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.
Published July 31, 2013. Words by sebwheeler.