Alec Empire / Zan Lyons

The Garage, London, 10 December, 2001

[Empire tour flyer] "A beautiful release from the mundane"

The youthful appearance of many at tonight's event was surprising, I was unaware that hardcore legend Alec Empire continued to draw in new followers from the younger end of the age spectrum. Their long, greasy hair, baggy trousers and sneakers gave them the look of American skate dudes, which is entirely plausible given that tribe's penchant for thrash music.

[Zan Lyons] But first up we had Zan Lyons, a previously unbilled but certainly most welcome support act. Ear piercing white noise gave way to loops of simple, few note refrains and cello and string samples, with noises off creating visions of steam escaping from rumbling machines. Steam punk music for films... thoughtful noise. After a few minutes, the ear bleeding began with a punishing turn to the white noise. Yet at all times something wonderfully emotional was happening. It was the first time I thought the word 'beautiful' was perfect to describe noise. I recalled the punishingly unforgiving final moments of Requiem for a Dream and Clint Mansell's terrorising score. Ten minutes later the first track came to an end.

Hardly moving on stage, slowly manipulating a variety of table top sound sources, Lyons then unfurled a tidal bass and bell chimes. This signalled the start of piece number two, short sharp bursts of noise and more of the stomach shaking rumbling. This had a more metallic feel. It felt like a fairytale that had gone nightmarishly awry. Again the simple looping - this time piano chimes set against the harsh backing. Words like 'trauma', 'nervous', 'disturbed', and 'corrupt' entered my head, yet throughout there was a child-like purity struggling to break free. Lyons was slowly unleashing the sound of the destruction of childhood innocence. Despite the slow beats driving each piece the kids at the front were moshing for all their worth. Perhaps strangely, this seemed out of place. Zan Lyons' white noise was cruel but, like many things which possess that characteristic, hypnotic at the same time. In Zan Lyons noise has a been given a new sense of direction, a new, exciting lease of life... a beautiful release from the mundane.

[Alec Empire] The polar opposite of Lyons' deliberately sedate delivery, ex-Atari Teenage Riot frontman Alec Empire launched himself onto the stage and the already sweaty audience went berserk. It took just a few seconds for me to fully appreciate what the phrase Digital Hardcore (the name of Empire's label) really meant. I've seen some punishing acts in my time, but this felt like I was living through a nuclear blast. I found myself not only being able to endure this barrage but I quite enjoyed it too! The air was tangibly vibrating with the power of the music. So much so that when I was at the front taking photos, standing in front of the PA stack, the impact on my ear drums was so great that it temporarily caused me to loose my balance and feel nauseous and I had to quickly retreat to safety further back just to say on my feet.

The songs were (unexpectedly) mostly mid-tempo affairs rather than the relentless speed freakery I was expecting. It was fascinating to watch Empire whip up the hysteria in the audience. Down the front, arms were flailing and punches flying, but there was never a sign of any trouble, as these were merely peers (broad smiles of their faces) exchanging blows in some sort of life-affirming ritual. At the height of his own hysteria, Empire took to cutting his forearms with some unidentifiable implement. The blood could readily be seen. After witnessing this, I'd have believed that Empire was a man possessed if not for a few things. He carefully regulated his remarkable outbursts of leaping, screaming and gesticulating with moments of pause almost equal in length to his vigorous eruptions. This may well have been a physical necessity - Empire was soaked in sweat, mouth wide open gasping for air throughout - but if he were so delirious he would not have thought to stop. He's also developed a nervous tick that causes him to involuntarily keep his hair in check, 'adjusting' his fringe - making the countless photo opportunities (for those brave enough to grab them) pose perfect. Still, after seeing tonight's show, I'm convinced Alec Empire deserves his near legendary status. I have seen very few who can compete with him in the sheer 'performance' stakes. I just hope my ears aren't permanently damaged.

Rob Dyer