__MAIN_TEXT__

Page 76

Steven Levy on the phone with Alec Empire

Real, all too real On Is This Hyperreal?, Atari Teenage Riot’s fourth studio album, the band rails against the myriad manifestations of digital authority, musing loudly on the subject of digital censorship and using digital technology to do so. They sound really angry. And the album sounds really good. Bandleader Alec Empire recently spoke with renowned hacker-ethicist and senior writer for Wired magazine Steven Levy about the double-edged sword of technological progress, crowdsourcing, and the new digital divide. Steven Levy: Alec, your new album doesn’t sound like something to wash the dishes to. Alec Empire: I might, but the average listener probably wouldn’t. As a band, we tend to write music for the active listener. SL: It seems like that goes for the live show as well. The physicality of what you do onstage prevents people from standing around passively. AE: Other bands we’ve toured with have said that too. Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine were both blown away by the power we get out of our electronics. Some people

82

EB 2/2011

look down on electronic stuff and think it’s all functional, house or club music. But when it hits harder than a rock band, the synths and sequencers feels like secret weapons.

live and ask themselves, “Why did I just freak out? Was it something they said or was it the music?” I don’t think there’s any one formula for getting people to question things through music, just like there’s no one play list for a DJ . . . Steven, I know you’ve written about the genius of the random setting on an iPod, and I think this is something that applies to writing music as well. For example, I remember programming an old synthesizer, a TB303, and finding out that randomly plugging in sixteen notes yields the best results. Or I would spend hours composing, only to end up with the exact same thing I had produced randomly.

SL: Even though your music is visceral, the lyrics are pretty nuanced.

SL: When I was in college in Philadelphia in the seventies, I listened to this great radio DJ and thought, “Man, this guy makes cosmic connections between songs!” Today, I put my iPod on shuffle and sometimes have the same experience.

AE: That’s part of the idea. We want to provoke people into questioning things. There’s a lot of pop music out there that’s dead set on doing the opposite; on calming people down or making them not think. That’s not us. What we do thrives on a combination of the physical and the cerebral. People have told me that they go home after seeing us

AE: I think people tend to overlook how spur-of-the-moment digital technology can be, especially in terms of improvisation. In electronic music, you can make choices really fast and be totally spontaneous if the machines are synchronized and people onstage are controlling them. I don’t know if a band like U2 would be able to do that.

Atari Teenage Riot perform in Berlin on May 1st, 1999. Shortly after these images were taken, the band was arrested for inciting a riot. Video stills courtesy of Digits in Motion.

Profile for Telekom Electronic Beats

Electronic Beats Magazine Issue 02/2011  

Since our last issue, there have been a lot of changes here at Electronic Beats. First and foremost is the new editorial staff, made up of A...

Electronic Beats Magazine Issue 02/2011  

Since our last issue, there have been a lot of changes here at Electronic Beats. First and foremost is the new editorial staff, made up of A...

Advertisement