Alec Empire Interview

Berlin's sonic saboteur speaks to

A short spasm of fear pulsed through my body in a sharp wave.

I learnt my next assignment was to interview the musical anarchist known as Alec Empire. Famed and hailed for being the creator of experimental digital hardcore outfit Atari Teenage Riot, who often frequented the rough, anarchist squat scene in West Berlin adjacent to crumbling remnants of the wall in Prenzlauer, a then deserted, industrialized landscape. As main creative force, Alec made music that was completely aimed at political dissemination and change, creating a fan-base of like-minded fans, going on to define an actual genre. But Alec’s been away working hard and made an album that apparently has no political leanings whatsoever. So what the hell is going on? What’s got into Alec and why is he moving from sonic graffiti to, um, rock emotion?

I feel that I don’t need to repeat myself and go over the same ground.

“Oh, there are reasons’ he assures. “ The stuff we made collectively with Atari Teenage Riot, it still matters now, more than it probably ever did” he quips. “ I feel that I don’t need to repeat myself and go over the same ground. My album ‘Futurist’ was about violence and the way that society pushes you over the edge”

And with this change, the forward thinking Alec has forayed into new territory sonically.

“I’ve made lots of electronic records, but I wanted to make an album that contains that same quality, written into structured and more conventional songs” he describes, “It’s a unique record, and I wouldn’t say this is the direction all my stuff will be going toward in the next ten years; every album I do as Alec Empire, I want to keep special and original, always avoiding repetition” he lays down.

“Atari Teenage Riot was one concept and very linear, very accomplished” he continues. “I wanted to show another side of me with this record”. A prolific figure in Modern music, the creative juices surge through his veins like a lethal concoction of narcotics. Starting off as a hip-hop DJ, Alec earned his respect throughout his 15-year history by foraying into a wealth of music, devoid of any scene boundaries. There must have been no shortage of ideas for such a brave and exciting album.

“Um…. People think that you are only the one person and image can take over that person” he states, as I relax into my chair, realising that he isn’t going to tell me off as he shyly brushes his hair. “I wanted to use sound and vocal in a different way, write different types of lyrics. I think people can access my old stuff anytime and it’s still being used at demonstrations” he confidently assures. “Personally, I’m actually more political nowadays, but I guess the difference is I choose not to deal with it so directly.

The new sound is precise and clean, infusing techno, rock, punk and a nod to 70’s New York rock era, David Bowie and Lou Reeds cold, fractured Berlin era of 1971. Previously. Alec made albums influenced mainly by programming, some with more live guitar and drums. But where does Alec’s latest vision lie?

“It’s actually harder to create this sound than my more noisy stuff. With this it was fast and clean production; I mean if I don’t distort my voice than that’s how it sounds” he laughs, “It’s a more natural noise, and I thought it would be nice to keep it simple. A lot of stuff wasn’t programmed, although alot of my stuff previously was based on novelty and fresh, daring sounds. I didn’t want to go that way with this record, and innovation is coming through bands lately.

So you wanted it to be more accessible without losing any of your trademark edge?

…stuff like Slayer is amusing to me

‘No I don’t think like that. I made a song on the record called ‘a 1000 eyes’, and when I played it to some friends, they said they were so surprised that I could do this. I never think about things like that when I’m in the studio, cause I’m not that kind of person. I did something different. Scenes do not bother me; indie-disco clubs in Germany have picked up this album. The metal scene picked up my previous stuff like ‘sacrifice’, and I thought ‘why?’. I can’t manipulate that sort of thing; I wouldn’t be here if I did” he raucously laughs as he takes a sip of coke through a straw.

After frequenting Blighty for a number of years and travelling through the states, it seems that Alec is ready to focus his sights on his native hometown again, often described as a blank canvas for culture, ready to be painted on. Is there still a major anarcho-squatter scene?

‘It’s the avant-garde. It’s where most experimentation happens, in terms of sound and parties. Electronics are still so important, but now it’s mixed up

“The squats and everything have changed. But approaches toward sound and making music and parties is still the same. I think it’s a Berlin thing to find new ways of doing things” he theorises. “Its funny as Berlin is disconnected from the rest of Germany, so what people do around the country is not influenced by Berlin trends. I guess London is different as what happens within this hub influences the rest of the country. In Germany, things don’t crossover into the mainstream like over here. The scene is dependant on reinventing itself and finding new ideas because they wouldn’t survive otherwise. We can’t count on a top ten hit; it’ll never happen” he shrugs.

The press release I received graciously dubbed the new record ‘The new sound of Berlin’. In hindsight, did Alec leave because the scenes in Berlin were dead? A man of highly prolific output and a strong sense of cultural identity, it would seem that he’s returned to create something fresh, a snapshot of Berlin’s continuing evolution.

“It’s about people coming together. The Digital Hardcore period peaked towards the end of the nineties. I never identified with the electro-clash thing after that, with clown masks and shit. To me it wasn’t amusing, but stuff like Slayer is amusing to me. There’s something funny about a Lee Perry record, the way he made crazy sounds when he was so fucking stoned. A person who makes obvious, cheesy jokes on stage is not funny. Then it was minimal techno, but it got tired. Basically, there’s a different atmosphere now, we’ve moved on. People think electro-clash is very superficial as I said, I’m not into scenes” he states rolling his eyes back comically.

As hot property, I finally ask the man if a new empire will be built from his musical endeavours and his new imprint, aptly titled Eat Your Heart Out, summing up the strength and depth involved in Alec’s bittersweet, personal new record.

“I’d love to read reviews of the first couple of releases, stating that this is the new sound” he says jokingly. “I understand why people have to make this starting point when faced with something different” he nods, “I want to stick to keeping the music good and nothing else. I don’t want to create a movement. I didn’t create the digital hardcore scene. It came about by loads of people getting involved and lots of musicians making music beside me. People will make of it what they will, I’m just making my music, for me” he asserts proudly.

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