hit some surprising heights: John Peel invited them to play Queen Elizabeth Hall, Mike D signed them to The Beastie Boys' label, Grand Royal, and many of that era's MTV bad boys, from Rage Against The Machine to Nine Inch Nails, invited them on tour. In 2001, the death of band-member Carl Crack thew the group into a tailspin, though Empire continued making music throughout the '00s, both solo and briefly with a reformed ATR. These days he lays low, occasionally surfacing for gigs like CTM and Bangface Weekender. Chatting at RA's office in Berlin, Will Lynch talked to Empire about the ideas and events that shaped his career.