Pure energy. What else can I say?
Atari Teenage Riot returned to the 9:30 Club on Saturday night for their first appearance there since their awe-inspiring performance in 1999. It could be said that their sold-out show in 1999 was the pinnacle of this German underground noise-attack act’s popularity in the United States. Anarchy reigned that night as ATR unleashed their super-fast, ultra-dense heavy beat on a crowd primed for chaos. I had never seen a crowd go that ape-shit at the ‘new’ 9:30 Club before and I haven’t since. That was ATR’s last U.S. tour and the band dissolved a few years later.
Almost exactly a year ago, Alec Empire brought a reformed Atari Teenage Riot to Baltimore as part of a limited tour in small venues. I reviewed that show and expressed most of my thoughts about why Alec has brought the band back in that review. Since last September, I witnessed ATR destroy at a large sold-out concert in London and they have released a superb new album entitled “Is This Hyperreal?”. The concert at 9:30 Club on Saturday night was part of their tour in support of the the new album.
Going into Saturday’s show, I knew that the band are still playing true to form and that the new album was full of solid material. The big question mark for me was what would the crowd be like? Would the club be packed like in 1999 or would the band’s decade of inaction hurt the turn-out? And if the club was near-empty, would it hurt the ATR’s performance?
It turned out that the floor of the club was about half-full and the balconies were almost empty, save a few people who wanted to avoid any festivities on the floor. Those who were in attendance were all die hard fans though, with an equal mix of Digital Hardcore veterans and younger fans who were finally getting the chance to see these 90′s underground heroes. The crowd although on the small side for the big club did the band complete justice and ATR returned the favor in full by blowing the place apart.
Atari Teenage Riot played a set that was an equal mix of the new album and classic material. They performed with a table sloppy with wire-tangles and gadgets that each of the trio took turns noodling with. The mess of table-top gear surrounded by the empty stage transformed the feel of the club from that of the nation’s top venue to being in someone’s basement filled with bootlegged, rummage sale electronics.
The tri-vocal attack was in full effect all night but the show was most exciting when Alec Empire, the group’s founder and last original member, was on the mic. There is a quality to Empire’s outrage and energy that makes him completely convincing. Every audience I’ve seen him perform for seems compelled by this genuine quality to go along with Empire wherever he takes them. It was no different on Saturday when he hyped the audience up with flying jump kicks and hand motions before going off on a somewhat goofy rant about cell-phones in the middle of the show. By that time, we were all so into the high energy of the music and Alec’s kung-fu antics that we probably would have cheered in agreement to almost anything he said.
Which really gets to the point of why I love this band so much. The music really is about the blending of heavy dance beats and noise into an almost unrecognizable hybrid sound that your body cannot resist. Like a crowd-control sound cannon, you can only consciously withstand digital hardcore for so long before your reflexes react and your body begins to move uncontrollably. I am sure for some listeners, the radical politics of the group are much more important than they are to me. For me the main attraction is Atari Teenage Riot’s unrelenting, beat-driven, noise assault and that is what they delivered in its purest and best form on Saturday night.