In 1999, Berlin digital hardcore outfit Atari Teenage Riot was enjoying cult success after the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal imprint released Burn, Berlin, Burn!, a compilation of tracks from ATR's first two European releases, Delete Yourself! and The Future of War.
Soon, the band — consisting of MC Carl Crack, mastermind Alec Empire, and female collaborators Hanin Elias and Nic Endo — signed to Elektra Records and began working with Grammy-winning sound engineer Andy Wallace on its major-label debut, 60 Second Wipeout. The ambitious U.S. promotional push for the album included music videos directed by Italian photographer Andrea Giacobbe and Aussie film director John Hillcoat as well as an opening slot on Nine Inch Nails' Fragility tour.
Things seemed to be going well for an act deemed too confrontational and politically charged to succeed. But Elias and Crack proved incapable of dealing with the pressures of pop stardom, leaving Empire and Endo to pick up the pieces. And ultimately, Crack's death in September 2001 — often called a suicide, although the band argues it could have been an accident because of the MC's diagnosed psychosis — seemed to mark the definitive end of the Atari Teenage Riot revolution.
"I [have been] doing other stuff in the last ten years, like [solo material], a few independent film soundtracks, and things like that," Empire explains. "It wasn't really on my radar that people were still discovering Atari Teenage Riot."
Then, two years ago, Elias contacted Empire about reuniting ATR's living members. The band recorded a new single, "Activate!", and scheduled a May reunion concert in London.
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But ATR's return to the stage didn't go exactly as planned. "[Hanin] ran into these vocal problems and then was like, 'Maybe I shouldn't play this show,'" Empire says. "So [it] was embarrassing that she didn't turn up. But people loved [Nic Endo] so much we said, 'Let's do this!'"
Thus, a shaky reunion spurred the permanent return of Atari Teenage Riot, including its first album in 11 years, Is This Hyperreal?, and a world tour featuring Empire, Endo, and CX Kidtronik, an MC who had previously appeared on Empire's solo album.
The ATR mastermind admits he was initially hesitant to let anyone fill in for Crack. But to ease worries, Kidtronik chose to write his own lyrics for all of ATR's old tracks instead of using the deceased MC's words.
"It's almost like remixing a song by adding new lyrics to them," Empire says. "That was the moment that we started thinking of Atari Teenage Riot as a sort of statement of the present rather than trying to re-create something from the past."