Sunday, June 12, 2011

Atari Teenage Riot- Is This Hyperreal? REVIEW

Returning to an established artistic medium after a lengthy absence has always been a dicey move. Look no further than the Guns n’ Roses Chinese Democracy disaster or the cinematic stain known as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Time both heals and nurtures collective opinion- but it facilitates expectations as well. This is why these audience reengagements tend to fall flat on their face. It’s hard to discern what an audience wants from what an audience thinks it wants. Memory is tricky that way. Take Rage Against the Machine, for example. I’ll never forget that feeling of unstoppable exhilaration I experienced when first listening to Battle of Los Angeles. I was excited, I was angry, I was fiery, I was sixteen. Years later, when Rage comes on the radio, I do not so much listen to the music as I recall the feeling. For five minutes, I wax nostalgic- not even processing the aural explosion of “Bulls on Parade”. For all intents and purpose, the music is dead to me and technically, that feeling of unabashed youthful initiative is dead too- but the memory of that feeling lives on. This is no longer art that is- it is art that was in every way the past tense can be applied. We live in an age of rapid cultural acceleration. The best forms of iconography travel with you through life, periodically dropping in at various personal touchstones- offering a new, fresh perspective while still maintaining that familiar warmth; but, honestly, this doesn’t happen often. This is the main reason why lengthy absences are such a gamble. The art needs to keep the consumer at arm’s length as much as possible. If the consumer is allowed too much autonomy with personal recollection, the artist is facing the insurmountable obstacle known as relative memory. We need to miss our music or films while still resting assured that they will return in a timely fashion. The problem with iconic comebacks is that the rebooted product usually ends up a half-baked collection of ideas. Iconic influence can approach mythical status in the ability to marinate over time. However, removed from its generational context, a once-forceful piece of art can suddenly seem dated and quaint. And when the artist in question attempts to rehash this material, it becomes quickly irrelevant. The next thing you know, people begin asking each other, “Why did we even like this in the first place?” Walking the tightrope between nostalgia and pertinence usually ends with the artist providing a lot of everything but not much of anything.

Which brings me to Atari Teenage Riot and Is This Hyperreal?- their first album in more than a decade. When I first listened to Atari Teenage Riot years and years ago, I was puzzled at the addictive nature of this unintelligible noise. 1997’s The Future of War was an auditory cyberpunk assault of distorted electronic loops, driving bass lines, and painful screams of political protest. This was a signature sound so unique, fresh, and unapologetically 90s that it was near impossible to determine whether or not you actually liked it- for fear of any negative remarks merely being the result of “not getting it”. Unfortunately, the band sounds exactly the same fourteen years later on Is This Hyperreal?. All of the well-worn elements are present in attendance (except of course Carl Crack who died of a drug overdose in 2001)- but what was once hypnotic in its audacity has now become boring and dare I say, irrelevant. Additionally, acts such as The Knife and Crystal Castles have wonderfully refined this genre of kitschy digitalism- a natural development that Riot opts to ignore. With such a huge gap in their catalogue- 1999’s 60 Second Wipeout was the last studio release- Atari Teenage Riot was afforded the luxury of an entire new cultural zeitgeist to cultivate for ideas and influence. However, Riot blatantly disregards this zeitgeist en route to a full-bodied embrace of dated social expressions. The whole affair is completely interchangeable with any of their other material from the mid-to-late 90s. The only problem is that the world has taken giant cognitive leaps in self-awareness since 1999. We have been a Pre-9/11 world, a Post-9/11 world, and are now venturing into the beginning stages of a Post-post 9/11 perspective where individual privacy is ultimately phased out under the guise of self-choice. America’s mindset, in particular, has gone from fearing the enemy who hides within to fearing the enemy from afar to basically fearing the unknown in just twelve years. I don’t think we could have given Atari Teenage Riot more material for a comeback album if we tried. With this taken into account, the whole exercise feels fairly insignificant- and more than a little frustrating. Furthermore, by reverting back to their outdated tricks, the band all but forces the listener to indulge in nostalgia if they wish to actually enjoy the album. However, if there was one era that is not ready for the ironic, wistful, nostalgic treatment, it is the self-satisfied, VR-obsessed, hacker culture of the mid-90s and it's neon visions of cyberparanoia prophesied in films like Hackers and Virtuosity. Perhaps Riot’s fanbase will applaud the band for refusing to abandon their roots and ideals- and I suppose there is some merit to that. But it’s hard to take Riot’s anger and resentment seriously when one stops to realize that all the Clinton-era, post-Punk, fist-shaking became passé once those planes hit the towers. In hindsight, the fury of the unaware seems quaint. In the present, it’s pretty ridiculous.


Atari Teenage Riot - "Blood In My Eyes" (8MB mp3 version) by Alec Empire/ ATR

1 comment: