Alec Empire

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Alec Empire
Alec Empire DJing at Throbbing Gristle's 2005–2006 New Year's Eve party
Background information
Birth nameAlexander Wilke-Steinhof
Also known asAlexander Wilke, Death Funk, DJ 6666 feat. The Illegals, DJ Mowgly, E.C.P., Jaguar, LX Empire, Naomi Campbell, Nero, Nintendo Teenage Robots, P.J.P., Richard Benson, Wipe Out
Born (1972-05-02) 2 May 1972 (age 47)
Berlin, Germany
Occupation(s)Musician, producer, DJ
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, synthesizer, sampler, drum machine, mixer
Years active1990–present
Labels Digital Hardcore Recordings, Eat Your Heart Out Records, Grand Royal, Phonogram, Force Inc., Mille Plateaux, Geist Recordings, Riot Beats
Associated acts Atari Teenage Riot
The Curse of the Golden Vampire
Alec Empire at Nocturnal Culture Night festival 2016 Alec Empire Nocturnal Culture Night 11 2016 04.jpg
Alec Empire at Nocturnal Culture Night festival 2016

Alec Empire (born Alexander Wilke-Steinhof on 2 May 1972 in Charlottenburg, West Berlin) is a German experimental electronic musician who is best known as a founding member of the band Atari Teenage Riot, as well as a prolific and distinguished solo artist, producer and DJ. He has released many albums, EPs and singles, some under aliases, and remixed over seventy tracks for various artists including Björk. [1] He was also the driving force behind the creation of the digital hardcore genre, and founded the record labels Digital Hardcore Recordings and Eat Your Heart Out Records.

Charlottenburg Quarter of Berlin in Germany

Charlottenburg is an affluent locality of Berlin within the borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. Established as a town in 1705 and named after late Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, Queen consort of Prussia, it is best known for Charlottenburg Palace, the largest surviving royal palace in Berlin, and the adjacent museums.

Experimental music is a general label for any music that pushes existing boundaries and genre definitions. Experimental compositional practice is defined broadly by exploratory sensibilites radically opposed to, and questioning of, institutionalized compositional, performing, and aesthetic conventions in music. Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music, in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. Artists may also approach a hybrid of disparate styles or incorporate unorthodox and unique elements.

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. In general, a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means, and that produced using electronics only. Electromechanical instruments include mechanical elements, such as strings, hammers, and so on, and electric elements, such as magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar, which are typically made loud enough for performers and audiences to hear with an instrument amplifier and speaker cabinet. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers, or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer, and computer can produce electronic sounds.



Wilke's father was a working-class socialist, himself the son of a radical activist who perished in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War. [2] [3] His maternal grandfather, Karl Steinhof, was a self-made millionaire who patented the first domestic hand-knitting appliance during the economic boom in Germany in the 1950s. [2] [4]

Nazi concentration camps Concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.

Wilke grew up during the Cold War near the Berlin Wall, which he passed every day on his way to school. The frequent sight of patrol guards with guns influenced his outlook on life from an early age. [5] He describes Berlin at the time as: "Probably the most left radical place in Germany in the 70s, terrorists, a lot of demonstrations, and probably the first address to hear the latest American music, because of the radio shows the US soldiers brought to Berlin." [6]

Cold War Geopolitical tension after World War II between the Eastern and Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. The historiography of the conflict began between 1946 and 1947. The ensuing Cold War period began to de-escalate after the Revolutions of 1989. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was the most obvious and convincing end of the Cold War. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.

Berlin Wall barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic, enclosing West Berlin

The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic, starting on 13 August 1961, the Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin, until East German officials ordered it opened in November 1989. Its demolition officially began on 13 June 1990 and finished in 1992. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany.

Early influences and career

At the age of ten, Wilke's love of rap led to a vogueing career on the streets of Berlin. [7] [8] Later disillusioned by that genre becoming increasingly commercial, he left it behind in favour of a completely different form of musical expression. He had played guitar since the age of eight which coupled with his politically charged upbringing eventually led him to punk music; he formed his first band, Die Kinder (The Kids), at age twelve. [8]

Hip hop music music genre consisting of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping

Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970s. It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. It developed as part of hip hop culture, a subculture defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Other elements include sampling beats or bass lines from records, and rhythmic beatboxing. While often used to refer solely to rapping, "hip hop" more properly denotes the practice of the entire subculture. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, though rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.

Vogue (dance) dance and performance style

Vogue, or voguing, is a highly stylized, modern house dance originating in the late 1980s that evolved out of the Harlem ballroom scene of the 1960s. It gained mainstream exposure when it was featured in Madonna's song and video "Vogue" (1990), and when showcased in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. In its modern form, this dance has become a global phenomenon that continues to evolve both stylistically and demographically.

By sixteen, however, Wilke came to believe that the punk movement was "dead" (though the anti-establishment punk attitude would figure significantly in his subsequent output). After leaving Die Kinder, he began listening to classical music and experimenting with electronic instruments. [9] He eventually became fascinated by the rave scene, and, following German reunification, frequented underground raves in East Berlin, believing his native West Berlin scene to be too commercialised. Known earlier in his career as LX Empire he produced a great deal of what he refers to as "faceless DJ music". [10] In 1991, while DJing on a beach in France with his friend Hanin Elias, he caught the attention of Ian Pooley, which led to the release of a number of 12" records on the Force Inc. label. [10]

Social movement type of group action

A social movement is a type of group action. There is no single consensus definition of a social movement. They are large, sometimes informal, groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist, or undo a social change. They provide a way of social change from the bottom within nations.

An anti-establishment view or belief is one which stands in opposition to the conventional social, political, and economic principles of a society. The term was first used in the modern sense in 1958, by the British magazine New Statesman to refer to its political and social agenda. Antiestablishmentarianism is an expression for such a political philosophy.

Rave Dance party

A rave is an organized dance party at a nightclub, outdoor festival, warehouse, or other private property typically featuring performances by DJs, playing a seamless flow of electronic dance music. DJs at rave events play electronic dance music on vinyl, CDs and digital audio from a wide range of genres, including techno, hardcore, house, drum & bass, bassline, dubstep, New Beat and post-industrial. Occasionally live performers have been known to perform, in addition to other types of performance artists such as go-go dancers and fire dancers. The music is amplified with a large, powerful sound reinforcement system, typically with large subwoofers to produce a deep bass sound. The music is often accompanied by laser light shows, projected coloured images, visual effects and fog machines.

Although Empire was a prolific producer and DJ at this time, [11] and made a comfortable enough living, he nevertheless saw the rave scene as decadent and selfish. This angered him, as he and his friends lived in a city embroiled in politics, and the demise of communist-led governments had given rise to increased conservatism in Germany, whilst few people cared. The German neo-Nazi movement had invaded the scene, declaring trance techno "true German music". [11]

Decadence A perceived decay in standards, morals, dignity, religious faith, or skill at governing

The word decadence, which at first meant simply "decline" in an abstract sense, is now most often used to refer to a perceived decay in standards, morals, dignity, religious faith, or skill at governing among the members of the elite of a very large social structure, such as an empire or nation state. By extension, it may refer to a decline in art, literature, science, technology, and work ethics, or to self-indulgent behavior.

Tech trance, also known as techno-trance or techno/trance, is a subgenre within electronic music that draws upon the techno and trance genres as the name suggests.

Empire retaliated by utilising samples of 1960s and 1970s funk – a predominantly black style of music – in his solo work. In order to further spread the message, he gathered like-minded individuals Hanin Elias (also a former punk) and Carl Crack (a Swazi MC) to form a band. In 1992, the trio became known as Atari Teenage Riot (ATR).[ citation needed ]

Atari Teenage Riot and Digital Hardcore Recordings

Atari Teenage Riot's sound was characterised by the use of breakbeats (again sampled from funk and rap, but replayed at more than twice their original speeds), heavy guitar riffs, and the shouting of politically driven lyrics and slogans by the band members (as well as sampled dialogue). Empire provided much of the musical direction, and with the later input of Japanese-American noise musician Nic Endo, the ATR sound took on a more chaotic, arrhythmic nature marked by rough sequencing, improvised mixing and extended "noise-fests".[ citation needed ] In his words, this complex style was intended to "destroy" the "simulated harmony" of the mainstream electronic music, and that, besides their protest lyrics, "riot sound produce riots". Empire, who is straight edge, also stated that it was a reaction to both the fashion-victimized and drug-fueled nihilism of the rave scene of the 1990s, once saying that "You can't read or do anything else while listening to our music." [12]

ATR signed a record deal with Phonogram, a major UK label, in 1993. The two parted ways after only a couple of single releases, due to the band's refusal to play by the label's rules. [13] [14] In 1994, using the non-refundable cash advance from the deal, Empire started an independent record label that allowed its artists the freedom of expression Phonogram were unlikely to give. He named it Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR); the direction his sound had taken came to be known as "digital hardcore". That year, DHR released EPs by EC8OR, Sonic Subjunkies, and Empire himself.

While working with ATR, Empire continued steadily with his solo output. He recorded for Force Inc. under several pseudonyms, including the Detroit techno-inspired Jaguar. He also recorded several albums for Force Inc.'s experimental sub-label Mille Plateaux, including Generation Star Wars (his first full solo album) and Low on Ice , which he recorded entirely on his laptop during a three-day tour of Iceland with ATR. In 1995, ATR released their first proper album, Delete Yourself! , on DHR, and, in 1996, Empire released his first solo album for DHR, The Destroyer . In that year, Empire and Mike D signed a deal to release a number of DHR's recordings on the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal record label in the United States. [15] The label also invited DHR artists to tour the US leading to recognition by MTV and alternative radio stations.[ citation needed ]

ATR spent the next few years touring the world with artists such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Beck, Rage Against the Machine, the Wu-Tang Clan and Ministry, as well as headlining such memorable shows as the Digital Hardcore festival at CBGB's in New York City in 1998, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall show in London in 1999 at the request of fan John Peel. [16] During this time they introduced Nic Endo to their ranks as a fourth member. Listener opinion was often divided over the newer sounds ATR subsequently incorporated, and this, along with other factors, began to strain the band.[ citation needed ]

All of the members found some comfort in their solo work – Empire's output at this time would include his sole release as Nintendo Teenage Robots , and the bootleg recording Alec Empire vs. Elvis Presley , as well as remixes for the likes of The Mad Capsule Markets, Mogwai and Thurston Moore. However, ATR's problems worsened. Onstage at one show in Seattle in 1999, Empire slashed his forearms with a razor. [3] At another show that year in London, in which ATR supported Nine Inch Nails, the band dispensed with the usual song-based formula and delivered one long barrage of what could only be described as "noise"; this would later be released as Live at Brixton Academy .

By the end of 1999, Empire was mentally exhausted, Elias was pregnant and Crack was suffering from psychosis induced by prolonged drug use. [15] The band was put on hiatus; its future was made even more doubtful following Crack's death in 2001, [17] and Elias' decision to leave DHR and create Fatal Recordings.

After ATR

Alec Empire performing live in Prato, Italy on 13 January 2007. Alecempire-liveinprato2007.jpg
Alec Empire performing live in Prato, Italy on 13 January 2007.

Empire rebounded in 2001 when he, with assistance from Endo, recorded Intelligence and Sacrifice . The album contained two discs: the first retained the ATR formula, yet exhibited a more polished production style and lyrics of an unusually introspective nature; [18] the second disc was an electronic instrumental album, and in contrast was more experimental. He used an all-star lineup in his first live "Alec Empire" show at the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan: Charlie Clouser (ex-Nine Inch Nails) played synths, Masami "Merzbow" Akita and Gabe Serbian (The Locust) both played drums, and Endo played synths and keyboards. [19]

Empire's next lineup would include a guitarist, Robbie Furze, who would later record for DHR with Panic DHH. Empire also played a series of live shows performing material from the second disc of Intelligence and Sacrifice; one of these was released as The CD2 Sessions in 2003. He returned in 2005 with Futurist , which was less electronic than its predecessor and had more of a raw punk-rock sound, albeit assisted by drum machines and some processing. [20]

Empire began 2006 by DJing at industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle's New Year's Eve party. [21] During that year he remixed fellow Germans Rammstein (whom he once said were "successful for all the wrong reasons" [22] ) and New York hardcore band Most Precious Blood. He also recorded a cover version of The Monks' "Monk Time" for a tribute album with that band's singer Gary Burger, and Russell Simins of Blues Explosion. [23] Atari Teenage Riot: 1992-2000 , a retrospective album, was released by DHR on 3 July 2006.

After DHR

In 2007, Empire announced that DHR would henceforth assume a more "underground" role, [24] as his focus turned to a new label, Eat Your Heart Out Records, [25] which he describes as "the sound of New Berlin". [26] The label's first release was his 12" single "Robot L.O.V.E.", followed by an album, The Golden Foretaste of Heaven , recorded with his new production team and touring band The Hellish Vortex, released in Japan on 28 November 2007 and in Europe on 21 January 2008. [27] The second single release, the On Fire EP , was released on 7 December. [28] Sixteen Years of Video Material , a DVD featuring rare footage of Empire and ATR was released on German video label Monitorpop in July 2008. [29] [30]

In February 2017 Empire released an original soundtrack album for the German sci-fi thriller Volt. [31]


Alec Empire's body of work spans a range of electronic (as well as conventionally less electronic) styles. His earlier releases for Force Inc. were influenced by the rave scene in his native Berlin, and included acid house, techno, hardcore, punk and breakbeat (all of which are evident on the SuEcide EPs and the Limited Editions 1990-1994 compilation). On creating DHR his solo recordings for that label consisted largely of the digital hardcore staples of breakcore (as heard on The Destroyer album and EPs) and later experimental noise (as heard on Miss Black America ), while his work during the same period for Mille Plateaux saw him experimenting with minimal techno (Pulse Code), ambient (Low on Ice) and musique concrète ( Les Étoiles des Filles Mortes ). His alter-egos for various labels provided outlets for dabbling in other genres such as drum and bass/jungle (DJ Mowgly), Detroit techno (Jaguar) and even chiptune music (Nintendo Teenage Robots).[ citation needed ]

After the demise of Atari Teenage Riot, Empire's major releases for DHR sought to continue in the guitar-based, punk-influenced vein of the band. Intelligence and Sacrifice utilised live guitars, breakbeats, noise, sampled cinematic dialogue and Empire's trademark spoken/shouted English vocals, while Futurist saw a more obvious return to his punk roots and consequently sounds as if it were largely recorded using all live instrumentation, even though it was electronically produced. The creation of the Eat Your Heart Out label saw a move to a much more electronic-sounding approach with comparatively subdued vocals over synthesized sounds and beats.[ citation needed ]



Remixes (selection)

Films / soundtracks / film music contribution and/or composition


  1. Alec Empire, Discogs, last accessed 14 August 2007.
  2. 1 2 Alec Empire – 2008 – II [Video interview], FaceCulture, 2008-03-05, retrieved 2008-03-21.
  3. 1 2 Catherine Yates, "King of Pain" (p15-18), Kerrang! , 6 April 2002.
  4. Herbert Schurich (inventor), Hand knitting appliance, US Patent 2,762,213, 11 September 1956. Google Patents.
  5. Alec Empire [Video interview],, retrieved 22 July 2007.
  6. Interview – The definitive Alec Empire Interview Archived 3 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine , Digital Hardcore Recordings, retrieved 30 January 2007.
  7. David Day, "Riotous Empire", Pitch Weekly, 28 August – 3 September 1997. Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine .
  8. 1 2 Alec Empire Archived 18 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine , Drowned in Sound, last accessed 4 August 2006.
  9. Biba Kopf, "Daft Punk", The Wire, Issue 166, December 1997.[ dead link ]
  10. 1 2 Force Inc. Music Works Archived 10 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine ,, retrieved 22 January 2007.
  11. 1 2 The Destroyer/Digital Hard-core Archived 7 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine ,, last accessed 4 August 2006.
  12. Rubin, Mike (January 1997). "Bring on Der Noise". Spin . Vol. 12 no. 10. p. 26. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  13. Todd Hansen, Interview: Atari Teenage Riot Archived 27 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine , The A.V. Club , 7 July 1997, last accessed 12 December 2006
  14. Alec Empire Interview: "People Are Organized But Political Music Is Not Really Being Made.", Indymedia Ireland, 28 December 2006, retrieved 23 January 2007.
  15. 1 2 "Digital Hardcore Recordings: Biography". Digital Hardcore Recordings. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  16. Keeping It Peel – 19 March 1999, BBC Radio 1, last accessed 14 December 2006.
  17. Corey Moss, Atari Teenage Riot Cofounder Dead At 30, MTV, 24 September 2001, retrieved 3 February 2007.
  18. Alec Empire (int), Gothtronic, retrieved 22 July 2007.
  19. Alec Empire Live at FujiRock Festival Archived 16 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine , Digital Hardcore Recordings, last accessed 24 December 2006.
  20. Alec Empire a new Messiah? (Interview), Gothtronic, retrieved 20 March 2007.
  21. Alec Empire spins at Throbbing Gristle New Years Eve party in Berlin! Archived 8 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine , Digital Hardcore Recordings, retrieved 21 January 2007.
  22. Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire Questions Rammstein's Sincerity, MTV, 9 November 1998, retrieved 3 February 2007.
  23. HOT NEWS: Alec starts collaborating with Russell Simins (drummer with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) and Gary Burger (original member of The Monks)! Archived 7 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine , Digital Hardcore Recordings, retrieved 21 January 2007.
  24. Blog: Dead or Alive?, Alec Empire's official MySpace, 28 April 2007, retrieved 22 July 2007.
  25. Hugh Platt, Interview: Alec Empire bites back, Music Towers, 24 April 2007, last accessed 15 August 2007. Archived 4 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  26. Interview: Alec Empire Archived 6 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine , This is Fake DIY, retrieved 2008-02-25.
  27. Blog: Getting Ready for Singapore!, Alec Empire's official MySpace, 18 September 2007, retrieved 19 September 2007.
  28. Alec Empire On Fire 4 track EP out 7th Dec! Archived 11 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine , Digital Hardcore Recordings, retrieved 2007-11-19.
  29. News: Atari Teenage Riot and Alec Empire DVD coming, Eat Your Heart Out, last accessed 2008-02-25.
  30. "Alec Empire (DE) Interview". Trilogy Rock. [12 May 2007]. (Archived at
  31. Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire’s ‘Volt’ Soundtrack to Be Released, Film Music Reporter, retrieved 27 July 2017.

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