Review: Alec Empire, 22 November 2009

Rating (out of 5)
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The GRV is a mass of piercings and blackness, awash with Edinburgh’s punk-goth contingency in varying stages of inebriation.  Dry ice billows around the room, sweetly licking one’s nostrils.  The air feels ripe with anticipation.  But there is tension also.  Curfew time is ticking ever closer and all we see is a prolonged technical display involving a disgruntled roadie wrestling with stubborn microphones.

Finally, we are rewarded for our patience.  Batteries of strobe lights and a fanfare onslaught of noise announce the entrance of Alec Empire, accompanied by former Atari Teenage Riot cohort Nic Endo.  Empire, gaunt and pale in figure-hugging black, holds his microphone stand over the screaming audience, racking the decibels up yet higher.  Endo, her face painted with what resembles tribal war markings, stands aloof and emotionless within a bank of generators and samplers, building up the white-hot levels.

Finally, the duo launch into a fist-pumping version of “The Ride” from Empire’s 2002 album, Intelligence and Sacrifice.  The sound is like a continually impacting juggernaut, feeling as though it is actually physically impressing upon us.  This extreme peak is sustained throughout the next hour.  Empire mixes up electro-flavoured new material with the drum ‘n’ bass thrash of his earlier work.  A truly awesome light show remains on total barrage setting throughout, while the music races headfirst through frenzied splatterbeats and disorienting bass detonations.  This is real shock and awe stuff. 

Empire comes across as A Very Serious Man, indeed.  But when he launches into a rabidly insane number entitled “Everything Starts With A Fuck”, it’s hard not to believe there is a tongue firmly stuck in a cheek somewhere.  He also seems somewhat distant tonight.  Despite the posturing and screaming, one can’t help wondering if this is just another night at the office for the Berliner.  Or maybe it is that the sheer noise and spectacle generated by just two people is enough of a projection of Empire’s being.

By the encore of ATR’s “No Remorse”, Empire is shirtless and in the crowd.  The audience by this point is a heaving mass, crashing off each other to the furious melding of punk metal with dance beats.  And then that’s it.  Empire leaves his microphone trained in our direction, leaving us to make yet more (and more) noise, as he wanders off.  As the lights go up, it’s like surveying a torched battlefield at dawn.  Dazed survivors pick themselves up and stumble off into the rainy night, hoping that some day soon the ringing in their ears might disappear.

(Alec Empire photography by Sandra Croft)