By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Ich bin ein Berliner
Burn, Berlin, Burn!
Atari Teenage Riot
Grand Royal Records
You know you're on the cutting edge of music when Art Forum magazine reviews your album and says you're fresh; and it doesn't hurt to have the Beastie Boys' label Grand Royal and nearly every music mag on your side, either. But things haven't always been that easy for Atari Teenage Riot.
Formed in defiance of the Berlin techno-rave scene in 1992, DJ Alec Empire set off on an aggressive experiment in sound that rattled the cages of pseudo-communal ecstasy parties that are, for the most part, the product and provence of young, white, middle-class urban culture. Empire declared war on the commercialization and crossover of techno, making a lot of enemies along the way. Techno was becoming very profitable, and Germans were none too happy to be reminded of the reality of racism within even the "progressive" folds of society, either.
Alex's answer to their criticism was to write songs like "Delete Yourself," showing that he shares far more with Johnny Rotten and Chuck D than any of his DJ peers. His multicultural band of misfits--including a Damascus-born hardcore feminist and a pissed-off M.C. from Swaziland--more accurately represent the true state of Berlin, if not most of Europe, than perhaps any band in existence today.
This is Rage Against the Machine after a nuclear war. This is the Sex Pistols jolting the dead horse of punk rock with a car battery and some electrical wires. Replete with speed-metal loops--and just about any other kind of loop you can imagine--Burn, Berlin, Burn! takes everything modern culture comprises and throws it right back at you with supersonic speed and fucked-up attitude. If techno is the punk of the '90s, then this is the moment Joe Strummer smashed his guitar on stage during the London Calling tour. It's pure aggression, designed to be offensive.
Just a cursory glance at the song titles--"Fuck All," "Destroy 2000 Years of Culture," "Deutschland (Has Gotta Die)"-- lets you know you're about to meet a snarling beast, but nothing can prepare you for the first 10 seconds of "Start the Riot." It's simply too hardcore to describe in words. And yet, it passes the listenability test--assuming, that is, you're not hung over and can still ride a skateboard without looking like a dork.
Today's kids need something like Atari Teenage Riot to shock them out of the baggy fashion blow-pop mentality that the young rave scene has degenerated into. They need music their parents will loathe and beg them not to listen to. And thanks to Atari Teenage Riot, they've now got it.