Founder of Berlin's Digital Hardcore Recordings, Alec Empire created some of the most musically diverse works of the 1990s, recording both as himself and with the trio Atari Teenage Riot. Empire was often identified with (and pigeonholed because of) his ATR productions -- lo-fi breakbeats played at the speed of thrash that simultaneously embraced the energy of punk, the uncompromising ferocity of industrial music, and the futurism of techno. On his solo albums, however, Empire ranged through isolationist ambient, electro, breakbeat, hard techno, even twisted lounge music. As such, he gained fans in several fields while recording for the German experimental/electronic label Mille Plateaux. Still, his first American exposure came when the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal Records signed Atari Teenage Riot in 1996.
Born on May 2, 1972, in West Berlin, Alec Empire was early influenced by rap and the breakdancing scene. Later he began listening to early punk and played in several bands during the late '80s. By the turn of the decade, Empire became fascinated by the sound of acid and techno, though he detested the drug culture inherent at raves. He began recording EPs for Force Inc -- as well as their subsidiary, Mille Plateaux -- and formed Atari Teenage Riot in 1992, with Carl Crack and Hanin Elias. A slightly more rock-oriented project, ATR nevertheless focused on the extreme: their political themes and screamed vocals were inspired by punk, but the music concentrated on acid synth and distorted breakbeats. After an Atari Teenage Riot deal with British Phonogram collapsed, Empire used the cash in hand from the Phonogram contract to found Digital Hardcore Recordings in 1994, releasing EPs that year by himself as well as EC8OR, DJ Bleed, and Sonic Subjunkies.
In 1995, Mille Plateax released three Alec Empire albums: the compilation Limited Editions 1990-94; his proper debut album, Generation Star Wars; and Low on Ice (The Iceland Sessions). That same year, Atari Teenage Riot recorded 1995, the first album to be released on Digital Hardcore. After two 1996 LPs, Hypermodern Jazz 2000.5 and Les Etoiles des Filles Mortes, Empire issued his first album for Digital Hardcore, The Destroyer. Soon after, the DHR collective -- including ATR and EC8OR -- toured the States at the invitation of Grand Royal Records, the label operated by the Beastie Boys. Grand Royal began releasing 7" singles by Empire, ATR, and EC8OR at the end of 1996. Early the following year, many of Empire's albums were given U.S. releases by his self-formed Geist Records, and Atari Teenage Riot released their American debut, Burn, Berlin, Burn. The double album Intelligence & Sacrifice appeared in 2002 and was followed by a series of live albums before Futurist appeared in 2006. ~ John Bush