Welcome to episode 1 of Radio überlin! For our first ever radio show, Zoë and I sat down to shoot the shit about Felix da Housecat being turned away from Berghain and taking it no so well, as well as the line-up of the first ever Lollapalooza Berlin. We also answered a reader’s question about making the big move from California to Berlin, and played tracks by Iggy Pop, Beam Up, Losers, Phia, Jamaica Suk and Alec Empire. Tune into Berlin Radio International every Thursday evening from 8:30pm to hear more!
Berliners may be a lot of things, but no one really thinks of them as sexy. They aren’t as suave as Parisians, as charming as *ahem!* the Brits, and their typical demeanour is about as far from Latin flair as it’s possible to get. Having said that, we just can’t help but feel an unwavering attraction to this city’s inhabitants, one that emanates from our groinal regions. The natives, and especially the people that moved here, have grown accustomed to lost weekends, lost inhibitions and a healthy disregard for the prudishness that keeps the rest of Northern European in its metaphorical chastity belt. Allow us to take our key, slip it into the lock, and liberate our steamiest Berlin crushes.
Marlene Dietrich The Schöneberg sexpot was bisexual back before everyone and their mum was. That means both us überliners can fantasise about putting the blue in the Blue Angel, conducting A Foreign Affair, and being the flaming torch burning up between her lips.
Daniel Brühl Barcelona-born Brühl gives his sometime home a much-needed injection of Spanish spice. When nibbling on chorizo at his Kreuzberg tapas bar, we’ve caught ourselves daydreaming about sinking our teeth into a sausage more substantial. His penis.
Merkel If power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, then who could be hotter than the world’s most powerful woman? As breast feeding courts controversy, she has Europe clutched to her ample bosom, threatening to withdraw the nip-nip when our thirsty continental cousins desire it the most. The big tease.
Peaches What can we say about the Mistress of Merkins that she hasn’t said already? Go on love, fuck the pain away.
The Hoff He’s been looking for freedom, and – if you sneak a glimpse at his stonewashed jeans – he’s been looking so long. The symbolic saviour of Cold War Berlin still has us entranced, swimming in his aqua blue eyes. Just as our predecessors longed to escape the grey concrete of the DDR, we want to break out and run slow motion through the knee-height shrubbery of his chest hair, down to the shoreline of his swelling love. Now where did we leave our red bathing suits?
Alec Empire Our hearts have been fire-bombed, and Empire lit the fuse. The rarely-shirted, skinny-pantsed prince of digital hardcore has been confusing us sexually since our formative years. And his refusal to age even remotely means that, somewhere deep in our nethers, a teenage riot is always raging.
Dominic Monaghan Although overlooked in our Lord of the Rings fan fiction, we’ve still got eyes for little Merry Brandybuck. Born in Berlin, Monaghan grew up in Stockport, England – which is where he picked up that sexy Northern accent ???? – before pulling on those irresistible fuzzy feet and becoming one-half of everyone’s second-favourite Hobbit coupling. Let’s roll up some Halfling’s Leaf and just see what happens…
Lola Hey, where you running to baby? Those collars and cuffs match, firecrotch? Wanna show me what you got in those parachute pants? Hey baby! ….Baby?
Iggy and Dave These two come as a couple, just like they used to when they lived here. Pop and Bowie certainly made sweet music together in their Schöneberg apartment, and rumour has it that their knob-twiddling didn’t stop at the mixing desk. Just imagine being rubbed up and down Iggy’s washboard stomach, then hung out to dry on the rail-thin White Duke.
Atari Teenage Riot are back! The kings and queen of digital hardcore have dropped their new album today, so we thought we’d celebrate a band that is keeping the spirit of rave era Berlin alive – the only overtly political musicians we knowingly listen to. Buy Reset as a limited-edition bundle on the Hellish Vortex store, and check out the video for “J1M1″ right here. And below that, read an interview with bandleader Alec Empire, conducted just before the release of their last album Is This Hyperreal back in 2011. Restart the riot!
May 1st 1999: Atari Teenage Riot are arrested for “inciting violence” after an open-air performance at an anti-NATO demonstration leads to clashes with the police.
Unplanned and unintended, the May Day riot is nevertheless the clearest statement of intent from Berlin’s most politically active, socially aware and sonically confrontational band – a group whose first single threatened to “Hunt Down the Nazis” in the city’s notoriously nationalistic rave scene. By 2000, ATR have unofficially disbanded, in the words of mastermind Alec Empire, “burned out and fucked up”. Swansong Live at Brixton Academy, which records their onstage meltdown when vocalist Hanin Elias doesn’t show up at their all-important Nine Inch Nails support slot, leaves white noise crackling in its wake…
May 1st 2011: A reformed Atari Teenage Riot takes the stage for the recording of a Motor FM television show. The trio that have toured together since 2010 – Empire, singer/screamer Nic Endo and new MC CX KiDTRONiK – showcase songs from upcoming new album Is This Hyperreal? The show feels like a controlled explosion, thanks to pauses for onstage interviews and sets from other bands, and its location away from the epicentre of this year’s (peaceful) protests. But the originators of digital hardcore perform with the same commitment as ever. As Alec Empire explains when we catch up with him, “If you don’t do it with 100% of the energy, it’s very depressing!”
When we ask what prompted the prolific producer to make another album as Atari Teenage Riot, he explained how he got tired of watching the world sleepwalk into the future: “Hacktivism, cyberwars, the Government using technology to control and spy on people, while the music industry is going, ‘Hey, we’ve found the next business model…’ His eyes bug in disbelief when he recalls asking, “Why is nobody saying anything about what’s going on? Are you blind?! It felt like, ‘Sorry, we just have to do this!’”
Empire calls Is This Hyperreal?“the definite protest album for the Google age”. Atari Teenage Riot’s most focused and fully-realised work to date, it explores the power of the internet – how it can be used to promote or to restrict individual freedom, to challenge or prop up corrupt governments, how it is eroding our sense of history, and how we might move beyond it in the future in order to escape monitoring and control.
Smart stuff. But then this is the whole point of songs like the thrash-gabba anthem “Re-arrange Your Synapses”: “if there is no smart thinking behind political activism and it’s purely controlled by hate and anger then it doesn’t achieve much.” Empire thinks of this track in particular as an extension of earlier work, like 1995’s rallying cry “Start the Riot!” – which recreated the sound and the energy of a demonstration with “very simple lyrics and very simple music. You can go only with it, you can’t escape. And even if you can’t sing, you can get involved.” If ATR’s 90s incarnation was the perfect soundtrack to a May Day riot, then Is This Hyperreal? is a call for awareness and independent thought.
“Alec Empire” by Yo Pizza. under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
“Germans believe so much in the state,” Empire says. “Every problem that comes up, they always ask the government for a solution.” While his band is now as American as it is German (CX is from the States; Endo was born there), he feels that his home country serves as a good example of what can happen when governments are allowed to interfere in their citizens’ private lives. A recurring theme on the album is state efforts to control the internet or use it to spy on the people.
Empire draws parallels between this current, “very dangerous” situation, and the surveillance states of the DDR and, before it, Nazi Germany. A firm believer that “there is always a positive solution to be found”, he looks back into Deutschland’s dark past for answers to its current problems – specifically, the overthrowing of the monarchy after World War One and the breaking down of the Berlin Wall. The title track to Is This Hyperreal? features Empire shouting down a megaphone in German, addressing his government directly with a threat that he expects to draw the attention of the authorities: “If they continue to be corrupt and act in the interest of a few, rather than the majority who elected them, we as a people can always march up to the Bundestag, arrest them and start a new republic.”
If the nightmare scenarios depicted in it come to pass, Is This Hyperreal? could become a handbook for survival. In a neat demonstration of the “off the grid” lifestyle predicted by Detroit/dubstep pounder “Digital Decay”, the entire album was programmed on an old Atari ST1040 computer not connected with any network. According to Empire, the machine’s “smaller than small” 2MB memory does one thing well, “it forces you to get back to the basic ideas.” In an approach that will sound familiar to the 70s punks who took rock n’ roll back to its roots, he did “the exact opposite of how people do things these days, even with a laptop. And I find that liberating.”
Hyperreal? squeezes a surprising amount out of this vintage machinery, from the chip tunes churn of “Shadow Identity” to the title track’s throbbing, beatless homage to synthpunks Suicide, to the more familiar digital hardcore of “Codebreaker”. What’s more, the tag team approach of ATR’s live shows found its way into the studio, allowing Empire’s cohorts room to fight their personal causes – for KiDTRONiK, racism in the US, and on Nic Endo’s lead vocal turn “Blood in my Eyes” (available for free download), human trafficking and sexual exploitation. This new-found range has led Empire’s friends to reassess the band’s previous studio album (and überlin favourite), asking, “sorry Alec, but why wasn’t 60 Second Wipe Out like this?”
Atari Teenage Riot will be showing off their new breadth and depth with a European tour that kicks off next week with a London show featuring Big Pink and junior Atari pops Kap Bambino. Germany will have to wait until the MELT and Mera Luna festivals to catch sight of them, but until then, there’s Is This Hyperreal? itself – out June 12th. You don’t have to be an ATR fan to agree with Alec Empire when he says, “it’s important that certain music exists.”
I’m starting to hate doing these Berlin event roundups – how do you pick highlights from a week-long programme of amazing performances? CTM.13 kicked off with a mini-riot in the Boiler Room last Thursday, courtesy of a breakcore and tech-step set from Alec Empire, and the music arm of the Transmediale digital art festival doesn’t let up until Sunday. Empire’s back in Stattbad Wedding on Saturday, tearing it up with BlackBlackGold and Necro Deathmort, and our other picks of this year’s CTM Festival include: occult obscurists Demdike Stare, Imogen Heap presenting at MusicMakers Hacklab, Kode9 and others talking about the Death of Rave and a performance from the legendary Sunn O))). Go to the CTM website for the full programme, and get yourself a pass to Berlin’s Festival for Adventurous Music and Arts.
The Berlin outpost of the world’s leading underground music show, Boiler Room, has been broadcasting from the unique space of Stattbad Wedding for about 18 months now. During that time, the former swimming pool has hosted some of the best DJs and electronic acts in the world, including Carl Craig, Richie Hawtin, DJ Hell and überlin faves Modeselektor(celebrating above), Objekt, Redshape and Ellen Allien.
Boiler Room Berlin is strictly invite-only, and we’ve been lucky enough to get into this Thursday’s CTM festival special. The frankly ridonkulous lineup includes Kangding Ray, dub master Pole and Mr. Digital Hardcore himself, the mighty Alec Empire! If you can’t physically be there, tune into boilerroom.tv at 8pm (7pm GMT) to catch all the action. In the meantime, I’ve tried to pick some favourites from the archives, in which pretty much every set is a highlight, for your home viewing pleasure:
What have Roxy Music, Depeche Mode and Thom Yorke all got in common? They’re all in our epic “Best of Berlin 2012″ playlist, a collection of (most of) the tracks I’ve posted on every Music Montag for a year. But what have they got to do with Berlin? Well, you’re going to have to read the original posts to find out, which you can get to via the epic list of tags at the bottom of this post.
Or you could just listen to the playlist, which features more obviously Berlin acts like Alec Empire, Bodi Bill, Pan-Pot and Modeselektor, plus local expat stars Emika, IAMX and Phia. You’ll notice that some of the more underground artists I covered haven’t yet made it to Spotify (sorry!), but otherwise this is a pretty well-rounded, surprisingly danceable mix, interrupted by the odd short, sharp metallic shock ???? One for Silvester, maybe? Enjoy…
Last thursday was the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, and this will have him turning in his grave. It may be nearly 15 years old, but Alec Empire is one of my heroes and Elvis is, well, Elvis. What one might assume would be Empire’s most commercial work is actually one of his most noisy and uncompromising. If you want to find out what kind of twisted fuck produces a track like “Jailhouse Cock Rocks the Most”, you can read my interview with Alec Empire (spoiler alert! He’s actually very nice).