"I think Berlin is the best city in Germany," says Patric Catani, who collaborates with Gina D'Orio in the Berlin-based electronic agitprop duo known as EC8OR. "But it is also the worst."
On the surface, this statement is an obvious contradiction. But as Catani and D'Orio know, it's also appropriate. Today's Berlin is a tale of two cities--one a center of creativity and hope, the other a Dickensian nightmare cloaked in decaying flesh. A similar paradox can be found in the community's musical underground, which is divided between hedonistic ravers determined to erase the burdens of history by dancing the night away and audio terrorists who want to build a new world on the ashes of the last one. EC8OR falls into the second category.
Formed in 1995, EC8OR coalesced shortly after Catani and D'Orio met in Berlin at a music festival sponsored by Digital Hardcore Recordings, an imprint run by Alec Empire of Atari Teenage Riot ("There's a Riot Going On," September 4). After discovering that they shared a mutual dislike of techno's conservative, largely apolitical nature, the two agreed to produce tracks together, with Catani handling programming duties and D'Orio sharing vocals. Shorty after Empire caught their live debut, at Berlin's Suicide Club, he signed the group to his label.
For Catani, life at DHR has nothing in common with the time he spent at other German record companies. "It was really bad," he points out in a thickly accented voice. "When I started doing this techno hardcore stuff, the reaction of the people was very big; every magazine was writing about it, and I had a lot of bookings and remixing. But the label guy ripped me off. I was very inexperienced; I released my first record at sixteen and the album and some other stuff a few months later. And I got nothing for it. There had been lots of major controlled bands who copied my stuff and made lots of money, and I got nothing. I was very fucked in this kind of business.
"The labels always try to set limits," he goes on. "They tried to tell me, 'Maybe you can do more funky tracks.' I told them my tracks are funky, but they didn't honor them, because most of these guys were totally old. They just believe in the old standard: If one things works, then just try to do this one thing. They don't want to do something new." By contrast, Empire offered the players in EC8OR complete artistic control and an opportunity to actually make a profit from their work--a rarity at "the four or five studios around Frankfurt" that Catani says control most of Germany's musical product.
EC8OR's American bow, All of Us Can Be Rich, issued by the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal firm, compiles a self-titled long-player the band released in 1995 and Spex Is a Big Fat Bitch, an EP that appeared this year. The title cut from the latter is a poison-pen letter to Spex, a German publication that D'Orio calls "a really stupid kind of monograph. A lot of journalists, musicians and readers orientate to Spex and what they write. But they tell you what the new hype is without giving you any background. It's not supporting anything new." Over the track's industrial break-beat and punk-metal guitar riffs churned out by her brother Joshua, D'Orio declares that reading the mag "is like fucking Michael Stipe"--a line that plays differently depending upon the location. "I knew that a lot of people in America would ask about that," she notes with a laugh. "In Europe nobody would ask that, because nobody knows who Michael Stipe is."
Then again, it's unlikely that many R.E.M. fans will be drawn to EC8OR's music, which blends speed metal, rap, hardcore and punk into a Molotov concoction fit for human disruption. Likewise, those who "hide behind easy listening walls" (to borrow a phrase from the CD's inner sleeve) may well be disturbed by "Victim," a musical wrestling match that sounds like Wu-Tang's RZA defeating Yello in a split decision, and "Plastic Creatures," a sonic collage of jungle rhythms, Native American chanting and mass-media criticism ("Down there on TV/Computer-animated creatures already tell you about the news.../But we should be frightened and shouldn't await this day/Because we're gonna be killed by plastic creatures anyway"). However, D'Orio insists that EC8OR would rather educate than provoke. She believes that "music is a very good medium" to affect political change and does not fear "preaching to the converted." Catani concurs: He describes their audience as "open-minded. They just feel what we say. We don't have to wake them up."
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According to D'Orio, EC8OR's goal is "to break all standards and all rules, musically and politically." It's too soon to know if this approach will translate across the post-Cold War gulf that separates the U.S. from the rubble of the now-flattened Berlin Wall. But Catani believes that we're all in this together.
"It's a global thing," he says. "If you see how the whole world functions and you see what's really going on, you have to be as loud as you really can and scream as hard as you can against it. And try to blow the brains."
Atari Teenage Riot, with EC8OR and Shizuo. 8 p.m. Saturday, December 6, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $12, 830-2525.