Q&A: Sasha Ring and Gernot Bronsert of Moderat Discuss Newest Album And The Process of Change
By Kendah El-Ali; photos by Samuel John Butt and Olaf Heine on September 20, 2013
The teaming of Berlin’s Modeselektor and Apparat have come back with a sophomore album, Moderat’s II. The former band is a pair of childhood best friends, known for being ruckus, techno B-Boys of sorts, having collaborated with puppets and toured with Radiohead in their past. The latter is more of an electronic dreamer, known for his spatial melodies and etheric vocals. Both are heavy hitters in the Berlin techno scene, contributing in spades to different ends of the electro spectrum.
As it happens, the combination of opposites can either be a bad or good thing. Their debut, 2009’s Moderat, was aurally pleasant, yet just a little out of reach, resulting in what boiled down to tepid techno at times. Four years later, II expresses a certain self-confidence in their combined side-project. Emotive, energetic, relaxing and provocative all at once, it’s a successful combination of oil and water whose depths can at times be as feeling as Depeche Mode and peaks can light up a dancefloor.
We caught up with Sascha Ring (Apparat) and Gernot Bronsert (one-half of Modeselektor), over couscous and plenty of children splashing around in a Berlin puddle, at their family-and-friends record release party to discuss the new album and how things have changed since the debut of what they call their fifth season.
Though Moderat is a mix of two very different artists, it’s easy to connect to this album. The first almost seemed to buckle under the weight of its idealism.
Gernot: It’s been four years since the last album. I think the first record was more an experiment on how to bring the worlds of Modeselektor and Apparat together. This time, we just made music together, it’s Sascha, Gernot and Szary together without any pressure from either bubble, and I think that’s the main difference.
Sascha: The first album was a remix, really. A rehashing of the concepts and ideas from the different bands’ identities.
Gernot: We totally deleted all the surrounding thoughts you might have while making an album—there’s nothing conceptual about II. We are not the stereotype of musicians. We don’t have melodies in mind and play them on an acoustic guitar and try to record it with a synthesizer. We are three producers—we can do everything. It’s like having three chefs cooking one steak, which makes things difficult.
But it sounds more authentic, and is ultimately more feeling than the first album. Perhaps it’s a little less German?
Gernot: [Laughing] We are still too much into it. We haven’t had the chance to distance ourselves from the project and see it for what it is. This album is poppy and easy to get into, but it’s moody. It was recorded in the winter—this past winter, which was honestly one of the worst in Berlin.
It’s a very emotional project, because there are so many things we need to take care of, personal things. It’s hard to have a democracy in this band, because Szary and I grew up together. We went to primary school together, we’re like an old, married couple. Sascha is kind of the new guy—we had to be careful to make sure that the power balance was in check. It wasn’t that easy.
And your lives have greatly changed since your first project together…
Gernot: Yeah. Sascha doesn’t have kids—he’s living the dream. His life hasn’t changed since the last album, but Szary and I both have families how. We have two record labels, a publishing company, a booking agency, we promote big parties and build stages all over the world. Sascha is only focused on himself and his own projects and he’s mostly alone with his decisions about his music.
Sascha: Things have definitely changed! I had to learn to get up early and work afternoons, sometimes take night shifts on to compensate for the fathers’ schedules. Before, I could just sort of hang out and stare at the ceiling and do whatever I wanted. Individual needs weren’t as important this time around, but with all that getting up early I could pull different strings and get what I wanted in different places.
Gernot: Moderat is something quite different than our personal norms. We go there to do something we truly want to do.
And what did you want to do?
Gernot: Life is like a sine wave, you know? You have ups and downs. The ups can be good and the downs bad, or it can be the opposite. It’s what you choose. There are no plusses and minuses in our lives. It’s just changing a lot, so we follow our own flows. Moderat is a part of our life, but it’s like a fifth season that we have every four years. It was something we were really waiting for. We spent so much energy and passion on this record to the point where little around us existed. We’re incredibly lucky to have such a great team around us to support and even defend us.
I saw your live show in NYC in 2009. It was admittedly hard to follow. Maybe the set-up of three producers on stage wasn’t so effective.
Gernot: You saw one of our first 10 shows as Moderat ever. The first 10 shows don’t count! We were a Resident Advisor best live act after that. It just took time. It took a while to get into it and build a stronger energy on stage. We are more experienced and relaxed now too. Now we have a crew: we have a front-of-house sound guy, a monitor guy, two back-liners, we have light and video engineers, tour management, so many people who can make it happen.
Touring the US is different and difficult and something I cannot say that I really like. In Europe, audiences have a completely different musical education. There is this weird dance music bubble that appeared in the US recently, but all these kids—they grew up listening to Limp Bizkit and Korn and shit, you know? And now they listen to some of these acts that have become extremely successful. The big difference between the US and Europe too, it’s all based on money in the US. They create hypes and control it with a big team. Here, Moderat and Modeselektor, this is home-grown.
Home-grown, yet very successful.
If you want to be successful there, you have to play festivals like Electric Zoo. The music there is not my cup of tea, obviously, but I think it’s important that we play there so that the people there can see what we do. Szary and I, we learned a lot when we toured with Radiohead. We didn’t learn much musically, but about attitude and passion and making music with friends and family. All of our crew is people we’ve known for more than a decade. Crew love is true love. F