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Hanin Elias
An interview by John Rickman

Hanin Elias, a founding member of German electronic rock group Atari Teenage Riot, as well as the founder of her own, Berlin-based record label Fatal Recordings, has just released No Games No Fun, the follow-up to her first Fatal full-length In Flames. No Games No Fun was composed by and co-produced with a bevy of internationally known artists such as Alexander Hacke, Khan, Merzbow, J. Mascis, and ATR band mate Alec Empire.

No Games No Fun has a nice raw sound that complements Elias' very direct and sensual style. The first track, "Catpeople" is simply guitar and vocals, and most of the other tracks contain minimal production and few, gimmicky digital effects. The restrained production allows her vocals and ideas to come the forefront of each track.

FREEwilliamsburg - Listening to your new recording, it sounds as if your songs were crafted with a lot of personal input. How much control did you give to each producer/co-writer, and how did you approach the collaborations initially? Did they exceed your expectations?

Hanin - I only worked with people that I musically identify with. I typically chose songs they played for me, but in some instances I told some of the producers how a certain song should sound. Some songs were co-written by applying lyrics I had prepared over top of one of their old instrumentals or simply through improvisation. I wrote all the lyrics and was there during every production process, checking out every sound. However, most of the music was composed by the artists themselves. Most were usually very surprised at how their songs sounded with vocals! C.H.I.F.F.R.E. did the main production very well and we both wanted to try and achieve a roots-y electronic music sound, a little raw and noisy, but not too digital. I wanted a warm sound that left space for intimacy.

FREEwilliamsburg - Could you tell us something about C.H.I.F.F.R.E. and Mario Mentrup?

Hanin - Mario Mentrup is a very special friend of mine. He was in a band called Knochengirl. He's also a fantastic actor -- kind of like Tim Roth, I would say -- and currently performs in theater productions. He's also an author and has his own book publishing firm in Berlin called Maas Media Verlag. He's also a singer, a DJ, and much more. As for C.H.I.F.F.R.E., I met him two years ago in a cinema where he worked and we had the idea to do a Fatal Filmfest. We co-produced a very special film festival about fatal women in film. You can check it at our archive on the Fatal website. It was a great thing!

After that, because we were friends and because I like his taste in music, I asked him if he would be interested in making music with me, just for fun. He agreed, and we worked on a song together, which was the first track he ever did in his life. That track, "Wanting a Machine," is on the album and it totally impressed me. I love that song! He also worked with me on "Drop Out," One of Us," and "Falling". He will put out his own EP later this year on Fatal-Recordings and will go on tour with me this year as well.

FREEwilliamsburg - How come you didn't work with other female artists on this project? Does "Spirits in the Sky" have something to say about the destructiveness of male dominance?

Hanin - I originally had the stupid idea of doing a record with only male artists that I wanted to call Playing With Balls. Then I had so many songs, not all of which sounded like big, balls-y songs so I changed my concept a little bit. However, I still want to do that album, but only with industrial, rock, and macho guys. I'll sing over all of it if they're not too scared to let me do that...grrrr.

Hopefully this won't be my last collaboration record. Of course "Spirits in the Sky" is a sad song about the sad reality that men kill, and the destructive sexual aspect tied to it. Normally I don't like to explain lyrics because people have their own interpretation, but your interpretation of "Spirits" is pretty much on point.

FREEwilliamsburg - "One of Us" seems to have a larger message than many of the other more personal songs on your new release. Is it a message for culture whores that fail to look beyond the external aspects of cultural movements, or a message about survival in general?

Hanin - I love your interpretations! It's about the social structures we live in that force us to follow certain ways. It's hard or impossible to leave those ways behind and try and live differently. Everything is planned. We have to work and earn money, go shopping, be better and more beautiful than others, ...etc. It's a sarcastic song on Social Darwinism, globalization, and consuming.

FREEwilliamsburg - "Rockets Against Stones" is very timely with its message opposing megalomaniac power out for revenge. I assume many of your German contemporaries in the music world are also experiencing a sense of frustration with the current political situation(s)?

Hanin - I wrote that song after September 11th and the war on Afghanistan. I just couldn't believe that it would make sense to bomb this poor country with all the hungry people to find a terrorist group and Osama Bin Laden. It made me so angry and the song is still very timely and that makes me even more sad.

FREEwilliamsburg - Most German electronic music seems hedonistic and vapid. Is mixing politics with art considered taboo among your contemporaries? Do you think electronic music has become irrelevant in light of the increase in violence and inequities around the globe?

Hanin - I hear a lot of electronic music that sounds really perfect and digital and has really nothing to say at all, and it's always about things that happen in the everyday lives of boring, superficial party people who don't want to mix music with politics. Songs about loving someone, seeing someone sexy, or repeating stupid words over and over again is typical entertainment for the fun society. It does seem to be taboo to mix music with politics or extreme feelings. For me music is a way to talk with people about politics and about what takes place on this sick planet. I like to think others might feel the same as I do in the hope we can stick together and help each other to take charge and change things.

FREEwilliamsburg - "Drop Out" is a tribute to Ian Curtis. His music made him famous, but his death made him legendary. Your lyrics seem to convey that you live in a sort of dreamlike state of suspension, not really alive or dead, but struggling to feel 'trust' and 'love' -- qualities that (perhaps) make life live-able. Do you think mutual trust is difficult to achieve? Is love important to you?

Hanin - Trust is something very difficult. It's something you either learn or never learn. If you have never felt trust you can try and trust someone or yourself, but then lead the person or yourself to the point of destruction. Trust means being responsible and is either learned at a very young age or is never learned at all. If you grew up with the ability to trust everyone in your family, you will always have trust and people will trust you, but imagine how many children grow up in bad situations with no one to trust -- what can a war do to peoples trust? If you trust someone you are with, that is good. Do politicians teach us how to trust each other?

Love is overused commercially, to promote products. People want to buy love in every chocolate bar. Love is something impossible to live for in our world, we always yearn for love but there's always something that we can't reach. We feel incomplete. That's how capitalism works. Some people fly to India to find real love there -- to wait for hours to be hugged by some guru -- because they can't imagine hugging and loving their own neighbors or friends. Love is a dream. Love keeps us alive, keeps us going. Loving people is the key to a big change.

FREEwilliamsburg - Tracks like "Drop Out" and "Falling Deep" sound like good, old-fashioned rock and roll. Aside from the fact that guitar-god J. Mascis appears on your new release, how influential to you is American rock and pop music? What artists do you listen to these days?

Hanin - I'm influenced by music from all over the world, but rock and roll definitely comes from the United States, and I've always loved The Stooges. Ron Ashton said he would be interested in doing a track with me and I can't wait! I also did a track with Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, but it didn't finish in time for the new CD. I like electronic No Wave and New Wave stuff from the end of the 70s' to the mid 80s', dark stuff, and psychedelic music from the end of the 60s' to the 70s'. I'm also listening to the Rolling Stones at the moment as well as the Young Gods from Geneva -- I'll be doing a track with them soon as well! I love ecstatic music that gets extreme in the end. That is real rock and roll for me -- music that gets off at the end. But I also like Brazilian and Arabian music, especially the singer Fairuz.

FREEwilliamsburg - What's next for Hanin Elias?

Hanin - Touring the globe and meeting lot's of journalists. Doing more collaborations while I'm on tour, and working for the label. Looking for new bands to sign and so on.

FREEwilliamsburg - Is there an American tour in the works to support "No Games No Fun"?

Hanin - We will have a record release party in New York on the 18th of march at Piano's. Check it out!


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