Romi Agel and Holger Wick, the filmmakers behind the award-winning, quarterly DVD magazine Slices have turned their directorial eyes to a feature-length documentary on the dynamic electronic duo Modeselektor, resulting in We Are Modeselektor, which is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from May 3rd via Monkeytown Records. We asked them a few questions about their ideas, the process, and working with the infamous musicians. Photo of Romi Agel (above) by Luci Lux.
How your documentary on Modeselektor come about?
We’ve known Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary for quite a while since we’ve shot several features about them in the past—for Slices as well as for Carhartt and Time Out Magazine, for instance. As time passed, we watched them get bigger and bigger on an international scale. Soon it was clear that the duo had turned into a real pop phenomenon. On the one hand, they’re able to move the masses. On the other hand, their sound is not what you would call lowest common denominator—but they play at festivals for 10,000 people without raising an eyebrow.
We love their unique sense of humor, but what we found most interesting is the fact that they’re two very different people, which is why we came up with the plan to portray their artistic duo. When Modeselektor won the critic’s prize of the German ECHO in 2012, we got the idea to make a documentary about them. Shorty after, we talked to Sebastian and Gernot, and guess what, they liked the idea! We began filming in June.
What’s the concept of the movie?
We wanted to avoid a rock’n’roll story in the style of Justice, by any means. Rather we wanted to tell their biography and display the Modeselektor cosmos in the most authentic way possible. That’s why we focused on their origin, the beginning, and development of their career until today. In that relation, it was a true gift that they had been working in a creative environment from day one—there was always somebody with a video camera around. Thus we got our hands on true archive treasures. At the beginning of the ’90s, nobody would have thought that Modeselektor would be that successful. But for some reason they appeared on some friend’s cameras all the time.
When conceptualizing the film, we chose to follow this historic thread but break it here and there with current tour footage, as well as with private snapshots. The result is a nice opposition. To see their placid early days in contrast to how they move the masses nowadays enables the viewer to perceive Modeselektor’s very personal way in a detailed manner. This juxtaposition allowed us to go deep into the topic and provide answers to questions like: What kind of guys are they when they’re not on stage? What makes them individual and what’s their common persona as an artistic duo? What is it that makes this band a true phenomenon?
How was working with Gernot and Sebastian?
Our wish was to shoot everything as spontaneously and intimately as possible. That’s why only the two of us went on tour with them. In the narrowness of a nightliner or while waiting for the next flight, we got close to everybody and conversations started almost automatically. Thus, we had the chance to observe some very private moments and also got to see how Modeselektor behave in extreme situations, how their relationship with the crew works, their mood before and after a gig.
From a journalistic point of view these insights, were really interesting, and they also prove to be essential for the concept of the documentary. Similar things happened when visiting close friends and memorable places from their past, for instance when we sat in Szary’s mom’s garden, drinking coffee. Just by listening to the conversations about their beginnings and work history we learned a lot of private background knowledge—even if the camera was already turned off.
What was your biggest challenge when making the movie?
The biggest challenge was to choose from all the material. We had hours and hours of moving image material and even more unscripted information to deal with—we could have done a three-hour film without any problems! But naturally, we couldn’t include every little bit but instead had to focus. For instance, we’ve been thinking intensely whether and how to include the Moderat chapter. In the end we skipped it with the argument that it should be a true Modeselektor documentary—and not a mixed piece about Moderat or A.T.O.L. or any other surrounding act. The same thought applied for the band’s pool of labels. We passed on commenting on Modeselektor’s own 50 Weapons imprint but instead focused the narrative on their mothership Monkeytown Records. We didn’t want to lose our golden thread. The movie works without voiceovers, which means that the protagonists tell their story by themselves. This demanded discipline in our work, especially when conducting interviews. We also felt pretty challenged with the kill your darlings scenes, but that’s kind of obvious, we guess.
We Are Modeselektor will be released on Monkeytown Records. Why?
Originally we wanted to release the film on our own, but finally realized that Monkeytown’s distribution channels are far better than what we had to offer. This brought us the advantage of being able to focus on the movie itself while Monkeytown takes care of the distribution, promotion, and so on. We’re pretty happy with this solution, even though we’re aware of the fact that some people will say, “Oh, they produced a film about themselves and want to show off!” But that’s totally not the case. The complete concept and execution was ours. Sebastian and Gernot saw it for the first time when we had a raw version already.
The movie was realized together with Electronic Beats. How did it come to that collaboration?
We’ve been producing the DVD magazine Slices for Electronic Beats for about eight years. In that regard—and because Modeselektor are frequent guests on Electronic Beats Festivals—the collaboration kind of suggested itself. We have a very trusting relationship with the brand. Additionally, it should be clear that making such a documentary means a certain financial risk for us and everybody involved. With the support of Electronic Beats, we could get along much easier. Generally speaking, we feel obliged to strike a blow for the EB program: they always give us a carte blanche to do our projects, which we don’t take as given. After all, Modeselektor are still operating in a musical niche—even if they now receive international recognition. In that sense, we find the whole attitude of Electronic Beats’ program praiseworthy, especially since they stay on target for a long term.~
April 30 / Berlin (GER) / Kino International – Exclusive world premiere presented by Electronic Beats
May 08 / Munich (GER) / Gabriel Filmtheater
May 09 / Vienna (AUS) / Ottakringer Brauerei
May 17 / London (UK) / Roundhouse
May 19 / Boston (USA) / Museum of Fine Arts
May 24 / Paris (FR) / La Machine du Moulin Rouge
June 13-15 / Barcelona (ES) / Sonar Cinema at Sonar Festival (3 screenings)
June 19-23 / Cologne (GER) / C/O Pop