Modeselektor seem to revel in non-conformity. On the face of it, two musical perfectionists from East Berlin - who dedicate themselves to creating meticulously-constructed techno and take their name from a function on the Roland RE-201 analogue delay effects unit - don't sound like they'd be much of a laugh. Then you look at the names of their albums: “Hello Mom!”, “Happy Birthday!” and “Monkeytown” and you think, OK, clearly these guys don't take themselves too seriously.
Certainly the albums themselves are, on the face of it, dedicated to the dancefloor – you're never far from a drop so deep it'll give you butterflies in your stomach. Yet when you study the sonic manipulation and clinical rhythmic execution involved, it's clear that Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary take the science of sound very seriously indeed. They may make their living wrecking the PAs of clubs across the world, but they're not averse to producing the odd art gallery sound installation either – they've even exhibited at the Pompidou.
This same restlessness is recognisable in their resistance to definition. Though they are associated with everything that's iconic about the techno scene in Berlin, from Bpitch Control to the Berghain club, they are unafraid to incorporate aspects of everything from hip hop to post-rock into their bass-driven blend. When asked to define their sound, they've offered a plethora of ridiculous pseudo-genres ranging from “Happy Metal” and “Acid Rap” to “Euro Crunk” and “Bastard Dancehall”.
Last year's superb “Monkeytown” LP was a further warning against attempts to pigeon-hole them, featuring guest artists from as disparate backgrounds as Thom Yorke, Otto van Schirach and Anti-Pop Consortium. More importantly, every element combined to form their best album yet. From the pitch-bending thump of the barnstorming “German Clap”, to “War Cry” and its manipulation of 90-year-old Zulu chanting, their inclinations to satisfy both head and feet had never been so perfectly twinned, and it provided a level of consistency their previous albums hadn't quite managed; though when pressed to agree with that assessment they diplomatically protest that “we are always proud of our albums and still are happy with all of them”.
They also rejected the idea that there's a powerful and unexpectedly bitter-sweet emotional kick to much of their music, especially tracks like “Let Your Love Grow” and “Blue Clouds”, claiming their intention is to leave audiences uplifted (as they’ll hopefully in mid-June, when they’ll be playing and crowd-pleasing the Sónar Festival in Barcelona).
“Maybe to some people those tracks seem a bit melancholic, but they are actually not meant that way. It's probably just how everyone receives music personally...”
"For this album we were together in the studio from dusk till dawn and the other way around for 14 weeks straight. We had a tight deadline and had to be disciplined."
So do you prefer getting a hands-in-the-air physical response from your audience?
The ‘put your hands in the air’ feedback is definitely a good indicator of the ongoing mood / atmosphere. Szary also takes photos of the crowd at every show. And most of the time people just look happy. We are looking forward to our photo exhibition probably called “Überhappy” or something like that.
Your collaboration with Busdriver, the hilarious satire “Pretentious Friends”, is fascinating. What made you seek him out for collaboration?
When we worked on the album and that particular track, we came to the conclusion that this track needed rap vocals. We almost immediately thought of Busdriver as he is one of the best rappers and has his own style. And we had also collaborated with him on the Moderat album and knew that this could work out. We then just asked him and he said yes.
When you collaborate with vocalists do you suggest lyrical ideas or do you leave it entirely up to them?
Singers can actually do what they want. We just record them or let them record their own vocals and then edit it. If the singer doesn't like the edit, we change it. Also, if the singer thinks a different song structure would be better. This way it's a real collaboration and joined forces.
“Monkeytown” is also apparently the first album you've both made ‘together’, i.e. in the same room at the same time. How do you think that's made a difference?
That's right - for this album we were together in the studio from dusk till dawn and the other way around for 14 weeks straight. We had a tight deadline and had to be disciplined. We were on a kind of adrenalin flash … Luckily our family, friends and the Monkeytown team helped and supported us in the best way.
Considering the success of “Monkeytown”, where do you plan to go next?
We are currently touring but have already planned our next album (to be released towards the end of this year). We are already in the studio working on it. We then also have our two labels Monkeytown Records and 50WEAPONS that need our attention...
We spoke to Sascha Ring (aka Apparat) last year, and he suggested that work on a new Moderat album was imminent. However, we've barely heard anything about it since then. Will there still be a new album? If so, how is it progressing?
We have just scheduled in a time frame where we all will go into the studio again to record a new album. The work itself will probably be similar to during the production of the first album. And also the processing won’t change as we are still 3 very stubborn and perfectionist guys...
How does making music as Moderat compare to your usual creative process.
“Monkeytown” has definitely been influenced by the production of the Moderat album - like real teamwork, quick decisions, don't overwork things...
Sascha seems ambivalent about Berlin these days, whereas you've always loudly championed the city. We know you love it, but what are your least favourite things about Berlin?
Döner, parking spaces, the Tegel airport (TXL), silence.
“Berlin”, your paean to the city in collaboration with Miss Platnum, is probably the poppiest track you've done. Were you happy with the results, and can you see yourself doing more stuff in this vein?
This collaboration was a total coincidence. Nevertheless we are really proud of that track and this collab. A whole album in this style wouldn't really work … But we love this track!
You've collaborated with some immensely talented people, is there anyone left who you still desperately want to work with?
It´s a secret!! Psst!!
If Modeselektor was a political party, what would its slogan be?
KEEP IT REAL & HAPPY METAL
If Modeselektor was a cocktail, what would be in it?
Even when answering stupid questions Modeselektor play with convention: their political response is to joke; their joke response is to make a political reference. They put serious effort into their work, and work hard to make sure they're not seen as taking themselves too seriously. They even claim they don't seek to elicit anything but positive emotional responses from their listeners, while soliciting vocal contributions from that master of melancholia Thom Yorke. These are the sort of wilful contradictions that make Modeselektor so special. Techno legends who strive for every other type of beat. Party monsters who you can listen to in the bath. You can guess what their response was when we asked them to tell us their favourite joke...
“We are very serious people who don't tell jokes...”
...which is both a fine joke in itself and paradoxically also kind of true – they only joke when they're not expected to. With their record labels readying the release of records by everyone from Addison Groove to Mouse On Mars, and the salivating prospect of new Modeselektor AND Moderat albums in the not-too-distant future, we can hope to see that idiosyncratic stamp of predictable unpredictability appearing ever more frequently...
Modeselektor, Monkey Town, best albums, Art & Cash, Happy Birthday