Modeselektor’s Sebastian Szary narrowly escaped death recently after dancing on top of what he thought was a spotlight during a performance in Austria. It turned out to be a massive flamethrower. Read Part 1 “It’s the haircut, I guess.”
Sebastian Szary: How big is your entourage?
H.P. Baxxter: There’s the three of us in the band, then there are some technicians and, of course, our office. Last but not least we have two girl dancers from England and two professional jumpers from Holland on stage.
Gernot Bronsert: Jumpers?
HP: Yes, the jumpers have been around since we released our album Jumping All Over the World in 2007. Jumpstyle is still a very popular dance style. Ah, I almost forgot: we travel with a pyrotechnician.
SS: You travel with your own fire department too?
HP: No, every venue handles that separately.
GB: Last weekend we had a scary incident in Austria in a former tank storage facility of the Austrian army. During our set, Szary climbed on a flamethrower thinking it was a laser spotlight and used it as a pedestal. When he jumped back on stage, it spit out a massive, larger-than-life flame right where he’d been standing.
SS: I could’ve gotten grilled.
HP:But it’s still fun, isn’t it? It’s the same kind of fun we had when we bought firecrackers as kids. Every audience loves pyro. We immediately sense a difference in the crowd in countries in which pyrotechnics are forbidden—like in Russia, for example.
GB: What do you use instead? Confetti?
HP: Serious amounts of fog. But it’s far less impressive. And you can’t blame the audience for not reacting as intensely—I feel the same! I’m so used to things being fired off in certain key moments of our shows that I end up really, really missing them. The feeling of loss is like phantom pain.
SS: You’ve never had a bad experience with pyrotechnics?
HP: Once a very expensive coat of mine went up in flames because my assistant had put it near a flamethrower. But we’ve learned from that experience. It never happened again and not a single person has ever been injured during one of our shows.
GB: We should enhance our stage shows with pyrotechnics. I am dead serious about that, Szary.
SS: If I should miss a meeting in the next weeks, it’s probably because I’m busy training to become a pyrotechnician. The apprenticeship might even be subsidized by the government.
HP: You mean you want to become professional like Till Lindemann from Rammstein? As far as I know, they even design and build their pyro- technical devices themselves.
GB: I remember that we once wanted to pimp up our DJ console with some strobe lights, but our equipment rental guys at Blackbox said Rammstein had already reserved all available gear for the next four months. Every single light. And I’m talking about, like, two hundred of these things!
SS: I don’t want to know Rammstein’s electricity bill.
HP: I heard that Rammstein came out of Schwerin’s theater scene in the eighties—before the fall of the Iron Curtain. They worked as light and stage technicians, which would explain why their approach to concerts is so theatrical. Speaking for myself, I always liked the bands that had an enormous stage presence more. When I was still listening to hard rock around twelve or thirteen, I liked Ritchie Blackmore because he always destroyed his guitar during his sets. Already then I knew it wasn’t spontaneous, that it was rehearsed. But it didn’t diminish the excitement I felt watching the destruction. Looking back, the fireworks we used at our first live shows were child’s play compared to the amount of kaboom we set off nowadays. At a certain point in our career we spent more money on pyrotechnics than we made on ticket sales. But back in the day we also used to earn incredible amounts of money with CD sales, and we used the concerts to increase it. This obviously has reversed one hundred and eighty degrees since then.
GB: When exactly were these golden days?
HP: In the mid-nineties we would go gold or platinum with every single that we’d release, whereas the whole album would only sell OK. Then a couple of years later, our albums also started selling really well. And this went on for a decade. So when did Modeselektor form?
GB: Szary and I started in 1996 in his father’s garage. Among our gear was a Roland Space Echo analog delay. One of the knobs was labeled “Mode Selector”. We combined the two words and changed the “c” to a “k” to make it all look more German.
HP: That’s funny—I also own this device, but I never used that button.
SS: We used this effect intensely.
GB: It was the only effect we had, to be honest. But looking back, it really helped shape our sound.
HP: I bought my Space Echo in the early eighties when I became the singer for a band called Celebrate the Nun. I liked the effect on the voices of Nik Fiend, Marc Almond and Dave Gahan, and they all used the Space Echo, so I bought one too.
GB: I’ve never heard any music by Celebrate the Nun.
HP: The special thing about this band was that we very seriously tried to become famous, but we never succeeded. We did it for eight years and literally nothing happened.
GB: I read that your sister was in the band, too? That’s interesting.
HP: It was interesting, but a bit odd—especially when this director proposed that we should act like lovers in one of our videos. But what can I say? Every experience you make in life is a good experience somehow.
Continued in Part 3 “The hate wears off” .
Over the past five years, Scooter and their unmistakable lead singer H.P. Baxxter have experienced something of a renaissance amongst purveyors of continental high culture. Why? Who the fuck knows. Some say it’s their special blend of lowbrow Dada boomboom; others claim it’s Nobel-level PR. Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary don’t have the answer, but they do share Baxxter’s love of the Roland Space Echo, as they recently discovered in conversation with the peroxide frontman in Hamburg.
Gernot Bronsert: We could have met a couple of years ago. We were playing in Vienna at the Flex, and we spotted you from the stage. You and your entourage were at the bar.
H.P. Baxxter: I remember. We were in town because we were invited to take part in a talk show. Somebody suggested we attend your show afterwards.
Sebastian Szary: We noticed that you left during the last song we played. I remember thinking: This is how you do it when you’re a celebrity. You leave before everybody else.
HP: We were thinking about saying hello backstage, but it doesn’t really make sense when you’re unannounced. So we just enjoyed the concert as regular members of the crowd, and then we called it a day. But it’s interesting that you noticed us.
GB: It was actually impossible not to notice you: you and your entourage basically took all the seats at the bar. And you, H.P., are especially impossible to overlook. It’s the haircut, I guess.
SS: You’ve got a silhouette. Everybody knows your look— for almost two decades you haven’t changed anything.
HP: Old habits die hard. Whenever I like something I stick to it. I dye my hair once every two weeks, and I shave twice a day.
GB: Have you ever been offered an endorsement deal for a shampoo?
HP: No, but I was offered a couple of other things since I will be quite present in German TV due to my commitment for the new season of the casting show X Factor. I’m part of the jury that decides who will become a candidate for the finale.
SS: Who’s the winner? Come on, I promise I won’t tell anybody.
HP: As I said, we’ve only produced the shows that lead to the finale. Nobody knows what will happen during the live shows that follow . . .
GB: Let me guess: Scooter are releasing their sixteenth album?
HP: Yes we will release our next album in October. But is it already our sixteenth album?
GB: Don’t you know how many records you’ve made?
HP: I know the number of our top ten singles: twenty-four.
SS: What’s the thrill of doing a sixteenth album?
HP: It’s been three years now since we had our last top ten hit. I feel it’s an obligation to write new hits because I don’t want Scooter to become a nostalgic act with an old audience only always asking for the classic hits. A hit single certainly attracts a younger crowd and that’s very important if you ask me. That’s reason enough to try.
GB: How can you know that the next single will become a top ten hit?
HP: Well, I hope it will. We wrote it the way we did thinking it could become one. It’s a very energetic track for sure.
SS: Coming back to the Flex club in Vienna: After we spotted you from the stage, we briefly discussed whether we should play “Hyper Hyper”, but we decided not to in the end. We didn’t dare.
GB: We just weren’t sure about it.
HP:I totally understand. It can be embarrassing when you enter a club and suddenly the DJ completely destroys the mood of his set by playing two Scooter tracks—just because he spotted you and wants to welcome you. Anyhow, I remember that after your show had ended, I told my assistant that he should get me all of Modeselektor’s recordings. Honestly, it doesn’t happen that often that I really like a live set. It sounded totally different than your studio work, by the way.
GB: That’s because we’re playing everything live. We have separate tracks for every instrument. We don’t use entire playbacks. That’s also the reason why every show we do is different from the one before. I suppose that you have to check out audience recordings on YouTube if you want to see that part of Modeselektor.
Continued in Part 2 “Every audience loves pyro” .
The first time I heard Kraftwerk was on The Electrifying Mojo’s radio show in Detroit in the late seventies. This is when FM radio was still young, and there were only, like, three stations. There really was no specific format for FM radio at the time—DJs were allowed to do what they wanted. You heard them play entire albums when they felt like it, which couldn’t be more different from today’s radio format. Mojo used to play ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘We Are The Robots’ pretty regularly, but the first time I heard ‘Robots’ I just froze. My jaw dropped. It just sounded so new and fresh. I mean, I had already been doing electronic music at the time, but the results weren’t so pristine—the sound of computers talking to each other. This sounded like the future, and it was fascinating, because I had just started learning about sequencers and drum programs. In my mind, Kraftwerk were, like, consultants to Roland and Korg and stuff because they had these sounds before any of the machines even appeared on the market.
Needless to say, Kraftwerk definitely influenced my sound, because when I heard their music I automatically knew I had to tighten up what I was doing; I had to make it cleaner and better—though not necessarily more minimal, because what I was doing was pretty minimal for the time. A lot of people think that I was copying Kraftwerk directly, but that’s absolutely not the case. For me, they weren’t any more of an influence than, say, funk—P-Funk especially. I actually had a chance to talk to Florian [Schneider] when we played Tribal Gathering together a few years back. We met up behind the Detroit stage and chatted a bit and I was really surprised to learn that Kraftwerk were hugely influenced by James Brown. Of course, P-Funk was made up of at least half the JB’s first line-up, so somehow Detroit techno was a very natural, even “fated” progression. I mean, there were other funky electronic bands around—Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan and all that—but none were as funky as Kraftwerk. I mean, you could actually play the stuff on black radio, and that wasn’t a small feat. You could go to an all black club in Detroit and when they put on ‘Pocket Calculator’, everybody just went totally crazy.
Kraftwerk’s minimal lyrics were part of their overall concept, and definitely contributed to their special blend. I can say for sure that they put Germany on the map for me. When I was a kid in school in America, the only thing we learned about Germany was World War II. Also, I always had this impression—independently of the war—that Germany was very logical, very machine-oriented. And without a doubt, when I went to the Man Machine show at the MoMA retrospective, I could definitely hear the way they combined the machine-driven syncopations with a more human take on improvisation. And the visuals were phenomenal. I had only heard after the fact that Ralf Hütter had played an important role in choosing both Francois K and I to do our DJ sets for the Kraftwerk exhibit at the geodesic dome at PS1. I’m proud to have been a part of it.~
Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwer Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more – Read them here.
Photo: Luci Lux
We’ve got a video camera and we’re gonna use it—to make screen tests! 38 years after Andy Warhol started to shoot Factory regulars, Warhol superstars, celebrities, guests and friends on film, we’ve decided to do the same. The first person to star in our series of screen tests is Mark Reeder, who recently contributed his ABC to Electronic Beats’ Fall issue 2012. Our screen tests know only one rule: They are around one minute long—and anything can happen. Stay tuned for the second screen test next Monday—again directed by Luci Lux. ~ Photo: Luci Lux
“Garten” offers a preview of Berlin independent music activist and musician Gudrun Gut‘s new album Wildlife. Indeed, the video tells a story that may only be familiar to you if you’re someone who tends to their own natural space; preparing, hacking, seeding, watering, growing and harvesting the vegetables and fruits of a garden. You might think that a garden is an essence of civilisation, but cultivating means crossing the spheres of human-made to nature-force every year, with every season.
In spring, you have to free the soil, and from that point the cycle begins once more, a cycle which moves at an almost imperceptible pace. Sonja Bender, who shot on location in the Uckermark region of Germany, shows a young man, a Greek statue, who is moved to unseen forces to the straight ahead beat of “Garten”. Around him, sunlight and shadows frame the garden: wild grasses, and thistles, and bumblebees. At the end, a whole crew of people—all ages—have themselves moved. Yet, nothing has really happened, and that’s the thrill of it.
Gudrun Gut’s new album Wildlife and Best Garden EP are out now on monika enterprise.