CARL CRACK PLAYS in a pop band, but he talks like a revolutionary. It's 11 a.m. and he has a post-gig hangover, so it's a little too early for him to talk politics. Yet, within minutes, the Berlin-bred rave punk launches into propaganda in a freaked-out English/German blurt: "Everything you do is political. Even if I have sex, go to the toilet, it's political as well."
Last night, Crack and his band Atari Teenage Riot played to a packed house at the legendary New York punk club CBGB. They owned the place. ATR's brutally fun, strobe-light-soaked aggression gelled with the pogo-dancing, stage-diving CB faithful. It was the kind of crowd ATR feeds on, and a wholly different type of alt-rock fandom than the fratsters the band can expect to meet on September 3 when they play the Target Center as the opening act for Rage Against the Machine and Wu Tang Clan. CBGB was a high point for the Berlin-based noise band, a step forward in a punk-rock evolution that too few of today's more commercial bands are willing to claim. "Punk rock happened in '77, and now we're going into the next century," Crack says.
The riot started in Berlin in 1992, when the South African-born Crack met a woman from Damascus named Hanin Elias and an electronic-music wiz named Alec Empire--both post-punks in love with acid-house music, looking to fashion a musical response to the racism they saw in the Berlin rave scene. Their first punk single, "Hunt Down the Nazis," scored them a nationwide radio ban, while starting a music-press maelstrom in England, where ATR's very, very hard mix of hard-core techno, hard-core punk, hard-core speed metal, and hard-core jungle ("Digital Hardcore!") shocked a staid dance community.
"Everyone from the techno scene said, 'No politics on the dance floor,' but we felt we had to say something about what was going on," Crack remembers. "There were skinheads who would come to our show, get fucked up, and try to attack us when we played 'Hunt Down the Nazis.' That doesn't happen anymore."
But a revolution in Germany doesn't mean much in Minnesota. Many missed the point last winter when Radio K unleashed ATR's astonishing single "Deutschland (Has Gotta Die!)" (with Elias's song-ending bellow "The time is right to fight!") into its regular mix of indie-pop. The song was a premillennial migraine not unlike the Chemical Brothers' "Setting Sun." Both were techno, but where the British duo's apocalypse-pop offered escapism, ATR's dance-floor death-core depicted an honest vision of post-technological meltdown.
Their full-length debut, Burn, Berlin, Burn!, never quite yielded the punk hooks "Deutschland" promised, but songs like the storm-trooper disco tune "Destroy 2000 Years of Culture" blurred the agit-prop gusto of The Fall's Mark E. Smith with the hardest drum'n'bass imaginable.
And Crack is cranked about the current tour. ATR is playing for large audiences that often react to their noise with blank stares and covered ears. The mixed response has only inspired the group to kick out even more sonic dissonance. "We're hard-core anyway," he says. "We're playing in huge arenas with 20,000 people in them. If 1,000 people get into our music, that's fine."
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