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By Dave Chamberlain

DECEMBER 1, 1997:  The dark side of electronica comes to Chicago November 29 as the progenitors of digital hardcore, Atari Teenage Riot, are joined by Ec8or and Shizuo in an invasion of the Metro for a rumble on turntables. Among all the manifestations of electronic and dance music, digital hardcore waves the most erect middle finger as the loudest, angriest and most socially conscious.

Digital hardcore isn't necessarily a single sound, but it is always an angry sound. Using mixes of high-speed breakbeat and sub-bass, digital hardcore bands scream vocals over the top of dubs from hardcore, thrash and death metal, usually sampling a single riff throughout an entire song. The result can be seen three ways: for the light-music lovers, it sounds like an avalanche of scrap metal falling inside an empty corn silo; to club kids it may sound like a metalhead bastardization of what they love most; for fans of everything hard and fast, it sounds like a best-of-hardcore-riffs collection. Digital Hardcore's style is the only form of electronica that could possibly appeal to metalheads and punks who wave the "techno sucks" banner with a proud sneer.

Digital hardcore was pioneered by Atari Teenage Riot, a Berlin-based "band" led by Alex Empire. The impetus for the crossover of hardcore and techno mirrored the conception of punk rock: dramatic social change. Whereas in the mid-seventies punk arose as a result of an economic shift in England, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the following reunification of Germany led to a rise in racism and scapegoating, which spilled over to an already volatile music scene.

"I had played in a lot of punk bands in the eighties," says Empire in an Ahnold-style accent. "But by the end of the decade, I thought it was dead. At that time, though, it was very exciting to hear the house music from Chicago and techno from Detroit. And the discos were a place where everyone was accepted. But as the political situation in post-reunification Germany got worse, some discos became very racist toward Turks, not letting them in. We thought we had to make a statement."

That statement was digital hardcore. Loud, broken, politically oriented, but still meant for a disco. With songs like "Start the Riot," "Delete Yourself" and "Fuck All"--as well as occasional remakes of original hardcore songs like "Kids Are United"--peppering Atari Teenage Riot's four import records and their domestic release "Burn, Berlin, Burn" (Grand Royal/Digital Hardcore), the band single-handedly forged a new genre of music.

According to Empire, the band (whose other two members, Hanin Elias and Carl Crack, have been in Atari Teenage Riot since its inception) enjoyed popularity in Europe's techno and punk rock undergrounds before a specific digital hardcore audience formed. "We never planned it that way," says Empire. "It just happened."

It happened in Europe first, as smallish radio stations started playing ATR, which fostered DJ tours for both the band and a solo Empire. The next region of the world ATR toured was South East Asia. "There's a really big death-metal crowd there," Empire says. "The audience was a very strange mix of death-metal kids and club kids."

The show at the Metro is the first all-digital-hardcore show to come through Chicago. The two supporting acts, Ec8or and Shizuo (also from Berlin), have remade the music in their own images, integrating it with an industrial sound similar to early nineties productions from the likes of Controlled Bleeding and even the Revolting Cocks (though music technology allows the newer acts greater flexibility). Of the two, Ec8or is the most subdued. The band's "All of Us Can Be Rich" (Grand Royal/Digital Hardcore) treads a fine industrial line too often, rarely uses samples and lacks extensive borrowing from hardcore punk.

Shizuo (pronounced Shit-soo-oh), aka David Hammer, creates aural versions of parental nightmares. Sample-heavy, lots of bits and pieces of a hundred hardcore riffs, jerking sub beats and high-speed stops and starts make "Shizuo Vs. Shizor" (Grand Royal/Digital Hardcore) a record destined to put borderline schizophrenics over the edge.

America was digital hardcore's last large hurdle to cross, which Atari Teenage Riot has done twice this year, including opening for Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine. Empire notes that the audiences coming out to see ATR have resembled the audiences in Europe, though "the initial reaction in America is different because most people haven't heard it before."

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