by JC Gonzo
Editor’s Note: This is one of a thematic, two-part piece, the other being an article with Atari Teenage Riot’s current video manipulation genius, Zan Lyons. You can read that article by clicking here.
Hanin Elias is best known as the former front woman for the original Atari Teenage Riot lineup. However, she is often overlooked as the true cornerstone she was in Berlin’s digital hardcore scene throughout the 90’s and in “feminist” music in general.
She has collaborated with Kathleen Hanna and Thurston Moore. She has been name-dropped alongside The Slits and Joan Jett in Le Tigre’s feminist anthem “Hot Topic”. She has been featured in Chicks on Speed’s Girl Monster box set. If that’s not enough, she was the founder of a radically pro-girl record label, Fatal Recordings.
Yet, since the 2010 reformation of Atari Teenage Riot, discussion on Hanin’s absence is virtually non-existent. The original lineup for Atari Teenage Riot included MC Carl Crack, Hanin Elias, Nic Endo, and Digital Hardcore Recordings founder Alec Empire. MC Carl Crack passed away in 2001, and a new member CX KiDTRONiK was added to the lineup alongside a new videographer, Zan Lyons, in 2010. Nic Endo took over the main female vocals, singing tracks previously associated with Hanin.
During the early workings of the current Atari Teenage Riot incarnation, much confusion circulated around Hanin’s potential involvement. Alec Empire announced via twitter that she had contacted him after nine years of silence. It was no secret that she left the band in 2001 due to personal conflict and tension.
Many wondered if this would mean reconciliation, and therefore, reunion. When the first live show for the new Atari Teenage Riot was announced online, the primary band photograph featured four members clad in black:
If not this image, then other older photographs that still included all four band members would show up. Did this mean Hanin Elias would be performing with them? I thought so, so did media outlets like NME, and so did many of her fans. This of course was not the case. Much confusion and speculation has circled the web since. Whatever happened to Hanin Elias? She disappeared from the music world, claiming she had “given up” on the business. Fortunately, she only left the music industry, but not the music.
She is back recording a new album, currently titled “Everywhere Nowhere” and has an entirely new outlook. Steven Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Paul Kendall (Depeche Mode) are on the list of producers and remixers, added to an already impressive list of reputable collaborations. Even the much-loved Italian film star Asia Argento wants to sing with Hanin.
Hanin’s new demos delve beyond her digital riot grrrl typecasting by exploring a pop style, which can even sound sweet and soothing to the ear, if not melancholic. This comes as a shock for some fans, having long associated her with the visceral rage of Atari Teenage Riot. However, most have embraced her new direction. While some may miss the constant delivery of single-layered anger, consider its monotony. One would hope that such a prolific, collaborative musician would grow to embrace a broad spectrum of styles.
Hanin is capable of expanding into much more, a more personal and internal expression with music. Let me reassure you, she can still scream, only she chooses how and when with greater grace, precision, and maturity.
Hanin and I discussed these matters via video chat:
You moved to French Polynesia in 2006 and essentially disappeared off map of the music world. Why did you leave music and move away to an island paradise?
I am following life. I’m not a musician only, I’m more than that. I’m a human being. I came here for holidays, before that I had a gallery and sold antiques. I always continued to do my solo stuff with other musicians, collaborations, and I never really stopped doing music.
For me music is not a business. I didn’t want it to become a job. I wanted to stay creative and alive. I only make songs when I feel like it, not when the record company tells me to.
I went to French Polynesia, fell totally in love with the island and with someone. I stayed in the relationship for 5 years but now I’m ready to go back. We’ve split up and I’m ready to go back… back to what I don’t know. But I’m letting myself float to wherever life takes me. I’m an adventurer. I just want to live intuitively.
I have 2 kids and before I was married for 11 years, and we actually bought an old castle with two other people. We wanted to restore it but ended up having problems. I dropped the castle to live an island life, the “simple life.” That castle wasn’t for me, I couldn’t dedicate my life to dead stones. Life goes on, you know?
I’ve really learned a lot here on the island, I think it’s good for people with psychological problems. Here there’s really no use for that! It did me very good…
I went out fishing, went out digging my hands into the earth… I hang out with very authentic, pure people, and sometimes they can be very rude. You can’t keep up with your life standards the whole time with people like that, they’ll just laugh at you.
The core of your work is very feminist, a lot of it is about gender equality, women’s rights, and so on. How does that work out over there?
That was in the 90s when I had my child. i was in a situation in my band where all the guys had a problem with me being pregnant and with women in general, with emotions, with difference, not following the business plan…
That is when I had the idea for Fatal Recordings because in this music structure I could see the whole structure, it was a man’s world.
Nowadays I don’t focus on that specifically anymore.
[Fatal Recordings was a girls-only record label in the beginning. Hanin updated her mission statement as time went on: "Fatal is a platform for women and also for men. The label gives them the possibility to make electronic music without technocratic expectations."]
A lot of guys started asking me, “Why can’t I be on your label? I’m a feminist too, I understand women and I’m trying to become a better man…” So I asked myself why should I close myself to these guys? Fatal became a totally open label for everyone who had a humanist attitude.
I do think that the world should be more influenced by feminine ideas.
Yes, isn’t what all this radical work is about? Getting men to open up like that and be pro-woman? It’s a boy/girl revolution as you say…
Yes, exactly. It depends on the attitude, how the individual grows up, and so on. You can’t just see it in black in white. But at that point back then I needed and the anger to see things in black and white because that’s where pure anger comes from. But, you start to question yourself more and more and things become much more open.
If people say “Hanin is such a feminist, she’s so radical,” it’s not true anymore. It was true for that time, and it inspired many people to go in the same direction because of that pure, aggressive energy I gave out. It’s still important for people to be intense about things. But now, I feel more open about it.
With Atari Teenage Riot, we put all our energy on our anger to do something politically. But this anger doesn’t exist anymore, not with me at least and I don’t feel it with the others. It was an important thing to do at that time, though.
It’s Atari Teenage Riot afterall. That momentary, transitional time in your life where you do feel so extreme and intense about everything. Those are vital emotions to experience, but you have to learn and grow from them and eventually move on. And speaking of that, tell me about your upcoming album “Everywhere Nowhere.”
I feel ready to put this album out. It’s mostly about love, sociological, personal, close things. I don’t blame the system anymore, it’s getting more and more personal. It’s something that everyone goes through. The main problems you have need to be solved with yourself in the end. It’s like a substitute for dealing with yourself when you blame everyone else, the government, the police… but we are part of it.http://theendofbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/holgermeins.flv
So who are you working with these days?
I started to work with Marcel Degaz in Hamburg, we recorded demos in his home. I felt the need to go away and stop music because of the label stuggle. I got sick of having my own label and being totally responsible. All my money and energy went into Fatal, and I’m really a bad business person. That’s my mistake.
Now I’m looking for a label to take care of me, I cannot stand doing the whole business side of it myself.
It’s no fun.
I tried but you know at the end I had nothing and the artists had a little bit, but it wasn’t stable. They were hard times, then the whole market broke down.
Then when I came here to French Polynesia many people got in contact with me wanting to do shows. I told them “No, I don’t do any more shows, I’m here fishing, planting my potatoes, I don’t want to do anything.”
But then Diego Sagredo from the Chilean band ICI told me they were such big fans, they had listened to me since they were 12 and wanted to organize concerts in Chile of all my solo stuff.
I needed a little break from the island, so I went to Chile and got back into it! These guys knew all my songs. I recorded with them in the studio. So now I have 18 new songs all together.
I think I might put out two albums, one harder one and the other pop.
That would be great, they’d compliment each other well.
We’re fishing for labels at the moment. Paul Kendall of Depeche Mode, Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Asia Argento will all contribute.
Exciting! Have you faced any criticism for your new style since you’ve grown and matured as an artist?
It’s really strange, a lot of Atari fans tell me they love the music I do now even though it’s really different. I haven’t heard anything negative, but maybe I just haven’t been looking for it. I don’t google myself so maybe I’m just not seeing it. I wouldn’t get affected by it anyway, I don’t want to put up this riot grrrl act. I just can’t fake it anymore.
It’s good to show a spectrum of styles you can do. It gets so boring when musicians just put out the same thing for 20 years…
Yeah I think it’s good to come out of the monocultural way of thinking. You got to be more flexible and see the signs in life. Don’t try to hold onto things, even if it’s your own image.
With the new ATR and the new tour, it’s strange to me that no one is talking about how you’re not there anymore. It doesn’t seem fair, to me, that you’re being left of the discussion because you were such a huge part of the bands’ identity. Carl Crack too, but he passed away 9 years ago.
The story is that after 9 years of total silence between Alec and I, I wanted to make peace. We had personal problems in the 90s, that’s why I left. It had to do with contracts, I felt ripped off. So my motivation dropped, I was pregnant on tour, I became wiped out. I could feel I wasn’t the functioning “riot doll” that I should have been.
But the personal friendship and contact people share is really important. So I decided to get in contact with Alec about doing some shows just for the fun of it. But he already had this big strategy for Atari, he already had this tour planned.
So I said, “Yeah, but first maybe we should talk on the phone, and work out our issues.” But and didn’t want to give me any information. He told me to wait and trust him but I’ve been told that in the past. I’d already heard that and been burnt by it before.
I was a member of Atari Teenage Riot, I’m not just someone who works for him. I should be able to make decisions too. I wrote songs, I gave energy. Like “Sick to Death” was 90% written by me.
Yeah, that was the song that really inspired Kathleen Hanna.
She was a total fan of mine and my friend, so she came and did a song with us.
She even remixed one of your songs, ‘Girl Serial Killer’ …
[Here is video footage of Kathleen Hanna and Hanin together in the studio recording the Atari Teenage Riot song, "No Success."]
All of this was ignored. He wanted to make a new single, so he sent me the instrumentals. At that time we had a cyclone in Tahiti, and I was sick too. He said I had only one day to record this. So I had to set everything up, it was total hell and chaos but I set it up, and I recorded. I said my throat was fucked up and you gave me little time… and then I didn’t hear back from him.
I asked if he wanted me to re-do it and all he said was that he needed to go to a meeting. Two days later the single was out, and my voice wasn’t on it. It was Nic Endo singing. I had made three whole phrases!
None of it was there.
Maybe my throat was sore or something but I know exactly what he can do with effects if your throat is a bit sore. I had this feeling that he just didn’t want me because I cause him trouble. I’m not quiet and don’t take shit. But he ignored me. I had to contact him on Facebook and he said he would send me the tickets.
I read this on Facebook, yes. The tickets to go with them on the new tour.
So I waited for the tickets while they were announcing ATR going on tour here and there and were doing interviews. That is where I read about CX KiDTRONiK and that I wasn’t a part of this reunion. But through the emails it seemed like he wanted me to believe that was going to be a part of it.
I followed all this online pretty closely and it seemed clear to me that you were not getting any answers.
It was important to plan, I have kids, I have work, I have to know if I’m going on tour and if these tickets would come or not. CX KiDTRONiK said he got his and I should get mine, but I never did.
Then I read this stuff Alec’s saying in interviews about how I can’t sing anymore.
[Here is the artcle Hanin is referring to, and the quote:
“Immerhin war es Hanin, die letzten Herbst einen Versöhnungsversuch wagte.
Sie schrieb mich auf Facebook an und fragte, ob wir nicht wieder zusammen spielen sollten. Erst sprachen wir bloß über ein oder zwei Shows, inzwischen geht die Tour schon bis November, mindestens. Tragisch ist nur, dass Hanin am Ende doch noch einen Rückzieher gemacht hat. Ihre Stimme hat nicht genug Kraft zum Dauerschreien.”
From the looks of it, Hanin tried repeatedly to talk to him and he avoided any direct contact because ultimately, he didn’t want her involved in the new ATR.]
It’s just not what he wants, and I have to accept that. But what I don’t accept is him telling the press that I’ve lost my voice and making things look like I’m the one who didn’t want to go on tour. That is not true.
Thank you. You’ve cleared up a huge amount of ambiguity and questions about this.
I’d rather forget about it and not get into it, but the more I read his interviews the more I have the urge to make a statement about it.
[I felt the same way. Hanin closed off with what sounds like a good outlook to live by, one that marks her shift in interests.]
It’s a complicated story and people are complex beings. It’s not black and white. Don’t believe in any ideology because everything is constant change!
* * *
Listen to “Everywhere Nowhere.”
Also check out “DO YOU KNOW!!!” which is a nod to her digital hardcore roots, & shows she definitely still has her screaming voice.
Hanin just took a trip to LA to shoot the music video for “DO YOU KNOW!!!” in with D-I-Y filmmaker Donovan Vim Crony, the creator and host of THE GAZE and DEBUNK PUNK.
((For more on a similar topic, please read ZAN LYONS INTERVIEW – Video Art in the Music Hall)