I know it’s conventional to start a gig review by actually relating what’s occurring at the gig itself, maybe by describing the support band for instance, but I’m diverting from this approach by beginning it on the morning of the day of the gig (which was conventionally scheduled for the evening). So it was morning time & my excitement was mounting. Not only had I never seen Atari Teenage Riot live before but I’d also heard they were pretty amazing live &, in fact, even better so than recorded. Add to that the fact that I’d grabbed a couple of streamings off the SoundCloud widget that had been playing their imminent album all week & which sounded as full of vim as ever & you can understand why I was concluding that all the signs were pointing towards an exceedingly entertaining evening.
Then I checked in with my twitter timeline & saw a tweet from Joe Muggs regarding the previous nights ATR gig in London. In the tweet he suggested it had been a rather disappointing experience. I promptly, albeit reluctantly, lowered my expectations for the evenings event a tad. It turned out to be a short lived lowering of expectations mind as, when I read the review he’d done in The Artsdesk it appeared the main problems he had with the gig were firstly the fact that the event felt quite commercial, mainly because it was in the O2, & secondly that the audience were a bit too cool & hipsterish. Also, and thirdly, Msr Muggs had previously seen ATR in 1999, generally considered their heyday, so I figured there was probably a touch of rose tinted spectacles syndrome taking place too, a syndrome I’ve fallen foul of myself before, most notably at the Swans gig last year – they were still great but they were nothing like how I remembered they were from seeing them during their wall of sound Children Of God period.
Obviously as I’d never seen ATR before I wasn’t going to have problems with rose tinted spectacles. Also the gig was at one of Bristols best venues, The Fleece, which is certainly not commercial at all. And of course we don’t really have many hipsters here in Bristol. (He says) It’s where London people move too to get away from hipsters. (He says again). (I have no proof of either of those sayings). We definitely do have the legendary Big Jeff however & talking to him before ATR came on I found out he too had also seen ATR in 1999. I considered suggesting he dampened his enthusiasm but realised nothing could ever dampen Big Jeffs enthusiasm minutes before a gig . Anyway to cut this long preamble short, after my early morning dip in expectations I decided it was probably appropriate to notch my expectations back up a bit again. It sounded like the music at their gigs was still pretty wonderful & it had been other factors that had led to the slightly less than glowing review in the Artsdesk.
I arrived towards the end of the first bands set, Foe ,they were ok. They’ve done sessions for 6 music apparently. They strike me as quite a good example of a 6 music band. I don’t really listen to much 6 music. Probably because I think it’s full of mediocre soft indie/soft rock music bands (when it’s not playing archive material obviously)(which it does an awful lot). I imagine Foe are one of the better bands on 6 music. Not quite good enough to lure me back to listen to it though. There are video’s of Foe up at 6 music recorded when they did a session for them. You can also find a link from Foe’s own website. I’m assuming, you see, that my enthusiastic endorsement of them has whetted your appetite & that you desperately want to hear what they sound like.
Second band on were Necro Deathmort, I tweeted before they took to the stage that judging solely on the name I wasn’t expecting much from them unless they’d been reading LTW & were going to come on & do a vegan cookery demonstration a la the vegan black metal chef . They didn’t. They began pretty much as one might expect a band called Necro Deathmort would begin. All of a drone & a doom & one sustained note & a bit of a muffled growly vocal thing. Minimalism. Yum. Just as I was beginning to think that was going to be it for the rest of the set they began doing something a bit different and from then on in things took very much a turn for the better. If I were to attach a tag to them I’d go for #supersonic, as in a band that wouldn’t be out of place at Birmingham’s excellent festival of all things noise. (A bit of googling revealed that they had indeed been on the Supersonic bill last year). They reminded me of a slightly more subdued, more spooky (tho not quite as good) version of the brilliant King Midas Sound whose gig earlier this year at the Anolfini was one of the top 3 gigs I’ve seen this year. They slowly started building & looping & swirling & droning while getting faster & louder until you were totally drawn in by, a little bit mesmerised by & properly hooked by”Â¦. it. Or I was anyway. You can pre-order the new album from Norman Records. I imagine their music is best listened too with huge all encasing headphones in a dark room very loud.
Then it was time for ATR. I usually begin gigs a couple of rows back, wait for the moshing to begin to build up then decide where I’m going to stand, usually just on the perimeter of the mayhem so I can still comfortably dance without being in danger of losing teeth. I’ve lost way too many teeth & fractured way to many vertebrae in my time to risk being in the seething throng these days. It’s a tactic that’s never failed me in the past as usually it takes a while for mosh pit action to build up. Except it didn’t on this occasion. Atari Teenage Riot start pretty full on, straight in there with the heavy pumping brutal hard beats we know them for. No slow build up for them. It all started a bit too quickly for me anyway & before I knew it I was kind of caught up in the craziness with everyone else. Everyone was taking a lead off Alec Empire himself who, full of ridiculous amounts of energy, was also bouncing & jumping about like a thing possessed. It didn’t last very long for me in the thick of it. A couple of proper full on bounces were about my limit whereupon I realised I couldn’t actually manage to get off the ground with my jumps anymore & instead was just rising up onto tiptoes then dropping back down again while everyone else was bouncing about a foot off the ground. So I decided an honourable retreat was probably the order of the day before someone camcordered it & showed it back to me in an attempt to shame me into never dancing at a gig again. (I have a wild imagination some times.) Perhaps not surprisingly no sooner had I stepped backwards than I was lamped one right in my face. That’s life at an Atari Teenage Riot gig I guess.
I tend to avoid going to watch reformed bands most of the time, figuring they’re usually going to be a pale shadow of their former selves. I can’t imagine any way ATR could be more intense or full on so I’m guessing Friday’s gig was pretty representative of what they were like back in olden times. In fact most of the reformed bands I do go & see tend to still have the same fire & intensity & commitment as ever. Either I choose the reformed bands I go to see well or I’m just being a bit prejudiced regarding reformed bands. If anything I think it’s arguable that ATR’s gigs are more intense now as their gigs are more of a multi sensory headfuck these days compared to what is suggested to me from old Youtube video’s I’ve seen & in which they seem to have relied solely on the ferocity of the music. They attack you on all different levels now; blinding & really hot strobing lights, dry ice, loudhailers plus the visual performance of the band. The loudhailer brought back *fond* memories of Butthole Surfers gigs & *grisly* memories of the penis reconstruction/dissection operations the Surfers used to screen at the same loudhailer gigs. New paragraph time.
Most of the gigs I go to these days, especially those with harder, faster, heavier bands (I’m thinking particularly of the Fucked Up, Cerebral Ballzy & Iceage gigs I’ve seen in the last week) seem to end up with band members coming down from the stage, moving around amongst us & generally closely interacting with the crowd. Atari Teenage Riot were pretty much the opposite, keeping a definite barrier between themselves & the audience. This barrier was created by not only the strong lights flashing directly in your face but also the intense noise & the fact that the stage was raised quite highly & was piled up with amps & equipment. It’s quite possible/probable it wasn’t intentionally done this way for to create the effect of an us & them situation. But what I do reckon is that by creating the barrier the intensity of ATR’s gig was ramped way higher than those gigs that involve intermingling of band members & audience. Also I preferred the fact that I wasn’t in danger of being hugged by a big sweaty ol’ pink eyes.
I’m not going to reel off a set list because I can’t remember what songs were played. I know most of the songs definitely came from the new album, “Is This Hyperreal”Â, which has been up for streaming for a week as I mentioned above. To be honest though there was no discernible difference between the quality of the old tracks and new as far as I could tell. Apart from familiarity of course and a bit of audience member participation. (Singing along). All the tracks had the same effect in that they got the adrenalin pumping, the new tracks as much as the old. Alec Empire himself seemed to expend an awful lot of energy trying to persuade us to make as much noise as possible as often as possible. Still not sure why. Maybe he wanted us to get them as pumped as they were getting us pumped. At one point I thought maybe they were recording the noise we were making to put it through an amplifier & send it back at us, maybe through the aforementioned loud hailer. I must’ve been a little bit in the palm of their hand anyway as I certainly woke up with a very sore throat so I guess I was happy to join in “making some noise”Â frequently even if I didn’t know why we were being asked to do so.
It was a wonderfully long set. I go to about 3/4 gigs per week & the only one I can think of recently that was longer was Bill Callahan. And of course Bill Callahan doesn’t exactly “go for it”Â like ATR. Doesn’t go for it at all really in fact. (Not that he wasn’t brill of course). No idea how long the ATR gig lasted but I didn’t get home till 1 so I’m guessing it was over an hour. Pretty incredible for such a ferociously insane gig. There were certainly an awful lot of a lot of very happy, grinning, sweaty people by the end of the night as we shuffled out after the 3 (I think) song encore. I have a fail proof way of telling whether or not I’ve been to a good gig the next day. Basically if the cap I tend to wear to gigs is still wet the next morning I know I’ve had a good time the night before. My hat come Saturday morning was still utterly drenched. Although to be honest I didn’t need my hat to tell me I’d been to a great gig. I imagine the memory of it will be seared into my mind for a while to come. I pity the next bands I going to see who will now inevitably be compared to that.
Is This Hyperreal is due for release on 7th June digitally & 21st June physically. You can pre-order it now. If you can’t wait that long you’ve got a couple of options. Either visit the link up above & stream the album or go here where you can download a Daytrotter session ATR recorded on 9th May 2011. As with all the Dayrotter sessions it’s free.