Atari Teenage Riot - 60 Second Wipeout (retro review) (Cover Artwork)

Atari Teenage Riot

60 Second Wipeout (retro review) (1999)

Digital Hardcore Recordings

Oh, how you all laughed at Atari Teenage Riot. A group of young Berliners formed at the dawn of Germany's reunification, the members of ATR had grown up walking past armed soldiers to school, in sight of the Berlin Wall. They brought messages and warnings from life behind the Iron Curtain to the rest of the world; many of which seemed to fall on deaf and naive ears, at least when it came to American critics. Among other subject matter, ATR warned (these are paraphrases): “The Internet will grow exponentially, take over our everyday lives, and will be used to spy on everyday citizens”…Ha! “Terrorism will soon come to the West”…Hogwash! “The world did not rid itself of dictatorships in 1945, we will soon have more than ever”…Where do you kids come up with this stuff?? I remember reading a review of 60 Second Wipeout when it first came out in 1999, and one line has stuck with me all this time: “Atari Teenage Riot take themselves very seriously…So you don’t have to.” 

While many weren’t quite ready to hear what ATR had to say, few could disparage the delivery. ATR consisted at the time of Alec Empire, a punk rock youth who later came to love electronic music, but despised the rave scene; Hanin Elias, another Berlin punk; Carl Crack, a Swazi-born MC, and Nic Endo, a noise artist. The resulting sound is best described as “Digital Hardcore,” the moniker coined by the band for both their newly created genre and for their own label. This is the aggression of European hardcore punk (think Discharge and GBH), as performed on a drum machine, a sampler, and an Atari 2600 video game console. It’s the kind of sound that one gets the impression was what Prodigy or Propellerheads were trying to achieve. 

With such a diverse lineup, ATR rarely assigns an entire song to one performer. Empire’s spoken word vocals, Crack’s rhyming, and Elias’ wild Riot Grrl shriek frequently come together over Endo’s jumbled, pulsating, noise-scapes. The chaos of the different vocal styles with the disjointed electro/punk wall of sound can at once be a solid thought expressed 1,000 ways; and also an attempt to filter one cohesive idea out of 1,000 distractions, like trying to hear a cat’s meow in the center of Times Square. While these sound like they could be futile and maybe a little annoying exercises, somehow ATR makes it work. The music is fascinating in it’s unpredictability; the controlled chaos of it’s structure leaping out like the aural equivalent of a Pollock splatter painting. 

The most unfortunate thing about 60 Second Wipeout was the swan song it ended up being. In 2001, Atari Teenage Riot folded after Hanin Elias’ sudden departure after a gig, and the untimely death of Carl Crack. Soon after, Digital Hardcore Recordings also ceased operations, and many of their associated acts were never heard from again (check out Bomb 20, Shizuo, and the incredible Lolita Storm). It's unfortunate, as this style really could have grown and evolved, but it just never seemed to catch on with anybody who wasn't already in the DHR family of bands. Alec Empire and Nic Endo would resurrect the Atari Teenage Riot name early the next decade along with some new bandmates, and while their more polished, structured sound won over critics and audiences alike, 60 Second Wipeout remains their face melting peak.