“Welcome to the Rod Hull Memorial Concert.” Even in jest, [a]John Peel[/a] talks sense, for there is something batty about this enterprise that the late Emu grappler might have appreciated. Where better for a Peel Sessions showcase of the most confrontational label in the world than this staid concrete relic of state-subsidised art? For the advent of ATR, Digital Hardcore’s doyens of discord – a group, lest we forget, whose most famous song is titled ‘Start The Riot’ – the QEH comes thoughtfully equipped with chairs and kindly ushers to lead us to them. Significantly, it seems most of London’s nice, helpful stage security have arranged to be elsewhere.
Mindful of the piano recital in the neighbouring Purcell Room, Peel requests that we keep the noise down. Whereupon a young man at the back of the stage begins making a great deal of noise indeed. For 15 strangely relaxing minutes, Christoph De Babalon uses two DAT players, a small mixing desk and considerable subterranean woofer mayhem to serve notice that, volume-wise, this is no place for sissies. Pinned motionless by his howling electrical storm, one is suddenly very grateful for the seats. Upon completion, Christoph gives a satisfied nod and disappears. Had he been in charge of excavations, London’s Jubilee Line extension would have been finished by now.
Clearly exercised by the air of imminent sedition, Peel instigates a mass chant of the word “motherfucker”. Next, he introduces Shizuo, whose name, according to John, ought not to be pronounced “Shit-zuo”. Shizuo, aka David Hammer, promptly walks on, picks up the mic and says, “Shit-zuo”. Bloody Germans, eh, still can’t be trusted… For reasons best known to himself, Hammer‘s lysergically baked beats are augmented by two girls, whose attempts at singing and playing suggest the trio did not spend the afternoon rehearsing. When all else fails, they bite a keyboard.
Shizuo looks doubtful about it all, but then, as he admits in song, LSD has made a right mess of him. “That’s it! The end!” he pouts as matters don’t so much grind as collapse to a halt. The crowd boos. “OK, one more! But it’s just noise!”
Of course, where Digital Hardcore is concerned, there is no such thing as “just noise”. To Alec Empire, noise is a weapon, preferably offensive, and always rigorously channelled. Which partly explains why Atari Teenage Riot, though yet to make a great record, are the best Digital Hardcore band by far. Simply, they rock. To witness their righteous computerised spleen hurtling into your gut at 150 dum-dum beats per minute is to believe all the cant you’ve ever heard talked about punk.
After half-an-hour of this brutally simple mind-balm, one is purged of the anger and fear that life’s daily toil leaves behind in layer after grimy layer, replaced instead by a feeling of, well, confidence. This music may well just be Oi! with brains and cool beats, and most of the songs do seem little other than excuses to say, “Hey! We’re Atari Teenage Riot! Are you fucking ready?!”, but it’s the closest you’ll get to empowerment in pop right now.
It helps that Alec is a tall, black-leather-trousered god, and that Carl Crack boasts genuinely spookeee full-face skull make-up, and that Hanin Elias and Nic Endo are as beautiful as they are in control of this thunderous engine.
Yep, it helps that ATR are stars. But there’s nothing cosmetic about their music’s self-fulfilling cathartic surge. As Alec and Carl repeatedly launch into the crowd, encouraging more and more stagedivers to run the flimsy security gauntlet, there’s the sense that right here and now, all things are possible.
Even a full-scale stage invasion, sparked – inevitably – by ‘Start The Riot’. What fun! If Atari Teenage Riot can do this in a chamber orchestra hall, imagine what havoc they could wreak with a baying festival mob. There has never been a worse time to be a bouncer.