Bands don't come much more crucial to a musical movement or moment in time as Atari Teenage Riot. Throughout the 90s, the Berlin-outfit spearheaded a new style of music known as 'digital hardcore' which essentially took the hardest elements of any kind of electronic music that was exploding at the time and pushed them to their very extremes. Across records such as 'The Future Of War' and '60 Second Wipeout', they would arm themselves with drum machines and set them to the fastest paces and coldest tones, whilst yelling leftist-political sentiments over them in a very punk fashion. They split in the early 2000s, but did make a return at the start of the decade with strong efforts 'Is This Hyperreal?' in 2011 and 2015's 'Reset.'
Without them pushing such forward-thinking ideas, it's really hard to imagine a world without punk/noise-rap artists like Death Grips and JPEGMAFIA, just like it'd be hard to imagine a world without punk/hardcore bands who've blended electronics into their sound like Vein or Code Orange. ATR hit Islington's O2 Academy tonight to fully display their importance to thrilling effect.
Before tonight's main event though we have techno duo KALLI MA, who don't exactly reinvent the wheel but do provide a rhythmic pulse to sync you into a warm-up groove. Following that is Zan Lylons who delivers an atmospheric drone in a really unique way. He has a violin plugged into his gear and furiously strums away, giving off some misty, engulfing tones, all whilst obscure clips of a lady crawling through a field and falling in an abyss reinforce the experience in the backdrop.
Atari Teenage Riot hit the stage and instantly frontman Alec Empire is ushering people to come closer. A malfunctioning racket soundtracks his command and merciless strobe-lights instantly sets up a dystopian atmosphere. When they properly get going, it's a set largely made up of newer material; Atari Teenage Riot's turret-fire breakbeats and stomps of thick, cybernetic bass whip the crowd into a frenzy that doesn't let-up.
In the diverse crowd, you have punks and metal-heads scrapping in the pit and cybergoths having a nice pogo to the more industrial elements. There's a good balance of young and older people as well. Frankly, whoever you are, you can't help but get caught-up in Atari Teenage Riot's swing.
On paper it's a bit a risk for a band as legendary as Atari Teenage Riot to have a setlist of such predominantly new material, but when it comes to it, the tunes have no problem getting people pumped, and how could they not? 'New Blood' weaves together sledgehammer-like crushes with transcendent coral textures, whilst Empire and frontwoman Nic Endo attack with lines that warn of a world destroying itself and encourage people to fight against it. Likewise, 'Transducer' is glitched-up dance-punk really upping the pace.
With that being said, it would've been nice if there was a bit more balance between newer and older material, because when it comes to their 90s stuff, it is truly exhilarating. 'Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture' is crossover hardcore riffing, drum & bass two-stepping and industrial coldness and punch, all for the price of one.
'Speed', if there was any justice in the world, would be held in the same regard as 'Born Slippy' or 'Firestarter' as a hard-rave classic. With its race-car revs, videogame-action-esque licks, dizzying speed and thuggish MCing, there's little this song is missing to ignite your desire to bounce. 'Revolution Action' is a punk classic and fully feels so tonight with Emprie and Endo having a snotty snarl, spitting lyrics of non-conformity and fighting back. The battering 4/4 pace makes it feel in the same vein as the likes of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, but its inhuman breakbeats are what make it still sound like the future of the genre. The also play their collaboration with Slayer 'No Remorse (I Wanna Die)' which best balances the mosh-meets-rave vibe of this show with unrelenting drum loops and meaty chugging.
Atari Teenage Riot perform to match their righteous, cold, bitter sound. Endo looms around the stage all creepy and unsettling when delivering lines in a more deadpan tone, but furiously throwing herself around when it comes to the more fiery moments. Alec Empire often crowdsurfs, but looks so nonchalant about it as if it's not fun for him, merely an extension of his art. However, whenever he gets back to the stage it's all high-kicks and rallying the crowd to 'make some noise.'
This show was such a beautiful bomb of energy as well as a display of limitlessness in music. Atari Teenage Riot made their template in the early 90s and are still rolling with it, but you feel like the ideas they crafted so long ago are still the sounds of the future. What was displayed tonight could take on almost anything coming out of today's punk or electronic scenes. Start the riot. Digital hardcore forever.