The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Atari Teenage Riot
Is This Hyperreal? Nix Lowrey , June 23rd, 2011 14:37

Hyperreality is a philosophical concept bandied about by all manner of theorists, and particularly prevalent around the early 80s, when computing – and the artificial universe potentiated within – was finally in the grasp of the average enthusiast/consumer/futurist. Hyperreality is a term meant to describe either an individual who cannot differentiate reality from a technology-centric fantasy (World of Warcraft, anyone?), however it can also be applied to entire societies, entire worlds, where the synthetic universe is so entwined with our definition of 'reality' that we cannot distinguish one from the other.

Atari Teenage Riot – themselves extreme early adopters of music producing technology with their trusty and eponymous Atari 520ST computer – have with Is This Hyperreal? concocted a digital (and aware of both the irony and the intimacy of their medium) manifesto warning the apathetic now of the dangers and opportunities of the digital world. With direct lyrics that leave Britain's own supposedly radical minstrels (the laughable Frank Turner, for instance) blushing at their own quieter subtleties, and the accompaniment of the ATR signature enervating bombast, Alec Empire, Nic Endo and KiDTrONIK clearly have no fear of (hyper)bole or offending 21st century slack-jawed social jaundice.

"Music is a weapon, sounds like a threat... Activate" it begins, phrasing Baudrillard's semiotically challenging warnings in a far more palatable and frankly adrenalising manner. Raving hoover noises and drilling drums pulse aggressively as Empire and Endo shriek "government control, too much government control!"

And they continue as they begin, with body pounding kicks and the hypnotic, repetitive battering rams of slogans and calls to arm. Is this Hyperreal? is full of them, Empire Endo, and KiDTrONIK acting as cheerleaders to the dissidents: the riot grrl-inspired rant against human trafficking is heard in the shriek of 'Too Much Blood!' 'Black Flags'' anarchism-embracing call of "are you ready to testify" dares the listener to stand up to government corruption. It's so effective a call-and-response anthem that I challenge you not to be shouting 'hell, yeah', even if silently, secretly.

Notably absent – or present in hints and rapid gun-fire ratatats only – is the abrasive hyperspeed of digital hardcore's distorted break: Is this Hyperreal? sits confidently between the former extremities of ATR and the surprisingly house-influenced Alec Empire solo release of 2007, The Golden Foretaste Of Heaven. So it retains the cavernous breath-stealing kick drums, the somehow seductive shouts, and above all the pogo-inducing adrenaline of classic ATR, but deletes much of the excess noise of breakcore, instead opting for a Berlin techno structure: pulses, sawtooths and horror-strings. Given that the overt politicism of the lyrics will be a strange enough jolt to the synapses of most new listeners in this day and age ('what is this political message thing? Are they joking? Is this, like.... ironic???'), the absence of sonic abrasion (well, comparatively) will work in ATR's favour, allowing their fervour and vitriol to assume primary place.

Make no mistake, this album is unique: take yourself to any black clad industrial festival and you will find plenty of digital harcore makers, angry noiseniks, boot-stomping and bellowing Body Music makers, inciting one to action, to violence. But none manage the infectious and somehow alien sincerity of ATR with such effectiveness and appeal. They tell it how it is, but never nihilistically, giving hints on how to rebel intelligently. This riotous manifesto deserves to blow minds – literally. And if it does, our hyperreality can only be improved, even changed. As Nic Endo shouts: let's abolish the existing grid.