The Moderat Compromise
ABOVE: MODERAT. IMAGE COURTESY OF SAMUEL JOHN BUTT
The three members of Moderat may have been playing together for over a decade, but they still find it hard to establish common musical ground. It’s not surprising; the German electronic supergroup comprises Sascha Ring—who creates soulful opuses under the moniker Apparat—and Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, co-producers of a harder fusion of techno and glitch as Modeselektor.
The trio released their self-titled debut album as Moderat in 2009, its huge success pushing their planned two-month-long tour to two years instead. The next installment, Moderat II, presents a more refined sound that expresses the band members’ individual influences with warmth and space. The tracks are enveloped by Ring’s voice and driven forward by Modeselektor’s thumping beats. Most striking is the seamless way these two elements have been combined, making it clear that the band has sculpted and taken ownership of its sound. On the eve of the record’s release, Bronsert gave us an insight into a techno-fueled journey of musical exploration.
TEMPE NAKISKA: How did you originally get in touch with electronic music?
GERNOT BRONSERT: We are all from East Germany. I’ve known Charlie since primary school, and we met Sascha around 2000. But we grew up under the same circumstances; suffering in a good way under the reunification after the wall came down. There was so much anarchy and chaos and confusion. All these new things were coming into the country, and with them came an underground scene and a type of music called techno. We found our own way to get through the depression through a lot of techno and Ecstasy. We organized parties in abandoned Russian bunkers. It was a crazy time.
NAKISKA: Why did you start producing your own music?
BRONSERT: All of us, Apparat and Modeselektor, we got sick of the 4/4 rhythms pretty quickly. We were looking for a new advanced kind of electronic music. It was around that time that we met Sascha. We were then with BPitch Control, Ellen Allien’s label, so we brought Apparat over too.
NAKISKA: How did you approach creating this new sound?
BRONSERT: Back in the day it was different, we were just looking for new rhythms and structures. Of course, you cannot kill the 4/4 rhythm of techno, because it’s like… an evil plant that does not want to die.
NAKISKA: What’s it like working together?
BRONSERT: For Moderat, [it’s] a hard job to make music together because we are so different. I mean, it’s hard enough for Charlie and I to make music together as Modeselektor! But to add Sascha on the bill as Apparat, it’s tough because he lives a totally different life to what we do. Since the first album things have changed: Charlie and I have two record labels—Monkeytown and Fifty Weapons—we sign artists; we go on tour; we make movies; we have a radio show and families with children. Whereas Sascha has no family yet, he owes nobody anything. He’s the lonely stranger in the desert!
NAKISKA: How did that change the dynamic for this album?
BRONSERT: The first album was more of an experiment, trying to bring the worlds of Apparat and Modeselektor together. This time it wasn’t a record of Apparat and Modeselektor; it was a record of Sascha, Gernot, and Charlie. It was something we did for us and not for our project. We tried to avoid the influences we naturally have from our bands.
NAKISKA: You can definitely feel that. It feels like more of a unification of your sounds.
BRONSERT: Yeah. To be honest, it was a pain in the ass to make this record. We have so many different points of view, and such different lives to work around. That was probably the biggest problem, to sync our lives. Sascha is a night creator, and we needed to work by day. It took us six months to make this record, and the first half was just spent talking.
NAKISKA: What about?
BRONSERT: Well, after we stopped touring the first record, we were confused. When we stopped playing it took us a while to get back to our roots and become Modeselektor and Apparat again. Sascha sold his studio and all his electronic gear, his computers, and he went on tour with only a guitarist, drummer, bass, and piano players and strings; he totally fled from the electronic thing. Charlie and I needed to do something to change our circumstances, so we founded our labels and made Monkeytown, the last Modeselektor album.
NAKISKA: And what sparked you feeling ready to write as Moderat again?
BRONSERT: Well, we enjoyed writing the first album so much, and we fit perfectly together because we are so different. As Modeselektor, Charlie and I play huge festivals and raves, and Sascha is doing music for theaters and seated audiences. I think Charlie and I wanted to be a little more quiet and Sascha a little louder again, that’s when we were ready. Moderat is like a little island we can escape to.
NAKISKA: Is there much push and pull between the two music styles coming together?
BRONSERT: When we started recording, the only thing we had the same opinion on was how it should physically sound. We aged 10 years writing this record because there was such a big clash of music styles coming together. I really enjoy Sascha’s music but I will never be able to make music like his. Sascha is also looking over our shoulder because he will never be able to make music like we do.
NAKISKA: Does working so closely with Apparat influence your music as Modeselektor?
BRONSERT: No, I think I can separate that. Being Modeselektor is such a strong feeling. Working as Moderat is similar to when we work with the likes of Thom Yorke; Modeselektor is Charlie and I, so working with somebody else is like inviting somebody into our holy circle.
NAKISKA: Where did you record this time?
BRONSERT: We recorded in the Modeselektor studio instead of Apparat’s studio, because he sold it.
NAKISKA: Did that have an impact on the writing process?
BRONSERT: I think so, because we have the better view. It’s in a very tall building in the middle of Berlin; we are on the 15th floor. We recorded this record almost entirely during the winter. It was snowing outside, and in the studio it was a very mellow atmosphere, which is something you can feel in the album. It was cold outside, but we were cozy, so we tried to make the album sound warm.
NAKISKA: You can really feel that in the fullness in the sound, whereas the first album did have a harder edge to it.
NAKISKA: What about gear; do you use a lot of analog equipment?
BRONSERT: A lot. We have a great mixing console and we recorded almost all the instruments through it. We also have quite a few old compressions and analog machines. But this makes recording a more difficult process, much more intense. When we did the final mixdown in the studio I couldn’t listen to it anymore, I broke. I had to leave!
NAKISKA: Do you tend to lean towards analog gear, generally?
BRONSERT: In the end, everybody is cooking tea with water. I don’t care. I’m interested in all the new machines and instruments, but you don’t need all that shit. You need ideas, that’s all.
MODERAT II IS OUT TODAY IN EUROPE AND TOMORROW IN THE UNITED STATES. MODERAT PLAY ELECTRIC ZOO ON AUGUST 31. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT TIS WEBSITE.