Ladies and gentlemen, you may once again start the riot. After a 10 year absence, Atari Teenage Riot has returned to do what they do best: make noise and rally listening ears against political injustice, although not necessarily in that order. As Friday night's performance proved, 10 years away and a new lineup have done very little to soften Alec Empire and company's sonic and visual assault.
Returning to Chicago for the first time in over a decade, Atari Teenage Riot wasted little time in turning the stage into a sea of strobe-lights, chanting and sonic blasts all while bouncing between the vocals and electronics. Led by Empire, sound manipulator/vocalist Nic Endo and newest member CX KidTRONiK quickly jumped into the trio's return single, "Activate," which sounded more like a battle cry to remind the audience of newer and older fans just what they had waited all night for. In response, the audience every moment of the 90-minute set chanting lyrics, bouncing around and pumping their fists in the air.
With the re-introduction out of the way, the rest of the set became less of a greatest hits and more of a thank you to the fans who piled into Bottom Lounge to check out the band. Early classics like "Speed" and "Destroy 2000 Years of Culture" pumped through the speakers with a urgency that demanded that crowd move along to the notes especially during "Destroy 2000 Years of Culture" where Empire and KiDTRONiK rampaged across the front of the stage leading the audience to shout back "destroy." The dance beats of "Midijunkies" rang out like an alarm over the audience while the band was bathed in a red light.
Latter singles like the encore opener "Revolution Action" and "Too Dead For Me" offered more menacing and louder renditions than their studio counterparts. Highlighting each of these numbers was the inclusion of Nic Endo and CX KiDTRONiK on vocals to fill in for Hanin Elias and the late Carl Crack. In the previous incarnation, Endo served the role of a sound creator and manipulator while delivering backing vocals. As a frontwoman, she more than fills Elias' shoes. Part manic cheerleader, part punkish barker, Endo competently steps up to the role as the new frontwoman whether she's bouncing around the stage in sync to pounding beats or dropping to her knees and screeching out vocals. The same can be said for KiDTRONiK, who like Endo, takes on a previous role, in this case Carl Crack, and honors it while at the same time adding his own flair to the sound and performance. At one point, the mohawked MC was pulled into the crowd after getting so close.
As impressive as Atari Teenage Riot was visually and musically, their openers, Caustic and Aluminum Babe, seemed to sadly offer no more than a distant memory by the time the opening notes of "Activate" hit the speakers. Madison, WI's Caustic provided a combination of hardcore industrial/dance beats with pseudo death metal growls. As the combination has been done before in bands like Static-X and Fear Factory, there was not any new ground to break. The music, however, leaned more toward the dance sound with metal vocals instead of metal with electronic dance backings which made it vary a bit from the previous bands mentioned but offered very little variation between songs other than being heavier or more throbbing than the last one. With titles such as "White Knuckle Headfuck" and "Piss and Vinegar," it seemed more like shock value which would have been perfect if the vocalist had came out dressed like Dani Filth or a member of Gwar. The pairing of that image with that sound would have worked out better especially as the opening act.
The Swedish/New York duo Aluminum Babe had catchy dance beats and were reminiscent of a band that you would see in a club at midnight in a vampire movie from the late 80's/early 90's. In fact, I would liken them to a dance version of She Want Revenge if fronted by Lene Lovich. The vocals had a bit of an icy feeling to them that were given a bit of warmth from the echo effect it was processed through. The beats had enough bounce to it that you could not help but bob your head or dance to them. The combination played well enough off each other but needed a little more to truly stand out. This band would be best served if they added live guitar and live drums to complement their strengths.
In the end, Atari Teenage Riot decimated the opening acts, and the eyes and eardrums of the attendees with a performance nothing short of unbelievable. If you were looking for something heavy and relentless on Friday night, this was the place to be. While I am sure there were plenty of punk and metal bands playing throughout the city, none of them could have the aural assault of ATR and it would be hard to imagine that they could. Welcome back, ATR, although it feels like you never really left.
ATARI TEENAGE RIOT