Saturday, July 7, 2012

Get it Back | An Interview with Hanin Elias

Anyone who has experienced a live performance from Atari Teenage Riot knows it is something you will never forget. Adrenaline, sweat, beating hearts, aggression...The body's physical response is undeniable.  I was fortunate enough to witness one of ATR's last shows (with the original line up) in Australia in 2000. My eyes were dilated and my pulse racing and my head pounding not from the obnoxious noise but from a kind of excitement I had not experienced watching any live band perform previously. ATR unleash their demons on stage and their primality is impossible to look away from. 

But the thing that remained etched in my mind even more than the sound and the fury was the female singer in the band, Hanin. She was uncompromising, feminine, strong. She wore a hooded red dress, black boots and smudged black eye makeup. This was a woman not to fuck with. Her screams and on stage presence was a culmination of true female primal passion. 

After ATR disbanded, I continued to follow Hanin through her evolution as a solo artist. One thing remained. No compromise, no apologies. I had the opportunity to speak with Hanin recently about ATR and her solo career. Below is what transpired. 

Photo by Kjell Persson
From an early age you were very involved in the punk and goth music scenes. Can you describe what that was like at the time and how that influenced who are?

The 80's were a very special time in Berlin. All kinds of subcultures and great music to discover in my teenage years. It pulled e away from my conservative parents and I ran away to live a different live with lot's of outcasts and crazy people. I started to sing and write songs in bands. I lived in squats and joined all kinds of genres such as the Wave and No Wave scene. I also loved hip hop at the same time, break dance and Electronic Music. I could never really decide what I wanted to be cause everything inspired me a lot. Up to today I can't really make up my mind what kind of music it is that I do, I like to switch and stay unpredictable. 

Who were your influences and idols growing up?

I loved Joy Division, Depeche Mode, The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees, X Mal Deutschland, Blondie, Iggy Pop, Billy Idol, Kate Bush, Kim Wilde, Public Enemy, Special Ed, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, The Specials, Softcell, Kraftwerk, Metallica etc.

How did you meet Alec, Carl and Nic? And how did ATR begin?

Alec and I met in 89' while I was playing with my old Band Aluminia. He still had his old Band "Die Kinder" and they wanted to do an X Ray Spex Cover of "Identity", so he asked me to sing with them. Then we started to work on our own songs together and did guitar songs with sampled break beats at first. They never got released and we worked on some Techno tracks until we had the idea to make political Music. We met Carl Crack in 92 and he joined us to be ATR. Alec got Nic in the Band in 97' because I was pregnant and Alec wanted to become a Front person so he needed someone to play the instrumentals.

What was the creative process like in a band like ATR?

Alec mostly did the instrumental versions for the music and I would write lyrics or we would put our lyrics together. We would search for some good beats and samples and add them to a song. We talked a lot about ideas and theories and political things, books, newspapers, movies, artists and revolutionaries, add all of what we found strong and inspirational and transform it into a song. Carl would MC and later Nic Endo added some Noise.

What contributed to the disbandment of Atari Teenage Riot in 2000?

After 10 years people change. We became very different, always had been but then the differences became more and more of a problem for us. Carl Crack died from committing suicide caused by his psychosis and we all had personal problems. I felt ripped off by the label and felt also like I had been selling my soul to something that I believed in for 10 years and then it turned out to be a fake. I couldn't handle all the business issues, strange contracts and the pressure and be an idealist at the same time. So I left the "Band", which was already only controlled by Alec and made my own thing.

Looking back what are your fondest memories and proudest moments with ATR?
Playing the 1st of May was a strong moment, all the touring with great bands who also admired us was a pleasure. Being in a band that said the right things to open a lot of people's minds was a very important part of my life.

I have always found your presence and passion both liberating, strong and inspiring. Would you describe yourself as always being a strong female?
I would say that I'm strong because I can't fake things and cope with it. I have to do what my inner intuition tells me. That can be weakness for some people. I can feel weak and helpless too but I can transform those moments into music and lyrics. I enjoy my weakest moments and know that they are the temple of my art, the strongest moments in my life.

In 2000, I was fortunate to see one of the last ATR shows live with the original lineup. The experience was unforgettable and exhilarating. How was playing live for you and did that level of intensity ever take toll on you personally?
Playing shows with ATR was always intense. I had such an inner Rage at the time that it was really a relief to have a platform to go crazy and let it all out. I sure had lot's of bruises, a tooth that fell out etc. but it helped me to have a place where i could be authentic and real, fight all my demons and heal.

How would you describe the transition from band member in ATR to solo performer? And how did the writing and creative process change for you?
I just don't have to make so many compromises and can experiment a lot more. I can switch styles, sing the way I wanna sing and write what is on my mind about all kinds of things. It's no longer limited to Conspiracy Theory, Anti Government and other Anti issues. 

What influences and drives your solo work? And how would you describe your musical style now?
I'm divided into many styles, I like so much music and I wanna try a lot of things, that makes it difficult to put a tag on my musical style.cSometimes I sound more electronic, synth wave pop, hip hop, indie, rock, digital hardcore...whatever! I just can tell you that my next Album will sound different from the others again but you will still recognize that it's me. 

What bands and musicians do you listen to nowadays?

Azealia Banks, Santigold, Health, White Ring, Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, Austra, Spank Rock, oOoOO, Pictureplane, Burial, Frank Ocean, Thunderheist, Proxy etc.

Do you describe yourself as a feminist?

I haven't thought about that a long time ago...but yes, in a way i do!

What females, famous or otherwise do you look up to and draw inspiration from?
I like the vulgar ones, the ones that scare guys off because they are so sexually demanding. Mostly chicks in Rap are like that. It always makes me proud to see them like that!

Have you found it difficult to maintain your strength and independence as well as femininity in the music industry? and not confirm to "normal" female music stereotypes?

I can't make too many compromises. I guess that's why I'm still a poor artist.

Are you still in contact with Alec and Nico? And do you think there would ever be a possibility of reuniting onstage again?
No, I'm not. I tried to start a Reunion but it ended up being a Reunion without me. I think it's better that way. Don't cry for the past, live in the moment!

Lastly, is there anything you would like to pursue musically that you have yet to and what can we expect from you in the future?

I'm currently working on my next Album together with Marcel Zurcher. It will be very beautiful and deep. I hope that it can be released next year in spring!