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The 10 best albums to soundtrack a revolution

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Even before founding Atari Teenage Riot, Alec Empire has looked to politically-minded music to inspire and inform his unique brand of hardcore electronica. We asked Alec to pick his 10 favourite albums to soundtrack an uprising...

THE LAST POETS – The Last Poets (1970)
Alec: “This is the blueprint for so much hip-hop, a really key record for the genre. If you listen to a band like Death Grips, you’ll still hear elements of the primal, physical energy of this record. The lyrics here are so incredibly powerful: it shows that you don’t need to be a great songwriter who knows all the chord structures in order to communicate important ideas.”

THE IMPRESSIONS – People Get Ready (1965)
“Curtis Mayfield made some incredible music. People now might hear these songs and wonder why I’m labelling them as songs of revolution, but in the context of the time, this was very radical music and it inspired so many people in America. Many of the white radio stations in America considered this Black Panther music, and wouldn’t play it, but now it’s the sort of music that Obama used in his Presidential campaign. It’s interesting to me how music can come in different clothes. People think revolutionary music must be loud and aggressive, but this is proof that that’s not the case.”

MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO – 99% (1990)
“I don’t think [MBM mainman] Jack Dangers gets enough credit, but his music influenced a lot of people on the early rave scene: I know The Prodigy were fans. He doesn’t get mentioned so much in articles about the birth of rave culture, but I sometimes go back to this record and marvel at how he was kinda ahead of his time. Nowadays, for instance, sampling is so accepted and common-place, but if you check out the music Meat Beat Manifesto were making at this time it’s just really interesting and ground-breaking.”

MERBOW/JOHN WATERMANN – Brisbane-Tokyo Interlace (1995) 
“Merzbow is the godfather of noise. He has made so many albums, like maybe 400 albums, but this is one of the best noise records I know of…and I’ve heard a lot of noise records! [Laughs]. It’s quite a rare record, I think only 1000 were produced, but it has a real revolutionary energy. Merzbow gave me a copy of this in Japan and I was like ‘Wow’ and I still often include this in my DJ sets. People sometimes hear noise records and go, ‘Uh, this sounds like my washing machine played through a distortion pedal’ but the deeper you get into the noise scene as a musician the more challenging it is. It’s easy to make one noisy, fucked-up record, but to keep things evolving and moving forward isn’t easy.”

STRAVINSKY – The Rite Of Spring (1913)
“This piece of music is so accepted now but it genuinely inspired a riot when it was first played, which shows how powerful it is. Confrontation is sometimes necessary in music and people shouldn’t shy away from that: too many musicians now are scared of losing fans or Facebook followers, but seriously guys, sometimes you just have to push things. Fear is not a good mindset for musicians – rock n’ roll was not born out of fear. The amazing dissonant atmosphere of this music can make you look at the world in a different way.”

SHIZUO – Shizou vs Shizor (1997)
“This guy has been kinda forgotten about – he died of a heroin overdose a few years ago, sadly – so even though it’s on our label Digital Hardcore, I’m going to mention it. This guy used to take a lot of drugs, but the way he put samples together was really innovative: I can DJ with it now and people still freak out. He would often open up for us in America and when we’d go onstage there would already be riots in the crowd because his music was just so in-your-face and so fucked up: sometimes he’d be on LSD and would accidentally play two tracks at the same time, which was even more intense! I know that the Beastie Boys are huge fans of this record.”

PUBLIC ENEMY – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990)
“Public Enemy are such an important group. I know lots of people would nominate the albums before this, but for me, with songs like Fight The Power and Welcome To The Terrordome, this is the one, this is special. There’s such tension in the music, and such revolutionary spirit. I think this hasn’t aged: I know people will listen now and go, ‘Oh, the beats aren’t like now’, but that’s not what this record is about in my opinion. It’s a crossover record which drew in a lot of rock fans, and if you want to understand a lot of the racism in America, like in Ferguson, if you listen to this record you can figure it out. It’ll certainly tell you much more than a Kanye West record will…”

UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE – Riot EP (1991)
“This vinyl is pretty rare, it’s black guys in Detroit making techno, and they were almost like the Public Enemy of the techno scene at the time. At this point we were already doing Atari Teenage Riot in Berlin with super-fast breakbeats and aggressive synths and punk records samples and they almost had a very similar energy, but on the other side of the world. Nowadays the world seems much smaller and more connected, but back then it was kinda a surprise to us that someone in America shared some of our ideas. I used to see these guys DJ at raves and it always felt genuinely dangerous, particularly with their militant, angry image.”

SILVER APPLES – Silver Apple (1968)
“This might be music for a step before the revolution, kind of a warm up music for people! It’s a super important album, they were bringing electronic music and rock and psychedelic music at a time when nobody really thought in this way. It still provokes a lot of people when I DJ this stuff, certain melodies have this dissonance that just unnerves people.”

WINSTON EDWARDS & BLACKBEARD – Dub Conference (Winston Edwards and Blackbeard at 10 Downing Street) (1980)
“People often play reggae at protests but it’s always the ‘Yeaaah, peace!’ stuff, with that laidback, stoner vibe, which actually always makes me aggressive! But I always recommend this record, it’s really interesting. It’s a really good dub record, with titles like Shake Buckingham Palace Down_and _Kensington Palace Confusion, but for some reason it’s super underground: I remember being in Tokyo once and talking about it to [dub producer and founder of the influential dub label On-U-Sound] Adrian Sherwood and he didn’t know about it. It doesn’t sound like a Jamaican dub record, it was made by Jamaicans in England, and it’s just really powerful. Dub really brings people together, and when you play music like this at protests it really connects people in a new and different way.”

Alec Empire was talking to Paul Brannigan. Atari Teenage Riot's album Reset is out now through Digital Hardccore Recordings.

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