|(Photos by Shannon Aliza)|
The lights go out and we hear the opening beat to "Black Flags," a track off of Atari Teenage Riot’s newest album Is this Hyperreal? out earlier this year. Vocals, but no band members on stage. The whole song plays through. Ummm…what? People are headbanging, but is this really just an elaborate listening party? Finally the band enters to officially open with "Activate," accompanied by a hyperstrobe. It wasn’t a huge turnout for the German digital hardcore punks, but it was enough for Alec Empire to fall onto the front rows in a Christ-like pose, supported by fists in the air. The intensity continues with "The Only Slight Glimmer of Hope," posing the hyperpolitical (ok, last use of that prefix) question “how much blood will it take?” The band used the live setting to remain contemporary, chanting “Occupy Chicago” (for those who are unfamiliar, read about the movement that is currently happening--yes, right now!--in our city here) and the ever-insightful “Fuck the Police.”
Continuing the raw energy, the group launched into a “live” rendition of "Black Flags," “live” being in quotations as it sounded almost exactly like the recorded version that preceded the performance minutes before. No, there were no musicians with guitars, bass, or drums. It was recordings, three vocalists and a couple processors that added minimal difference to the pre-recorded material. Likewise, with such a politically charged group, it’s more about the lyrics, the meaning, the message, the mobilization of a crowd than any technical musical ability. Pretty much take the leftist politics of Anti-Flag and apply to Sham 69 discovering '90s techno music and you have the live show. Alec Empire and Nic Endo provided the interweaving male/female sing/screaming with newest member MC CX KiDTRONiK rapping during verses. It was a bombastic assault of all confrontational music combined into a sweaty trio of energy.
The set mostly focused on the upbeat new material, but some old stuff was thrown in, including "Into the Death," "Speed" and "Start the Riot!," all from their 1995 debut Delete Yourself! And then, "Re-arrange Your Synapses" reminded the listener that even with Barack Obama in the White House, racism is alive and well in America, while simultaneously drawing parallels between government surveillance in Iran and China with that of social media and the Internet in America. Most of the set was cast in an intense strobe to match the revved up tempos, save for the anti-conformist outro of "Shadow Identity," Endo reaching a hand into the crowd while repeating "Who do you want to be and why?’
Of course a band with such political awareness is not immune to stopping the show to educate/preach to the crowd and choir about their ideas. Empire took the lead on this one and railed against Chicago-based Pitchfork specifically (perhaps because of this album review). Empire received his own crowd backlash, being called a "hipster Nazi" (one wonders why people pay to get into these things to heckle the performer), which Empire used to segue into how Americans haven’t the slightest clue of what Nazism is. But that was just the loudest anti-ATR crowd member, the majority shouting praise and support for their beliefs. Whichever side you were on, whether you think this non-teenage Teenage Riot should have stayed back in the '90s or welcome them and their confrontational politics back, it makes for one loud and unavoidable voice, who are at least aware there is a world around them.
On the exact opposite spectrum were openers the Gothsicles. If you are a graphic designer who plays video games in his/her spare time, this is the band for you. Lyrical topics include: one second invincibility, Magiquest, drinking, fonts (“see you in Helvetica!”), his guy dying in Dungeons and Dragons and various other video game and LARP references. The two-piece was backed by a green and black, nightvision-tinted video to correspond with the music and they gothed up the theme to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The group was more nintendocore than HORSE The Band and more –core than Weezer’s archetypal nerdrock. Definitely an entertaining opener and much better than the Insane Clown Posse goes dubstep of Otto Von Schirach I was exposed to. Under the principle of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” I’ll just say I was grateful the Music Joint next door had better drink deals.