by Zoë Noble
Photo by Zoë Noble
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Music activist Mark Reeder selects tracks from the 80s underground, to celebrate the release of his film “B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin”. Featuring Bowie, Einstürzende Neubauten and lesser known artists, this was originally posted on Red Bull Music Academy (tracklist here).
Mark Reeder grew up in Manchester, England, and just at the turn of his twenties, he moved to Berlin, after co-founding The Frantic Elevators with Neil Moss and Mick Hucknall. It wasn’t long before Mark had formed his synth wave band Die Unbekannten, while he was also Factory Records’ German representative, and general cultural activist around the Berlin Wall – he took the popular UK TV show The Tube around Berlin, organized gigs behind the Iron Curtain and wrote the soundtrack music and played a leading role in Jörg Buttgereit’s controversial movie Nekromantik 2. As well as being the founder and owner of the first East German electronic dance music label MFS (Masterminded For Success), he also mentored a young Paul van Dyk, helping the DJ to his world-conquering career. Apart from remixing several groups, such as Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and John Foxx, he has also made the film B Movie: Lust & Sound In West-Berlin, a documentary about the city’s hedonistic melting pot of music.
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.
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.
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.
What can we say about the Mistress of Merkins that she hasn’t said already? Go on love, fuck the pain away.
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?
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.
In Cat People. Seriously.
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…
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.
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.
“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.”
Atari Teenage Riot’s new album Reset is out now. Listen to a preview over on Alec Empire’s Mixcloud.
DO stay out of our way
Rumour has it that the city is considering plans for an easystagvillage somewhere in Brandenburg, accessible by that international airport we might one day have. Of course, this is Berlin, so we expect those 100 acres of brothels and beer flumes to be completed some time in the 22nd Century. Until then, please restrict your movements to between Kreuzberg’s Schlesisches Strasse and the RAW complex in Friedrichshain. Oh, and get the fuck out of the bike lane, Arschloch!
DON’T try too hard
Forget the mankinis and matching slogan shirts in lurid colours. Here’s what you need to wear to stand out in Berlin: not black. In fact, you could be dressed in head-to-toe monochrome and we’d still be able to spot you a mile off, with your banter, your shit-eating grins and your sloppy drinking habits.
DO pace yourself
In Germany, beer is cheaper than water, and it’s a perfectly acceptable breakfast drink. Your only hope of making it to the queue for a club that you probably won’t get into is to pace yourself. Take our word for it: drinking a shandy (Radler) doesn’t make you “queer” – at least, no more than the enforced nudity and piss-drinking you’ll engage in after Beer 15.
DON’T book go-karting
Your taxi rides to and from the airport should provide plenty of high octane thrills and near misses. And, depending on the value you place on human life, they’ll work out cheaper too.
DO try to get into clubs
Go on, give us a laugh. The queue for Berghain is a big one, so we need some entertainment to pass the time. You lot will do, practising your shitty German and getting off with each other to appear acceptably gay. Who knows – maybe splitting up will work, and the bouncer won’t connect the 11 pink polo shirts dotted throughout the line? As long as you’re going to spend your nights stood outside of our clubs, we’ll be happy to see you try. Go on my son!
DON’T go to a strip club
The old excuse about your fiancée being the last woman you’ll ever see naked just doesn’t fly in this age of ubiquitous porn and Nicki Minaj videos. Besides, there’s precious little point in seeking out a strip club in a country whose mainstream media is smothered in naked breasts. If you want to see some tits, just turn on your hotel TV.
If this is your last night of freedom, why not go really wild? If, by some miracle, you make it into Berghain, you’ll be surrounded by gay guys in various stages of undress, who’ll be happy to show you more than that painting of an arsehole. Think of it like prison – whatever you get up to won’t leave these concrete walls, and it certainly doesn’t make you homosexual.
Just don’t. The beer is cheap here, but this isn’t a piss-up paradise like Prague. The clubs are amazing, but that’s mainly because they don’t let people like you in. And Berliners won’t even attempt to conceal their contempt for you and everything you represent. If you’re looking for somewhere to remind yourself how shallow and depressing your single life has been, we can recommend our hometown, Newcastle upon Tyne. The locals will welcome you, speak (something close to) your language, and can’t wait to join in as you spill vomit, blood and no small amount of piss all over its streets. Enjoy!