Great Shapes – The Seductive Evolution Of Modern Bass

As Modeselektor claim Album of 2011

Modeselektor owned 2011, and it completely crystalised their growing empire. Launching their new label ‘Monkeytown’, (seeing their mutant bass enter the German top 40 album sales) they then continued to detonate deadly 12” records via their near anonymous ’50 Weapons’ offshoot that’s played host to Phon.o, Addison Groove, Anstam, Roska, Marcell Dettmann and Bok Bok, to tip a particularly cool iceberg.

Crucially though they unleashed their best album to date, a coherent flow of differing emotions, tempos and styles where each track was a belter. Celestial techno? Bastard dancehall with Busdriver? Frenetic and introverted electronica with Thom Yorke? That’s just the first three tracks.

This latter vocalist indeed forms a sort of subtext for this entry at Clash’s Number 1 album of the year. We’ve enjoyed Yorke’s transformation from angst rocker to incisive and delicate lord of electronica. We also know it was entirely due to the noisy influence of Modeselektor. “He told us that we explained to him without words what electronic music can do.’ grins Gernod ‘He said we are the reasons that he started DJing and likes dance music. For some weird reason we are very similar.”

Clash delved deeper into Gernod and Szary’s fanatical world to extrapolate exactly who and what makes our favourite dance artists tick.

What has been the most surprising response to ‘Monkeytown’ now that’s it’s been out for a few months?

Releasing music on your own label, releasing your own album on your own label, being in the top 100 charts in Germany. In general we are surprised by the feedback on this album; we didn’t have that much attention on a record before.

What else excited you this year in music? What would you say your other favorite music was?

I think this year was full of excitement. In the past few months have just been noticing what 50 Weapons has become. I’m really excited about Anstam, which is one of the guys from 50 Weapons; I don’t know what this guy’s doing it’s just really next level and am really surprised about that. I’m not just talking about that because he’s on our label that’s the fucking truth; if he were on a different label doesn’t matter to me. I’m so much into this music it’s crazy. I really like Buraka Som Sistema album. I’m really excited of the evolution of MachineGun from; he’s really a long-time player like us. it’s really funny that he has real success now himself now & the music is really cool. All the music I really like happens on our label, which is something that makes me really happy. It’s pretty much unbelievable when you get a booking as a DJ and at the house of the Dj the music is released by you. There’s so much good music everyday. One of the biggest things I changed this year was I brought all my records back home. I used to have them at my studio my whole collection, but now I have them all on my wall here in my living room with a turntable and two big speakers & I can listen to my records. This really changed the way I listen to music again. I mean you have mp3’s, computers, iPod’s; but when you have turntables, you need to change the record, clean the needle, cut off the bass for this record because they are all sounding so different because of the vinyl cuts you know? This really changed my way of listening this year.

Quite a few people have been saying the same thing with digital music you end up multi-tasking, when you listen to records at home you need to fucking sit there and
listen to it.

One other thing is I think that I’m pretty modern person, so I really know about gadgets, new software; I’m always looking for the new things. I realized after a while this whole electronic music scene, I’m watching on the internet, the focus for a piece of music is a short time. For example, when you launch a new album, on the internet on a label from the UK, it gets hyped on the internet for maybe a couple of hours or sometimes just a day or two days all because of the range of the concentration, the kids spend maybe a minute on each thing, maybe a bit more but its never for a whole song. This is something weird. I really want to change this. I really want to educate the young music fans that there is something important behind every record, a story, the packaging, the person. For me it’s about that it’s not 100% just about the music you need to see something behind the music and this is really difficult in our digital age because most of them don’t even buy the record; they just download the link and don’t have any information for it. Maybe they read two blocks and that’s it. When you have a vinyl album, and the different formats, 7in, 10in, CD, Deluxe CD, remixes and you have art work for the whole thing surrounding the music.

The album we did had artwork; when you go to the show and see the artwork, it’s coming out of one sectary; we try to make a circle. But this is pretty much missing these days. We have these really great tunes and you really need to stand behind the music, make the people understand what they want to do with the music. There are few releases this year that are in my opinion, way too underrated. For example the Zomby album, I am totally into this whole thing. I like the idea of collecting sketches. This is art and really well made; you can see that this was someone behind him who released it in a proper way. At the same time you have musicians that are not so famous, who make great, amazing music, but they just use the digital way of releasing music, just put it out and that’s it. If they’re lucky they have their three friends from this block and these three DJ’s from over here, and so on. I think the young ones now shouldn’t grow up like this, they should know that there is a stronger path with music that can mean more.

In two years time, people are going to be storing their information in the cloud; it’s like the end of the physical file as well. Do you think that’ll be a good thing or do you think there will be a return to people having a proper record collection?

I’m not one of those guys who has a sad look at the past, looking backwards and complaining about how good it was back in the day. I really want to step forward with everything; New technology is great, but I’m really skeptical, especially with this ‘Cloud’ thing because the internet is not safe; it really; it’s not dangerous to have your record collection somewhere on a server, just on your own cloud. The fact that you know that your music is somewhere and everybody can listen to it, that would scare me a little bit. That’s a very personal thing; it’s not good for the evolution of things.

I think in maybe thirty years time there will be a massive movement back to people actually physically putting music on, with their hands.

It’s not cheap when you go into a record store and buy a 12”, that’s 8 maybe 10 bucks. And LP, maybe 25-30 bucks; It’s becoming more a luxury thing. I think when we are 50 or 55 our children will be teenagers it will be like we were with our parents slide projectors, except they’ll be putting on old analogue techno records. I can totally understand the greed that the DJ’s don’t want to try out records anymore. When we are DJing we too are DJing digitally, but we still buy records. And having albums at home is luxury; it’s like drinking good whisky, which tastes almost like the other one, but better.

Back to 50 Weapons, do you feel you’re more a guardian to electronic music?

Guardian?! No I think I’m a believer. I think that’s what everybody should do, believe in something – not in religion, politics or some crap. Believe in yourself and having a vision; with 50 weapons, we don’t force the label to be successful we just do our own thing and work the people on the label. For example, Phon.o he just released two records and a label and they are both amazing and maybe the best stuff he ever did before. But we had long chats. We talked a lot; he was in a crisis or anything, he’s been making music a long time; we just gave him a home, family and a good feeling. Same with Cosmin TRG I’ve known him a long, long, time. When we played in Bucharent with Moderat we always invited him to play for support and are huge fans of his music; then he had this opportunity to move to Berlin; his wife has a job here now. We just said, “you’ve been with so many labels; you should just work with one, someone you trust and is true and isn’t telling you stories like Santa Claus’’. He’s really sound his sound now, he’s an amazing DJ and he feels good with what he’s doing. We try to do that with everyone on the label, like Anstam, just released two records on Hardwax and then nothing else. We really want to support and push talent, people. We always wanted this group of musicians around us so we can go on tour with them all.

Dance music this year has been very exciting in that there’s been this stripping away of rules. Everything seems freer and less restricted by genre. I was just wondering if you felt whether having a lack of rules for a long time is a good thing or a bad thing for a music scene?

I think it’s a good thing, but I think there is still a lot of rules. Maybe not that much compared to 10 years ago but there are still a lot. The rules have switched a little into two camps, or three or maybe 10! I don’t know. You still have so much different things going on. I think it’s not ‘rules’. I don’t think ‘rules’ is not the right word. I think it’s more based on ‘camps’. You have pretty much UK influence and then you have European influence. Then you have the French, but they are not really there at the moment I feel; they used to be bigger. One thing that closed down this year, was the Institubes label; they started going digital with (label) Marble, something that makes me a little bit sick and sad because I didn’t understand.

It’s always camps. I don’t really know anyone who’s doing everything. There’s cres like Sound Pellingrino or Marble now in France. You have one hundred trillion, billion records from the UK, labels from the UK. I’m really amazed by the tons of music. For me, it’s really hard to tell where are the borders, where are the rules and the limits. And who’s who’s and where’s where’s.

Do you think it’s done then, through classic camps and strong leaders like Flying Lotus or Diplo? They invite artists under their wing, like when Diplo comes to London, he’s got his crew here and it’s a shifting amount of hot producers. Do you think these camps are defined by big personalities or by record labels or just sound?

Maybe a little of everything. I mean the sound of Diplo has changed so much in the last years and this is good. I think the sound needs to be changed. It needs to go forward, which I think is normal. I think it’s the same for Flylo or Diplo or Alex Boys Noize or us. We have our crew and that’s what we want. I don’t think it’s personality, it might be, but it has a lot to do with friendship, but I can just talk about what we have going on with our artists. I don’t want to call them our artists; they are all friends. They have space and they have a say in this also.

For example, how differently do you think Hudson Mohawke would have sounded if he started rolling with Diplo instead of with Numbers? Do you think it would been the same sound?

You cannot tell. It always has something to do with where you’re from and where are your roots. There are so many producers that started with Hudson Mohawke producing music, but there was just one who survived, and just ask yourself why? Because he made good music, so he don’t need someone to take care of him, you know? This is actually not the right way to do this. Modeselektor and our labels, we don’t care of all these guys; we just gave them a platform. They are the face of the label; it’s not us; it’s them. When I ask Anstam or Addison Groove to make music for my record label, I do it just because I would never be able to make such great music or this type of music they do. I see all the music scenes and the genres, like different channels and different styles. I would buy every single Addison Groove record in my life without listening to it, but now, he’s on our label, which makes me super happy because I don’t need to buy him anymore because I produce him. I’m not someone who is kind of a big cheapster for him because he is fucking Addison Groove and Phon.o the same; I just cannot help him to give him a platform to go with him on tour and to have fun together and create new music and new things – and that’s what it’s all about. Maybe it has to do with both of us being from the East side of Germany? So we grew up with Communism and everybody’s the same. We didn’t have rich and poor, so we were taught like everybody’s the same. I think there’s a basic idea of Monkeytown and 50 Weapons; everybody’s important and everybody has a say in this whole thing. If someone wants to change something, then he has the same call as Charlie and me to change it.

How would you describe bass culture mutating next year; what would be your predictions of how it’s going to unfold?

I’m hoping for a few records. I really can’t wait for the new Untold LP. I wait for the Addison Groove LP, but bass is bass and how ‘low can you go?’ is pretty much over. They have these kids that try to get back into house music, so let’s see what it brings. I think it will be fast again, like 160-170 bpm. Hopefully something will appear in the next one or two years. We started with it all ready. Two tracks on the album are 156 bpm; it’s perfect dancing tempo. Best dance music ever was rock music, just because of the tempo, trust me; it’s a very subliminal thing. Most of the rock songs are between 140-170 bpm; and this is the tempo where you can move your body fast. Of course 128 bpm is also nice when you really want to dance a long time. Dubstep is a little too slow for me because when you dance to 140, the tempo was faster to dubstep two years ago the bpm was 140. The stuff that is in the US now is still called dubstep is not called dubstep to me anymore; this is something American; I have no clue about that.

How do you feel about UK Funky?

It’s over.

How did you feel about it at the time?

It was great. I like new things and it was funny; I really like Roska and all these guys. A few new things were born out of this thing that’s not really existing anymore. The French producers jumped off this train because they liked it because it’s housey and it’s something new; in the end, everybody’s looking for something new and try and make their own new style. I think grime could be interesting, really fast maybe. I don’t know.

I think grime, after the riots in August, I think next year there might be some new, revitalized Grime.

I think it’s time for a Grime Revival. It’s been 10 years now so we can to a revival. (laughs) I think African music will be big next year, world music could have something very good. Rock is rock, that’ll never change.

What’s your sign off statement for 2011?

We’re using good music and producing good music, staying friendly, not becoming an asshole, stop smoking, travelling without falling into a bad mood, signing new artists, cooking, coffee drinking, trying to quit smoking; we have so many requests to play shows, just trying to not burn out, have a good time and record new music. What I really want to do in 2012 is write a cooking book, a techno cooking book.

So mainly soups for comedown.

Maybe food for after the club. so they don’t go to the kickoff stand and buy some ugly good for a lot of money after the club so they can go home and cook something for themselves.

Words by Matthew Bennett

Discover the rest of Clash’s Top 40 Albums of 2011 HERE

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