Published Sep 27, 2011How best to describe Modeselektor? IDM? Techno? Glitch? Any term you pick will be ruefully inadequate to describe how their music successfully blends R&B, leftfield hip-hop, IDM, electro, grime and tech house into their party-ready, slightly bonkers sound. This penchant for eclecticism has never been truer than on their latest release, Monkeytown. The album features not one, but two songs written in collaboration with Thom Yorke and contributions from artists ranging from Australian math rockers PVT and hip-hop acts Busdriver and Antipop Consortium, amongst others. Monkeytown delivers what you would expect from a Modeselektor album: playfully cut-up vocals, banging beats, great production and diverse influences that continue the "crazy mirror onto the current dance music scene" style that Modeselektor (aka Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) are famous for. "German Clap" is a highlight, with its UK Garage-inspired beats, and "Berlin," featuring German R&B star Miss Platnum, comes across as a great commercial R&B track, albeit sent through the FlyLo filter. With their third album, Modeselektor continue to prove that as long as you are skilful enough to bring it all together into a unique and distinctive sound, you can be as eclectic as you like.
You stated on your website recently that this album was the first to "almost drive you crazy." What drove you so crazy?
Gernot: We started on this album a year ago, but we only started making music ten weeks ago. So we were doing that thing called "procrastination"; we were always looking for a reason not to go to the studio. It was really weird, but don't ask me why. We played so many shows in the last few years and did so many things that we just had a really hard time, inspiration-wise. For example, we set up a new studio and everything was cool and we started not liking it any more and we removed a wall and... don't ask! We spent a year setting it up. Sometimes with a studio you want to just change a cable and it ends up with removing a wall and then we ended up with just ten weeks until the deadline! We did the whole record in ten weeks and this time pressure was driving us crazy because we needed to go to the studio almost 18 hours a days and we got really stressed about that and we had shows and families and we needed to stress out the artists featured on the record because they had the same deadline. I think that's maybe why the record is like it is.
Do you think that experience made the record more frantic?
It's not really frantic; I would say it's more... nonchalant. It's easier; it's cooler because of that. We made all the tracks very fast and the ideas, they came very quick and I think a record should sound like this ― that it's made in between lunch and dinner [laughs]. I know what you mean with "frantic," that you have so many different styles on it, right? We always made music like this. That was always our idea. We were never able to focus on one thing, style-wise. This one is different for some reason. I dunno, it's various but they are all connected to each other for some weird reason. I hope it's a little bit like watching a weird David Lynch movie, where you have components where you don't get the connections between them but they are connected for some magic reason [laughs]!
As well as Modeselektor, you have a few side-projects, like Moderat and now A.T.O.L. Can you tell us about that project?
We joined forces with two friends from Berlin ― Marcel Dettman and Shed ― two great techno producers from Ostgut/Berghain. These two guys are our oldest friends, techno-wise, so we've known them our whole life and we founded this new band. It's a live set and we never rehearse it; we just connect the instruments, plug in the wires and then start playing without talking about it. We did that once at Melt!, a big festival close to Berlin, and this year we had our own stage for two days ― the Melt!Selektor stage ― and we performed there with this formation for three hours in front of a lot of people. We were just nervous for five minutes and then we had fun, like little boys, all of us, we were all smiling on stage.
You guys always look like you're having fun onstage. Too often you see the cliché of electronic musicians looking bored in front of their equipment.
Yeah, you see that very often, but sometimes it fits the music amazingly, you know? You have these acts onstage that look like they are checking emails or whatever, but they do great music. You have acts like Autechre; they are not huge performers, but what they do is incredibly good. But if you have someone who's there and he's doing boring shit and he looks boring and he is boring then he should go home and be boring for himself. We don't really think a lot about what we are doing onstage. We are very spontaneous; it needs to be fun. We have our tracks, but when we play live it's freestyle. We never prepare properly. We just rehearse the songs when we have a new song and we test them out and we just need to know how to play them, but when we are on stage it's just going to be freestyle. You need always a little adventure when you go on stage. I think that's important: to keep it interesting for yourself. When you start being bored onstage then you have the wrong job.
Berlin has been attracting a lot of North American and European expat musicians, especially over the past half-decade or so. Has this changed the city much?
At one point I really didn't like that ― Szary and I are both born and raised in Berlin ― but I think it's a very important thing for the town because Berlin is now becoming the international city it used to be before Adolf and all that Nazi shit. Berlin was a very free and open international town and I think it's having more and more this status it used to have 70 years ago. It's still an easygoing town, compared to other towns like London or NYC or Paris. These towns are very fast, but I think you recognise it when you are in Berlin; it's more easygoing for some reason. I think that's one of the reasons a lot of creative people move to Berlin: because you don't need to work 24 hours to pay for your shitty apartment, so you can spend your time in a creative way. It's a good place for artists and that's what I appreciate and that's what Berlin stands for. (Monkeytown)