Alec Empire: What Elvis and Nintendo Have In Common

Alec Empire: What Elvis and Nintendo Have In Common

Written By:

Dragoș Rusu

Published:

July 30, 2018

Alec Empire is known as much for his music as his eccentric, outspoken personality, this musician, producer and DJ instigated an experimental attitude towards electronica and music in general. During his interview with Simona Mantarlian in 2015, he lamented the 90s’ freedom of expression but also the communal possibilities of the music industry before the digital age changed the meaning of interaction, as well as the artistic rulebook.

While Empire’s work speaks for itself in terms of melodic preference, typically described as digital hardcore and largely anarchic noise, another defining quality is his choice of raw material. A great example is the perfectly breakcore Alec Empire vs. Elvis Presley, released in 1999 on Digital Hardcore. The King’s status, still undiminished, judging by Statista’s report of 206.8 million sales by 2016, beaten only by the Beatles’ 257.7 million, may have influenced the decision. There was more to the rock-and-roll star, however, that may have spoken to Empire’s soul.

2. Why Elvis?

Following his 1998 Atari Teenage Riot tour in the US, Alec Empire needed a distraction and decided to become better acquainted with Presley’s work. Several movies and albums later, the record came to be, a crazy yet praised jumble of the King’s voice and Empire’s sounds and humour. But what was it about Elvis that caused such an inspired reaction? It could be the same things that charmed the whole world.

Beyond the fans’ experience, the whole entertainment industry was shaped by Elvis' charm and talents. Dancers can trace techniques back to his swiveling hips and passion. He and his flamboyant suits epitomized owning one’s fashion, being proud of one’s individuality. Even casinos thank him for 1963’s "Viva Las Vegas" - a tribute to the electrifying world of Sin City. And, of course, the silver and TV screen could not get enough of Presley, this smooth-voiced chameleon. Looks, moves, showmanship, Elvis was a difficult man to resist and not be dazzled by. As Radio X conveys, his value was not in his 33 acting credits, but the things he taught the world and, particularly, the music scene. From stage presence to business savvy, much wisdom could be carried forward from his success story. And it has been. If his presence is felt alongside the likes of Mick Jagger, Rage Against the Machine or Radiohead, to name but a few, is it that hard to believe that Empire was caught by the Elvis magic? Perhaps for different reasons, but caught indeed.

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3. Freedom of Expression

The most essential fact about Elvis is that he was a revolutionary. An interest in new sounds and styles prompted the combination of his gospel and choir beginnings with country and blues, especially rhythm-and-blues, to produce rock-and-roll or rockabilly. History’s account marks July 5, 1954 as the start of this genre, when Sam Phillips of Sun Records accidentally discovered the gem that was Presley’s rendition of “That’s Alright (Mama)”.

Creating a whole new strand of music by defying the barriers between genres is an accomplishment that undoubtedly drew the Atari Teenage Riot and Digital Hardcore mastermind's attention. His admiration can be detected in the fact that the distortion prevalent in the "vs. Elvis Presley" record does not prevent the King’s voice from ringing through. This, intentionally or not, serves as a homage to Elvis’ force of will but also the fun of mixing different sounds to produce something disturbingly fresh and exciting. The practice is still evident in the 21st century, for example, with the blending of classical music and modern DJing.

Alec Empire found a fellow rule-breaker in Elvis Presley, which, in turn, triggered an outpour of creative emotions. The record was personal, a product of love for music and experimentation, and not the only such side project. A year after "vs. Elvis Presley" was recorded, his humour resurfaced in the form of Nintendo Teenage Robots.

4. Why Nintendo?

Alec Empire
Alec Empire

This project parodied Empire’s main group, Atari Teenage Riot, which shared its name with the video game company that struggled to counter a plague of poorly made unlicensed titles designed for their Atari 2600. The eventual crash of the US gaming market and the souring of the public’s trust in consoles was overcome by Nintendo through clever innovation. It may be a coincidence that Empire chose this name for the project or it is an indication of his confidence in what his work stood for.

Nintendo’s history is 117 years long, starting with Japanese Hanafuda playing cards and dominating the present technological age with the Nintendo DS and Wii. Its own success story is defined by originality, daring and a desire for evolution in the gaming industry, not unlike Elvis Presley’s push for change in music. The name is indeed another move by Empire that reflected his ideals and not that different in spirit from his collaborations with Merzbow and the Locust.

5. Perseverance

Nintendo was handed down from generation to generation and continually responded or surprised its times. From cards to toys to video games and consoles, it experimented, adapted and thrived, despite the competition and occasional failures. Innovation through risk is, in fact, something Empire champions in his interview above. NTR, not to mention his plethora of other unique ventures, shows a hunger for variety and constant novelty seen in both Elvis and Nintendo.

Finally, the very use of classic Nintendo music in NTR’s one and only album, “We Punk Einheit!” says something more about the musician. In a similar fashion that ATR's sounds used to go through Atari equipment, the basis for "We Punk Einheit!" is formed by Nintendo Gameboy sounds. Be creative and have fun while doing so, the message seems to be. Do not get caught up in the rules and trends of the 21st century. If you have something to say, do not be afraid of learning from the past and throwing yourself, body and soul, into a project. Determined effort can result in Nintendo-like success, if not change.

Not all is lost in our age, however. The unconventionality enforced by his Elvis and Nintendo Teenage Robots projects is a quality sought by many of his peers, their voices and rhythms chipping away at barriers hiding the next best things in music entertainment.


*main photo credits: Alexander Indra

About the Author

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and editor in chief of The Attic, as well as artistic director of Outernational Days festival in Bucharest, a DJ, and allround music adventurer.

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