JONTY SKRUFFF INTERVIEW WITH ALEC EMPIRE
Alec Empire’s Grown-Up Teenage Riot
„My thinking is way more radical than it used to be but I’m afraid that the next steps would involve getting weapons.“
Denying that he’s in any way mellowed with age, erstwhile Atari Teenage Riot (ATR) chief and Digital Hardcore guru Alec Empire admits he’s somewhat ambivalent about today’s world and the prospects for its future.
„I feel frightened when mainstream politicians use the same language as the Nazis did; I feel frightened when people worry about the colours of their trainers and the next Justice record, while there is a war going on in the world,“ says Alec.
„But Skinheads will finally die out; nationalism has no future. Which is a good side effect in a globalized world. But like every dying animal, they might hurt many people on their way out,“ he predicts.
The conversations turned to skinheads in relation to an Indymedia article describing neo-nazis regularly attacking ATR gigs, when the band preached anti-fascism in the 90s, a period he looks back on with equally mixed memories.
„I was harmed many times but I fought back, haha, so I got some of those assholes pretty bad but I always hated being in those situations; such a bad vibe,“ says Alec.
„But it’s still a reality in many parts of Germany. And this is what the cynics should realise. While we can do our parties and shut down our minds as much as we want, the neo-nazis keep fighting their battle. They will keep pushing further. This is why apolitical music helps the neo-nazis.“
That Alec’s music has rarely been apolitical goes without saying though recently he’s undergone a radical transformation, as the press release to new album ‚The Golden Foretaste of Heaven‘ explicitly states.
„Out goes Digital Hardcore and all the Atari baggage, in comes (new label) Eat Your Heart Out and a smart new sound and style,“ it says.
„The image may have changed but the aggression and political savvy are still there; they’re just presented in a different way. Think AND dance.“
Chatting to Skrufff via email, Alec’s as open as he’s articulate, reflecting his well-deserved reputation as one of today’s smartest-and freshest underground artists.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Starting with the music: on the biog you say ‚I bought a Russian synthesiser and Nic Endo and I devised a new direction which we’re now moving in‘: „I wanted to reorient myself completely‘; what prompted the desire for a radical change?
Alec Empire: „When I started recording the new album I wrote the song 1000 Eyes. We were listening to the track with some friends of mine and everybody was really blown away by that song somehow. This hit me by surprise a bit as I never ‚construct‘ songs really, I just express how I feel. so it made me think about my new sound and why I feel different right now than I used to.
There was also that feeling that I didn’t see the need to say the same political things over and over again. People are listening to my older records; many are actually discovering them now. And my lyrics still reach people because they are more about a certain kind of world view rather than something that stops meaning anything a few weeks after its release.
I also love dance music. I was involved in the early techno scene and to me DJing is an essential part of my work. Since house and trance died with the beginning of this decade, electronic music has become a lot more interesting again. When I was against it, it was more because of the compromises that the scene made in order to sell more records.
They stepped towards the mainstream, and I didn’t like that at all. I think a few years later we can all agree that most people from the nineties scene fucked up their options by making their own sound so safe that there was no reason to listen to it anymore. Now there are a lot more experiments possible. That’s why it’s so much fun again.“
Skrufff: How did Berlin provide that re-orientation (what are the key practical differences between being based in Berlin and London- with Easyjet does it actually make much difference?)
Alec Empire: „London is so about the past and the UK’s music history; everything is being put in that context. Every week you see new bands talking about the Beatles or similar British bands.
I think England is hit the hardest by the current crisis of the music industry. It is a small country after all, and their business model, which produced a lot of exciting music in the last century has become outdated. In a globalized world, pop music has no place anymore because pop music is defined by borders.
We don’t have people running out to the stores on that Monday after Top of The Pops to choose the single which will then define the nation’s music taste.
In England it used to work quite well, because pop music was able to integrate newer ideas much faster than in any other country. The US or Germany were always way too slow for that kind of thing. Berlin is completely free of that. Berlin’s music scene almost doesn’t exist, that’s the reason it felt so liberating for me to return.“
Skrufff: What do you make of the musical landscape of Berlin: why do you think minimal took hold so much here?
Alec Empire: „I have seen that happen quite a few times before in other scenes. There is always that moment when people become sick of melodies. To focus on one sound which is so pure can be very refreshing. I can love that too, but when this state of mind is going on for too long it simply gets boring. I want dynamics and I want adrenaline right now.“
Skrufff: Indymedia said in 2006 that Atari Teenage Riot (ATR) was ‚a deliberate attempt to politicise and organise within a subcultural milieu‘: how much do you still have this agenda today (or have you in any sense mellowed with experience?)
Alec Empire: „My thinking is way more radical than it used to be but I’m afraid that the next steps would involve getting weapons. MP3 has killed off any possibility for artists to make things grow independently. Ok, you can now probably put a political song online but there won’t be any promotion to make this song heard. By downloading music people have shifted the power over to the corporations even more.
No musician would ever question it anymore if a song gets used in an advert because everybody knows it is the only way for musicians to survive. You know it’s that Walmart effect. People think they save money when they shop there, but what really happens is that the money they spend is going into the wrong direction, so that at the end of the day people have less and less, and the profit is going to corporations which would never invest back into the same country (as they used to maybe 20 or 30 years ago).
There is a war going on in our society right now. Steal from the people, keep their bodies fit but weaken their minds. Every time we watch a silly TV show we lose that battle a little bit more.“
Skrufff: What are your principle goals with the new album: beyond making a living from music what else drives you?
Alec Empire: „haha; making a living is a good one in the music industry; BUT the great thing is that I have made enough fucking money by now from my music. I just release the music with not much other intention than the music itself. When I play , I do it for the adrenaline rush, same when I DJ. This is what drives me. My sound opens up this little cocaine box in my brain.:
Skrufff: The album’s called the Golden Foretaste of Heaven: : do you belief in life after death (or have you had any near death experiences= chemical or otherwise?)
Alec Empire: „I had near death experiences. I was once in a plane which almost crashed…it had to do an emergency landing…i remember the promotion person who flew with me from Korea to Los Angeles was shocked because I was smiling the whole time while everyone else was screaming. I don’t know…I was not scared, I thought ?well OK ,that’s it, fucking great life so far…“ I was on the edge of suicide many times in my life. It’s weird, because by now I know that after real dark times I feel this extreme euphoria which seems to always follow it…maybe this is why this album sounds like it does.“
Skrufff: Do you believe in good and real evil?
Alec Empire: „No I don’t. But I believe that these terms came up for a good reason. Humans live in a social network, and those who only think for themselves (which is like the definition of the ‚Satanist‘) end up in a situation which could be compared to something like hell. I believe that religion was spawned from the laws which simply exist in nature.“
Skrufff: your press release says ‚1000 Eyes‘ ? concerns my return to Berlin, sex, love, passionate separation, destructive relationships?Anyone who wishes to know who I am need simply listen to the lyrics“: how comfortable are you with fame and the public eye: how much control you have over people’s perceptions of you?
Alec Empire: „I have sides that nobody in public will ever see. To me fame is something I can control. I simply follow the rule that music is the most important thing to worry about. This is because I love the underground, the culture, the music. I am not scared of being a part of it. I saw the best concerts when almost nobody was in the crowd. I own records that sold 100 copies or less, I grew up with punk rock, so I don’t care what other people think of me.
People can think what they want of me, or better they take the parts they want out of me…if anyone would be able to control that 100% then this would be dangerous and we would all give into Mc Donalds and Walt Disney.“
Skrufff: How much has becoming a global artist/ celebrity helped you find love? (how much are you motivated by love?)
Alec Empire: „To some it might sound strange but love has always been the main motivation for what I do. In a fascist society love is not possible, that’s why we formed ATR back then. But if you say this loud people think you’re Marvin Gaye or something. Our anger was a reaction to the messed up politics and not because we were bored. I have that sense of euphoria ? people who know me and witness that, for example after a great show, it’s like I love everybody; and forgive.“
Skrufff: On your Msypace your top comment says ‚“Can our love survive in the absence of drugs?“: seems very specific, personal AND revealing: what’s it about; why did you choose to put it there in full public view?
Alec Empire: „This was a line I once said to a girl and to me this is a metaphor of what is going on between me and my audience. Is there more than just the party? You know.“
Skrufff: Your ATR bandmate Carl Crack tragically died of a drug overdose: what impact did that have on you (how did it affect your attitudes towards drugs? And people who use them?)
Alec Empire: „After Carl died it took me years to get over it. I’m not sure if I ever will get over it. He was a very talented guy with too much energy, very sensitive. It’s no secret that I am criticizing the industry which is selling the drugs.
Anyone who is consuming drugs is responsible for the way these workers are exploited in the third world or whereever the drugs are manufactured. It is basically slavery. And it is purely profit driven. I am not against drugs, but drugs in a capitalist society are control drugs.“
Skrufff: Why do you think so many musicians dabble with extreme drugs?
Alec Empire: „I think that it is a myth that musicians need drugs to create great art. If somebody is talented, everything can have an impact on a great song he or she writes. The food, the weather, what books one reads and so on. Drugs are drugs…I have a problem with people who constantly try to look at them as if they were a mysterious stone of Egypt which can perform miracles….
The argument doesn’t count that the best records were made on drugs…because I could say that also the worst records were made on drugs….haha…Miles Davis was clean when he recorded In A Silent Way…what else can I say….
Skrufff: How much do you believe emotions experienced on drugs are as valid of those not on drugs?
Alec Empire: „I think it’s more important what your brain makes of them after…this is really important. I’ve seen people running around like blind sheep…I doubt it was the drugs…it was probably their brains…this goes for any experience one can have in my opinion.
The way the Americans interpreted 911 and the conclusions they drew from that, it was so different from how I saw it….
Skrufff: 911 conspiracy theories: there are some quite persuasive ones that the twin towers were demolished: how much credence do you give these theories?
Alec Empire: „I was not interested when I heard of them. All the information is so twisted, it doesn’t make sense to worry about things like that. I think what was more important was what followed the 911 attacks and the consequences that the Bush administration drew from that.
The American public in all their simple minded rage allowed those politicians to rob them naked. This is the price every single person can pay when they don’t care about politics.“
Skrufff: Your label’s called ‚Eat Your Heart Out‘: have been following the Armin Meiwes cannibal case much?
Alec Empire: „no man, that shit is way too hardcore for me.“
Alec Empire: The Golden Foretaste Of Heaven is out now on Eat Your Heart Out (and is available on the link below):
Article by Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Subscribe to Skrufff music newsletter at www.Skrufff.com