@ Underworld, London, 1 May 2009
Empire has enjoyed many incarnations, from big name DJ and
dance music producer to being part of John Peel favourites
Atari Teenage Riot, purveyors of anarchistic thrashing electronic
or Alexander Wilke-Steinhof to be formal, founded the Digital
Hardcore and Eat Your Heart Out labels, not to mention spawning
the whole digital hardcore genre itself, and in recent years
has launched a successful solo career that throws all of
those previous influences into one acidic melting pot.
the day before his 37th birthday, the Berliner finds himself
in Camden's Underworld, which is still looking fairly sparsely
populated as final support act Modulate
bang out their in-your-face industrial techno. The samples
are sweary (hardly surprising on tracks with names like
Skullfuck) and a bit juvenile, with the end product sounding
like it was produced circa 1994.
Alec Empire presents
himself on stage to a backing of hard and heavy breaks and
beats, as he shouts, "Come on and make some fucking
noise!", before launching into an electro-style offering
from his new Shivers EP. Picking up his guitar, spiky waveforms
of aggressive electronic noise pound the crowd in the chest,
making for a sound that's as punishing as it is exhilarating.
not all raw and raging, however. At times Empire's set is
so '80s it's like being in a new romantic timewarp as Gary
Numan-esque synth tracks and stark vocals combine
with the neon lights flickering in the background. The keyboard
player also adds to the effect, with creative black make-up
tramlined across her face.
It's not long
before another thrashing, shouty number though, creating
a sound so fearsome it could probably make noses bleed.
But the crowd laps it up, dreds flying in the strobelighting
as grown men climb pillars to punch the air.
The mixture of
synthpop and punk is an intriguing one; an electro track
with gunshot beats certainly has an impact. But at times
the retro-futurism is laid on so thickly that it's hard
not to smirk and wonder if Empire is about to break into
a cover of Mighty Boosh favourite, Future Sailors.
add to the theatrical air, Patrick Wolf
then takes to the stage like some kind of flamboyant panto
villain in fairy wings for his Empire collaboration, Vulture.
It's overblown and vaguely ridiculous in nature but all
the same is something to be savoured. Empire's breakbeat-laden,
early-'90s-style rave-thrash then triggers a stagediving
As the crowd
screech for more, Alec retakes the stage for the encore
and dedicates a track to former Atari Teenage Riot band
mate, Carl Crack, who died of an overdose in 2001. He crowdsurfs
like an angel across the adoring throng before being dunked
back on stage in time for Patrick Wolf to rejoin him for
ATR classic, Revolution Action.
the set packs a punch but it's hard to be sure just how
seriously it can be taken at times. The bruising dance beats
and ear-shredding guitar combine to create an exaggerated
sense of drama, but there's an overwhelming whiff of painfully
art-school cool self-parody that won't dissipate. Empire
certainly creates a magnificent spectacle, but he can come
across as being too knowing for his own good.
Ian Roullier, 05/2009