A one-time hardcore polemicist changes his tune

by James Hadfield

Alec Empire has never been the kind of guy you’d take home to meet your mother. While other musicians played at being scary, he was the real deal: dour, fiercely political and forever unwilling to let a good time get in the way of some antifascist polemic and white noise.

As a solo artist, founder member of anarcho-punk noiseniks Atari Teenage Riot (formed in 1992) and head of the aptly-named Digital Hardcore Records, the razor- cheeked Berliner has been behind some of the most insurrectionary blasts of electronic music ever.

But armed with a blond hairdo and a new album that exchanges rebel-rousing for soul-searching and synthpop, has the toughest man in techno finally gone soft?

Your new solo album, “The Golden Foretaste of Heaven,” sounds surprisingly positive. Why?

That’s an interesting way to put it. It’s completely different to all the other records I’ve done: I didn’t do the obvious political record, and there’s some very personal stuff on there. So in a way you could say that it’s more positive. But I hope it’s not more superficial. Because when people make positive records, usually it’s very boring.

Would you say it’s a romantic album?

Yeah, of course . . . (Laughs) You could say that. When I dealt with these issues (sex, break-ups, robot sex), I wanted to deal with them in a totally different way from how pop music usually does. Because I never feel like a Britney Spears song or something: it’s way more complex, and that’s what I wanted to get across on the record.

Was it a conscious decision to ditch the politics this time?

I felt, with all the political stuff I had said, that it’s still valid and it still makes sense. The political situation hasn’t changed so much that the political songs I’ve written don’t apply any more. So I didn’t really want to say the same things over and over again: it just didn’t feel right to repeat that.

Do you think the political records you’ve released over the years have actually made a difference?

Yeah, I think so. My music is being played over here (in Germany) at demonstrations: it has become almost like the blueprint for political music, especially in electronic music. I think music is still a very powerful tool, because you can make people feel certain things — the way people look at the world while listening. That’s when it becomes important. When people read, which is also a very important process, they don’t necessarily feel as emotionally involved. I think only music can do that. Of course, you could sonically also make a building collapse, if you have the right sound tools. (Laughs.)

Your appearance seems to have transformed from Trent Reznor’s psycho kid brother into a blond pretty-boy. What happened?

Actually, I didn’t realize it was such a dramatic change until I DJed at this club in Munich, and some people wanted their money back because they didn’t believe it was me. They were standing in front of me and saying like, “Who are you?”

Alec Empire’s “The Golden Foretaste of Heaven” (Beat) is out Nov. 28.