Three’s Company: An interview with Moderat

Moderat is the Berlin techno supergroup made up of Modeselektor and Apparat, and are on the verge of releasing their second album, II. We speak to them about the roots of their collaboration and its evolution. Photo by Olaf Heine (left to right: Sebastian Szary, Sascha Ring and Gernot Bronsert).


Moderat is the collaboration between Modeselektor (Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert) and Apparat (Sascha Ring), who started working together as a way of exploring certain areas of electronic music they wouldn’t normally. Formed some ten years ago as an avenue for informal, improvised techno jams, Moderat has since developed into a fully formed unit that records, tours and has won the ears of those looking for dance music with real soul and ingenuity.

Their second album II is their best, most assured work to date and looks set to mark them out as a force as powerful as their respective parts. Both Modeselektor and Apparat enjoy successful, well-respected careers but this new full-length sees them really come into their own as a group. Now Moderat is capable of making an album as good as, say, Modeselektor’s Monkeytown and can pull off an impressive main stage festival performance with ease. An emotive, charged record, II is a rush of cascading synths, warm bass tones and rolling drum programming, with melancholy vocals used sparingly and to great effect. More fully-formed and sonically together than their debut, it’s engaging and highly musical but built for maximum impact on the dancefloor, too.

Their new live show will be put together by Pfadfinderei, a graphic design outfit that Moderat has worked with since the off. Responsible for artwork and music videos, Pfadfinderei collaborates with the band to create images that closely accompanies the music. Essentially the third arm of Moderat, they also create an impressive stage show, though details of just what the II tour will look like are being kept as a closely guarded secret. On the eve of the release of II, Electronic Beats spoke to Sebastian and Sascha about the evolution of Moderat, the importance of deepness and their shared love of nerding out in the studio.



How did you originally meet?

Sebastian Szary (one half of Modeselektor): We were playing a festival in Berlin, a very small one for emerging artists.

Sascha Ring (Apparat): Modeselektor were playing for BPitch Control and I was playing for Shitkatapult.

SS: During the soundcheck we were setting up our stuff and we saw Sascha, We thought, “Oh look this guy is playing only from a laptop and he has an amazing midi controller.” We talked to Sascha and then we fell in love.

So it was the controller that brought you together?

SR: They came with loads of equipment and I just came with a laptop. Technical, nerdy stuff is what brought us together in the first place.

How did the relationship develop?

SR: We kept on playing random shows together and it was already called Moderat back in the day. BPitch Control would throw parties and we’d just turn up and play a random, improvised set together.

SS: The main thing was that the software Sascha used at this time was able to play together with three laptops and network, it was before Ableton Live came out and you could play with three machines in sync.

SR: Which was also kind of fancy at the time. Back in the day I was nerdy; there was no Ableton Live so I had to write the software myself. They started using it and since it was so easy to play together we thought, “Hey, let’s play together all the time,” to the extent where it really pissed some people off. I remember I got booked at Fusion Festival, it’s a big hippie festival here in Berlin, and they booked me for the chillout floor. I was like, “Come on Modeselektor come and play, hippie style,” and everyone at the festival got pissed at us because they wanted a calm set and we started playing our darker beats.

What keeps you collaborating after all these years?

SR: In the beginning it was just fun and playing around and stuff. Even for the first album it was more like, “Let’s make a record together and play some shows and see what’s going on.” When it came to it, we played three months of live shows and everything started developing its own life. We went with the flow somehow and it became like our second band, not just a project for fun.

What do you have in common? What binds you?

SR: We share the same past. Even though they are from a different area, Modeselektor are from somewhere close to Berlin, I’m from the South East of Germany, but we all went to the same kind of illegal techno parties after the reunification. And we all love Detroit techno and stuff and that’s what we share.

Do you share a kind of rebellious spirit?

SR: Yeah. That’s what techno was 20 years ago. That’s why it was so big in the East because there were so many empty spaces for warehouse parties and stuff. That’s what Szary did in his hometown and that’s what I did in my hometown and then later we met in Berlin and were like, “Yeah, fuck, we did the same things but in different places.”

Can you explain a bit about your studio sessions? Who does what?

SS: Who does what is a good question. In the beginning we met to share some ideas, unfinished songs we had leftover on our hard drives. Everybody brought forward their idea. But then we started doing things from scratch with the equipment we had, like we took all our synthesisers and drum machines and we did some sessions. One hour sessions with the same sequence and then we’d record the sequence and cut out just eight bars to try and find the magic loop.

SR: For this record we started most of the beats from scratch. Everybody did everything, it wasn’t like one person was the drum programmer and the other one was making the melodies. It’s really mixed. Sometimes you’ll listen to tracks and hear something and go, “That’s typical Modeselektor” but I made that. And the opposite is also possible.

When you say you started from scratch, did you use less samples this time?

SS: No, actually we used a lot of samples and re-sampled a lot of stuff. We always set up a lot of stuff at the studio, analogue gear, and then we’d make loops, like Sascha just said, and we’d pitch it down to make it sound more fucked up, because this time we wanted to make a record that was dirtier.

Was that a certain aesthetic you wanted for the record?

SR: Definitely. Not that the last one was a clean sounding record. But we wanted to resample stuff and use it over and over again. We wanted to wear the sound out on purpose. It’s a common thing to do, it’s fashionable now, probably because people got bored of listening to listen to very clean electronic music. But it’s something we like at the moment, more crusty sounds. It makes it hard to listen to the record because whenever I listen to it, it sounds shitty at first but then I have to remind myself that that’s what we wanted.

Where exactly was the record made?

SS: We made it in the Modeselektor studio, which is in a tall building on the 12th floor with a very nice view. But this beautiful view makes no sense in the shitty winter, when it’s grey outside.

SR: I don’t have a studio anymore. Last time we made the record in my studio but then I sold it, so it was perfect that they started building a nice studio.

Was the second album recorded in winter then?

SR: Yeah, during the shittiest winter in years.

Did that affect the sound at all?

SR: Most people say it’s the most optimistic sounding music that I have ever made. It’s funny, because it wasn’t the most optimistic environment. You’d go to the studio and be afraid to leave the room.

It was like you were trying to dig your way out of the snow with the music?

SS: It would be interesting if we had the possibility to record our album in Mexico or Los Angeles or Manchester. It would be an experiment to see if it would sound different.

SR: It doesn’t necessarily have a Berlin vibe, it’s not a typical Berlin album. What affects your music is your mood, for sure. My mood is very much affected by weather and my surroundings so in the end of course the overall feeling of winter filtered through.

What kind of music informed the album?

SR: When we met in the studio we didn’t really have a plan. Everybody was really fucked up and busy with their own shit so we didn’t have time to think about it much. So we met in the studio on October 1st last year and we had to come up with ideas. We started the easy way, recycling old ideas, and then we kind of got stuck. But other people’s music is also an inspiration, so we had a folder that was filled by Szary, he always digs for interesting mood music, but I can barely remember what was in there. Lots of 80s stuff, Liars, not even much electronic music.

SS: What we had to take from the first album was the sound signature; something cinematic, deep, that was the main thing to take to the new one.

SR: That was the only thing we knew at the start. We tried to use old ideas and put them in this sound costume, if you can say that, and it partially worked. But very soon after, we figured out we’d rather just jam around, and then it’s more the kind of thing when someone starts a very simple loop and that triggers something in someone else and then things just happen step by step. It’s not so conceptual or planned. It’s like a little domino game, you hit one and they all start falling.

Artists like Phon.o, who has released via Modeselektor’s label, also go for that deep feeling. What interests you about that?

SR: The deepness is another thing we can all agree on. I have a thing for deep music but I wouldn’t really do it in my own music and maybe Moderat is a playground for each of us to try things that we can’t really do with our own projects.~


Moderat’s II is out on August 2nd via Monkeytown. You can watch their Slices DVD feature below. 

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<i>We Are Modeselektor</i>: An interview with filmmakers Romi Agel and Holger Wick

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

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We Are Modeselektor documentary

Electronic Beats by Telekom presents: We Are Modeselektor, a film by Romi Agel & Holger Wick.

What’s the “Seilscheibenpfeiler”? What is the origin of the first Modeselektor tracks? Where is Monkeytown? Why is riding a coach more fun than flying? These and many more questions will be answered with the documentary film We Are Modeselektor.

In 72 minutes, filmmakers Romi Agel and Holger Wick tell the story of Modeselektor as a post-German reunification movie, a travel report, and a portrait of the special friendship between Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary all in one. We Are Modeselektor is the story of two men, possessed by techno, who took their massive beats from their small hometown village to the world. And it’s a story that has only just begun.

Click the image above to watch the trailer now. We Are Modeselektor will be available via Monkeytown Records on DVD and Blu-Ray from May 3rd.~


Public Screenings (see links below for ticket info):

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

Modeselektor play our festival in Poznań on April 26th. Read some of our recent interviews with them here and here. Check out our YouTube playlist below, featuring footage of Modeselektor and Moderat (Modeselektor and Apparat) playing live, plus our Moderat Slices DVD feature.

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A brief interview with Shed

For some, René Pawlowitz‘ sound is Berlin. Under his production moniker Shed, the DJ and producer has crafted some of our favorite dark techno tracks; punishing, shuffling beats that transport our ears to dark concrete boxes filled with strobes, bass and sweat. Even as the city continues to grow and change, these are the sounds that remain: a pulse, a feeling that’s integral and irreplaceable. He’ll be appearing in the next edition of our Slices DVD series, but until then, here’s something a bit more brief, but no less intriguing.

Electronic Beats: You’re well connected with Berghain and its label Ostgut Ton – an ambassador of their sound and vision. Which is why I was suprised to see that your third LP The Killer was released via Modeselektor‘s 50 Weapons imprint.

René: I wouldn’t call myself an ambassador. There are others who deserve this decoration, but definitely not me. Besides, Monkeytown and 50 Weapons are a bunch of cool-ass people. We all fit together!

What’s up with your live project with Modeselektor and Marcel Dettmann?

Actually this year’s Bloc Festival should have been A.T.O.L.‘s first live show. But since the event was shut down at its first chaotic night, we only have one more show scheduled for this year at the Audioriver Festival in P?ock. We recently spent three weeks in the studio really focusing on putting together new tracks, we’re totally fired up for making live noise.

Speaking of noise, The Killer is an incredible piece of dystopic techno. It definitely evokes images of the gritty city it was created in, especially in beastly tracks like ‘Silent Witness’ and ‘I Come By Night’. What role does Berlin play in your sound?

‘No techno without Berlin’ is my personal formula. Berlin does techno like no other city in the world right now. I experienced my first raves here twenty years ago, and if this fantastic city can’t influence my music and musical attitude in general, I don’t know what possibly could.

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Modeselektor’s Szary: ‘Concrete is my kind of fetish’

Modeselektor's Szary: 'Concrete is my kind of fetish' Modeselektor‘s Sebastian Szary had a busy day at the studio when I caught up with him for this interview. Besides the release of their new ‘Modeselektion Vol. 2’ compilation on their label Monkeytown records, the Modeselektor was right in the middle of preparing a new live set for A.T.O.L. — the joint project of Modeselektor, Marcel Dettmann, and Shed. During a moment of silence, we spoke about Szary’s teen days, the evolution of Modeselektor into a business, and the interconnectivity of music and people.


When I was prepping for this interview I came across our Slices Modeselektor video feature from seven years ago. Back then your mother said that you could have been a great craftsman. Do you reflect on your musical career in terms of craftsmanship?
Sebastian Szary: My mother’s right — she’s almost always right! But she wasn’t right that one time. Shortly after the Wall came down I made some money in precast concrete construction. When you’re from the mining-town of Rüdersdorf near Berlin, you know why someone would do this kind of job. Pretty much everyone from Rüdersdorf is somehow connected to that kind of industry. I didn’t even get a high school diploma, since reunification and the ailing East German economy had a very big influence on me. I also didn’t give a shit about school. But since everybody needs to do something in life, I did this apprenticeship as a bricklayer. This whipped me into shape for life in general. I think everybody should experience this kind of ‘school of real life’ for at least three years.


You mean in order to get to the next chapter in life? To know how to accomplish something?
Well, in order to experience a ‘real project’ in the first place I guess, as well as to have the experience of working together with others on a single task. Who knows — maybe you’ll become an alcoholic or be bullied in the process, but you start doing your own stuff as well. I bought myself tons of musical equipment that I couldn’t really talk about with my colleagues — it’s not really an interesting topic for the average construction worker. After work I went home and did music, or spent the rest of my money on vinyl. Meanwhile my mother was always saying “Those records are so expensive and your apprenticeship pay is so low” — I earned 360 deutschmarks a month in my first year of training. I was living with my mother, and I’d spent around 200 marks on records alone. When she saw me returning with all those records from Hard Wax, I was always like “Well, I need them for DJing!” It’s a classic parent-child-conflict — everybody experienced this I guess. After enough good gigs, the money invested starts coming back to you. That’s what it’s all about.

Did you have a vision where your musical career might lead when you started DJing with Gernot [Bronsert] in 1995?
I think so. Gernot certainly did. He’s three years younger than I am, and back then he always had this juvenile touch. He kick-started the whole thing, I’d say, and I brought in the technical know-how. From my apprenticeship days I learned that when you work on something, be it a house or a song, the first thing you need is a foundation. When you’re dealing with concrete you have to keep stirring, otherwise it’ll dry up and you’ll need to throw it away. My life is based on that, I think. To be honest, I love concrete, the smell and texture of it. It’s a kind of fetish.

Besides Modeselektor, Moderat and A.T.O.L., you’re pushing the enterprise further with your labels Monkeytown and 50 Weapons …
You’re right, we’re carrying a much bigger responsibility these days, and we’re realizing how short time is. All those meetings, studio hours, and rehearsals … they take up a lot of time. A while ago we started building a team around us to take over some of our tasks and to-dos, but there’s still loads of stuff that we need to take care of ourselves. On the other hand we just want to make music, so we’re constantly asking ourselves: is this really what we want to do? Looking back on the days when we left BPitch Control and started our own label, it was absolutely the right decision — maybe the only one we could have made. But on days like today with studio time, meetings and press interviews, we’re on our last legs. [phone starts beeping] Lo and behold, there’s a new text message. It’s the next interviewer!

From a strategic point of view, how do you look for artists you’d like to sign? Just how much can/do you want to do as music entrepreneurs?
On the one hand there’s our vision, on the other our lives. The current combination means that we’re at the end of our tethers. Besides our company, there’s also family. Gernot will become a father for the second time soon. I’d say that we’re doing some things in life differently from one another, but we’re working 365 days a year. That’s 52 weekends full of shows, sometimes two or three shows a weekend. But in the end it’s all about the adrenaline kick of getting little tasks done. It’s tough! [beeping again] Fuck, another text message …

You’ve just released your second Modeselektion compilation – which is, on the whole, a darker and tougher listening experience than the 2010 edition. Is this a reflection of your own change in taste, or influenced by more general things … a Zeitgeist change in contemporary club music?
When we started compiling the record and asking people about their tracks, we simply dragged them into a chronological playlist as they came in. We soon realized that they blended together really well. The track list ‘as is’ is a fragment of the very start of the playlist, with each successive track building up to something, having a great flow, etc. Listening to the tracks we were sent, we couldn’t help wondering what was wrong. People’s music is getting darker and darker — something changed in comparison to two years ago. Of course, things changed for us, too. Our new track ‘Maik the Chicken’ was recorded in a session during one day. That might sound a bit careless, but that’s just how we wanted it to go down.

The compilation comes with a lot of more well-known artists like Clark, Monolake, Prefuse 73 and Mouse On Mars, but also more left-field choices like Soft Circle, Diamond Version, Frikstailers, and Dark Sky. Soft Circle especially are more an underground connection — how did you guys meet?
We got to know each other over the years. Modeselektion is a kind of portrait of our travels, too. Like a scrapbook. We met Hisham Bharoocha when we were staying in New York City. He’s a lovely person, a great photographer and a very interesting musician. I think he was in Animal Collective, but he also played in Lightning Bolt and Black Dice … all music that I listened to back in the day.

I like the idea of listening to music in contexts where you don’t expect it, not just within their respective musical ghettos … when you remove genres from their normal situations.

Another thing that caught my attention on the compilation is Diamond Version, Alva Noto and Byetone’s new project, which Mute Records is releasing soon. Modeselektion somehow seems to serve as a kind of launching pad.
We intensely discussed releasing their album ourselves, but eventually it was too late. But of course, we support each other. We met up with Olaf [Bender] and Carsten [Nicolai] regularly when we were on the road with Moderat, but we also live close to each other here in Germany as well. They’re a great live act … they remind us of ourselves. Also, it was also very important to us to rep German acts on the record.

With the new edition of Melt! Festival you’ll once again be hosting the ‘Melt! Selektor’ stage. On your recent Modeselektor tour, you had a bunch of artists joining you at the live shows. I was wondering when this will become, say, its own format – where you as Modeselektor don’t even need to be present anymore.
The routine at a festival goes something like this: travel there, rush to the hotel, have a shower, get to festival, jump on the stage, perform, leave. What do you remember from the whole experience? Nothing. When we’re touring with Modeselektor or Modeselektion, we want to have friends and a comfortable flow every night. That’s something that we always wanted to have. When nobody knows each other at an event, everybody feels uncomfortable with the situation. We like the idea of curating. That’s very important to us.


‘Modeselektion Vol. 2’ by Modeselektor has just been released on Monkeytown Records. Watch them play live at one of these dates, and watch out for their live show at our Electronic Beats Festivals in fall 2012.

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Photo: © Kevin Lake / Image editing: Electronic Beats

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