Techno Will Eat Itself - Modeselektor Interview

“We are the reason that Thom Yorke started DJing and likes dance music.”
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We are gestating genres with Berlin’s juvenile bass mongers Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary; as Modeselektor they relish dining on dance music’s exhausted rulebook.

Right now we’re talking about their capital’s strange hip-hop scene, a weird footnote beneath the city’s maternal techno soundtrack. Gernod happily plunges in his sword: “It’s shit! It’s like crap-hop. Berlin’s hip-hop scene is based on very dirty lyrics and its not about the music. And they try and be more dirty and more evil than the other ones and they just diss each other, so then they’re not allowed to play the songs on the radio and the clips get refused on YouTube for the contents. It’s a real wannabe gangster crap.”

Modeselektor tried to address their beloved Berlin with their own hip-hop song by the same name: “This is an unexpected song,” admits Gernod, “because the international public opinion of the sound of Berlin is always ending up as ‘minimal’, ‘techno’, or the ‘Berlin party thing’ and we both just wanted to show that that’s not true.” The result is a delightful bubbly wonk-a-thon with local diva Miss Platnum toasting over the top. But that is just for starters.

However, the duo have no need for any old-school terminology. Despite being associated with dancehall, techno, hip-hop and rap, they’ve completely reinvented each sound according to their own field-leading standards. Their third album on their own Monkeytown label (an imprint that they started purely to release the music of their reluctant friend Sirius Mo’s) is now about to carry the weight of arguably the best dance album of the year.

They even managed to get Radiohead’s Thom Yorke down to the studio: this has been on the rave cards for a while, since Modeselektor have become something of a muse for the British singer. “I don’t know; the muse needs to have tits, no?” laughs Gernod. “But Thom told us that we explained to him without words what electronic music can do,” he proudly states. “He said we are the reason that he started DJing and likes dance music. I think we inspire him and show him things he would never discover on his own, and it’s the same thing we have going on with him. Because we come from totally different worlds but it matches in the middle perfectly.”

But not only did the addition of the tracks ‘Shipwreck’ and ‘This’ propel the album to new ground, in many ways Thom Yorke helped Modeselektor squeeze past their particularly nasty bout of writers block. “You know the term ‘procrastination’? We are the [most] hardcore procrastinators ever. We had a lot of communication with Thom during our procrastination period, when we couldn’t make any music, and so he really helped us out. He’s been doing this twenty-five years. He gave me tips like going on a walk outside, don’t allow yourself to make music for a while, don’t listen to other music, read a book, play with your child.”

‘Monkeytown’ was the first album Gernod and Szary produced together, in the one place over a ten-week sitting, rather than both compiling their own tracks under the Mdslktr banner. And despite them having writers block for months they’ve produced, albeit entirely at the very last minute, their best work. “For example,” smiles Gernod, “for the track ‘Evil Twin’, Otto [Von Schirach] recorded the vocals just one day before the mastering. I just called him, and he’s on tour with Alec Empire at the moment - he had just one day off - and I catch him by coincidence. Much of it was like this!”

Other collaborations equally frantically bagged were from Anti Pop Consortium, PVT, Miss Platnum and Busdriver. When we spoke in August you get the impression Gernod and Szary were still coming to terms with the whole thing: “It’s a real Modeselektor record. I was very afraid to make a new Modeselektor record when people get what they expect. For me it’s very important when I buy a record that I get something I don’t expect”

In this respect they failed slightly. We WERE expecting their third album to be complete quality. Few dance acts have performed so refreshingly either live or on record in the last decade. They have the attitude and they have the sizzling ideas to stretch techno into tall, celestial textures then flip dancehall into an invigorated phase splicing it with electro and oodles of fun.

Berlin is a city that historically knows a lot about the collision of time and pressure. Now they have a new soundtrack to further challenge the old guard, as Gernod enthusiastically signs off the point: “I don’t want to be a cliché. I want to show that we are the real guys here: we were born and raised here. We saw the shit coming and we sent the shit going, you know? For me it’s important to invent and not to hop on a train. We don’t believe in hypes.”

Words by Matthew Bennett

This article appears in the October issue of Clash Magazine, find out more about the issue and how to subscribe HERE.

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