In these times where politics is seen as a separate entity to the rest of our life's it makes sense that Alec Empire brings music to the underground massive with politics drenching the wall of noise on his "Intelligence and Sacrifice" album. More accessible than his work with Atari Teenage Riot, the stella single "Addicted To You" saw him reaching out to a younger audience and bringing on the noise in widescreen. We caught up with Alec to find out his New World Vision.
Q: Last time you came over to the UK you were talking about how you felt that the UK was just like Germany before World War II. 6 Months later do you feel were still in that desperate state of looking out for a leader?
A: I think there's a bit more of an energy here now. There seems to be a real gap between the idiots who would listen to this bad pop stuff, which for me I never really understand because over here it's a different phenomenon than in Germany. Over here it's like what do British men listen to - unbelievable whiny cry baby music...the Germans listen to really bad techno music so that's not really any better - but at our shows people are up for hard energy and tough stuff, which is good because for a while there I thought maybe the whole of England was going to turn into a nation of cissy's and nancy boys!!!
Q: A lot of people are saying "Intelligence and Sacrifice" is your most commercial release.
A: I understand why that is because of the production and it sounds powerful but is different to Atari Teenage Riot. But I think why they are saying this is because of the singles and they have been really different to the ATR stuff, but the rest of the record is more insane. If you listen to a track like "New World Order" it's stuff we have never done with Atari or the whole 2nd CD which is very different musically - it's very f**ked up!!!
We started most of the stuff like a normal punk band with all the riffs and I approached it like remixing that. But then we did another recording session where we added to what was already a mix between the live instruments and the electronic stuff. I wanted to get the sound that sounds as one - I didn't want it to sound like here's the electronic beat and here's the guitars on top - I wanted to sound like a unique sound in a way that nobody else had.
Q: Even though it is strictly a solo release away from ATR, Nik Endo played a large role in the noisescapes on the album. Was she your musical backbone for this record?
A: It was really good to have her there because she's so specialized in noise. That's what she focuses on mostly and there so much insane stuff she does which we can use for anything. We really work close together in the studio because she has this real punk rock attitude. She always disrespects the equipment and destroys it and things get damaged at the same...and good sound are created that way at the same time!!!
Q: Wasn't the idea originally for "Intelligence and Sacrifice" to make it a 4 CD album?
A: Yeah and I finished that but it was too crazy. It's already a bit over the top, but this was just so over the top. I think if you have too much you lose focus on stuff and now I think it's quite good because you have the 2 CD's - one CD's is the hard digital stuff and then the other CD is the more experimental stuff. With 4 CD's it would have just been too crazy!!!
Q: The second CD was based around you trying to create this mood around what you were feeling at the time. It must have been a really dark period for you personally with all that went on. How was it translating this into a musical output?
A: It was almost like a diary of the time. I was really burnt out from the Atari Teenage Riot tours we'd done...physically it was exhausting and for months I would only go onstage on painkillers. I think the last time we played Manchester in 1999 people might have noticed we were not in the best condition.
But when I came back to Berlin I started recording the 2nd CD and I call it almost a trip through inner hell and what was going on in my mind. When you feel very isolated from everything else that is going on...you walk down the streets and think this actually is hell - all this bullshit around me. In the beginning I wanted to make the 2nd CD right then, but musically I didn't know at the time I was getting sucking deep into that vibe.
Q: And listening back to it now where you are slightly removed from that mood of "inner hell" how do you feel about it?
A: I have to smile now when I listen to it because I'm at the next step and I'm feeling much better now.... so I'm like how low did you go? People have said it's a similar energy to Joy Division and I guess it is even if it's not the same kind of music.
Q: You grew up in Berlin, very politicized surroundings. And then you went on tour for 5 years and came back to Berlin as this American McDonalds world. As someone who has spent his time travelling the globe what's your perspective on this?
A: Its like a ghost town now. I think it will get itself back together, all cities go through it. I think it's that you get a music scene or something creative happens and it kind of dies or fades away. Two of the punk clubs close in the whole city seems to shift into a different direction. But Berlin since the beginning of the 90s has been on it's way down because the capital moved back to Berlin and with that they cleared out the whole city.
I find that we have these cloned cities throughout the world, but more so in America. When you're driving from Chicago to San Francisco it's really like 1984 and Europe is becoming a little more like that. But I hope that the Europeans understand it is not the direction to go to, but I hope that we can still decide if we want to go to this direction because maybe it's just being decided for us.
We still have to understand before we act in an Anti American way because I see a Bush Speech and it's very easy to think he speaks for America. Yet I think about it again and there are so many people against the government in America. As Europeans we have to understand that the Government in America doesn't really represent the people of America.
Q: "Intelligence and Sacrifice" came out over 6 months ago now. Where do you see the next Alec Empire solo release going - along similar commercial lines or more hardcore?
A: It depends - I think maybe both ways. I never approach music as in this is commercial, I just make music. So a song for example like "Addicted To You" I never planned to be a single and I just wanted to write a song that was almost 80s rock beats and then having a pitched down techno bass line on top. Almost like a static as opposed to my other stuff which is in your face noise.
It would be good to have a top 10 hit because my music is done for the people. I see my music as the key to freedom for the working class. At the moment they're getting tranquillized by Coldplay, Stereophonics and all that stuff which takes their power away and makes them weak little f**king cry babies. It's unbelievable when I watch football over here what these fans are listening to - it doesn't make any sense - it's like hey, get a dick!!!
Q: You've said in the past that the album is more personal as opposed to political. Why the change?
A: Only in comparison to Atari Teenage Riot just because I don't follow the ATR way on my solo records and when I've released solo stuff before I've never felt the need to do the same stuff I do with Atari Teenage Riot. ATR is a very strict political concept, like everything has to be extremely political - every sound, all the lyrics - we put the politics above the music.
When I do solo music I don't approach it like that. But that doesn't mean it's less political. It's just a different way of saying things. Like "New World Order", "Path of Destruction"...they are different to anything we did with the Atari Teenage Riot approach, but it's very political stuff. There's more space for other things and people are empathizing with it more now because it's like what is this guy trying to tell us.
Q: Why do you think there aren't political acts around like there used to be?
A: It's because the music industry has everything too much under control. The radio is scared of playing anything different. The power that TV has it almost kills music. But something has to happen because the music in the mainstream is so boring that most people lose interest and I blame the bad record sales on this, not on MP3's. If you just take designer bands, if you cast your musicians and they have to follow your rules which have basically been created to fit radio and all these things you get the most boring music.
Q: Over the next few months across the UK, the Anti Nazi League are launching a campaign similar to the Rock Against Racism movement of the 70s called "Love Music Hate Racism". Do you think music can change the masses or it just changes the individual?
A: The person has to realize what is going on themselves, but I think the music is always a reflection of what's going on. It's a big help to people to find out information and I think hip hop is a good example. Bands like Public Enemy over 10 years ago they were really getting across to Europe what was going on really in America. Why most of stuff we get over from America is this Walt Disney McDonalds bullshit? But if you don't hear other music and you don't know what's going on there. You don't know the alternative.
I think music can't just be a situation where you put on a CD and the whole world will change. It can change your world or the way your looking at the world and you can make decisions on your life based on that. That's why it's a political thing that the mainstream media is controlling us so much by this bullshit - it's just there to motivate people to consume more products and not anything else - that frustrates people because they don't see themselves in music anymore.
Q: Finally, what is happening with Atari Teenage Riot?
A: At the beginning of 2000 after we finished touring we said were not going to release an album every two years, were going to do it every three years. So 2003 is that third year so were going to come together and discuss what we should do.
"Intelligence & Sacrifice" is out now on Digital Hardcore
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