Moderat - Apparat - Modeselektor

Moderat - Apparat - Modeselektor

by Matteo Ortenzi

"The whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts".

If in today's electronic world we were looking for a name on the basis of which to describe the current generation of the average young listener, inevitably the choice would fall on Moderat, the abstract machine created by the symbiosis of the Berlin duo Modeselektor, composed of Sebastian Szary (born '75) and Gernot Bronsert ('78), with its Saxon peer Apparat, pseudonym of Sasha Ring.
Just at the end of '70, at the birth of the trio, Kraftwerk officially introduced pop music in the machine age, with that robotic aesthetic that will be dominant in the years of new wave.

"After the Wall came down, everywhere in Germany and especially East Germany there was a lot of chaos, anarchy."

It is a bit as if history, cyclically, repeated itself.

Let's remember that in fact many of the musicians of the kraut scene, such as Roedelius, Klaus Schulze,  Froese, Michael Rother, grew up in a social fabric strongly lacerated by the loss of the Second World War, whose end was a sort of year zero for the German nation. It took a decade and maybe two for a real cultural rebirth. The Kosmische season was at the height of this rebirth and the Zodiak club, founded in West Berlin by Conrad Schnitzler and Hans Joachim Roedelius, was in those years in Berlin as Andy Warhol's Factory was in New York.

To better understand the cultural weight of electronic music in the history of contemporary Germany, I recommend watching the 2009 documentary "Krautrock - The Rebirth of Germany" and take a look at the page dedicated to it on our website. Without considering these roots, it would be impossible in fact to identify the reason why Berlin has become in the new millennium the main active pole for the IDM scene and its various ramifications in house and techno.

3_08Raised on pretzels and krapfen in the capital's suburbs, a few miles east of the wall that would divide Germany for another decade (near Rüdersdorf/Woltersdorf, to be exact), the Modeselektor core group formed very early. Bronsert and Szary discover very early the alterations and ecstasies of music through rave parties; and in one of these parties Szary, who already plays as a DJ, meets Gernot. From the two was born a first fellowship, and they decided to start making back to back parties, under the name of Fundamental Knowledge. We are in 1992, three years after the fall of the wall.

Contextualizing the reasoning at the end of the '80s, the adolescent discomfort that the two live in East Germany, divided and poor, leads them to attend and experience the joys and sorrows of rave culture, which is also emerging in England in the same period, through the Autechre of Sean Booth and Robert Brown, and Richard David James, Aphex Twin, who in those years has in gestation his Selected Ambient Works. Not yet of age, they begin their activities on the turntables, and after a few years of break-in they discover their favorite device, an old Roland Re-201, commonly known to electronics enthusiasts as Space Echo, a magnetic tape audio unit equipped with echo and reverb, with which the two begin to have fun. The knob with which they manage the sound output on tape has precisely the name of Mode selector, so in 1996, in a Berlin now reconstituted and more cohesive, that from Friedrichstraße converges in the angular architectural modernity of Potsdamer Platz, the two decide to call themselves Modeselektor.

The first two years with the new alias are spent continuing the gavetta in a renaissance Berlin, where the remains of the Berlin Wall have now become the canvas of the Neue Wilden Berliners, and the streets adjacent to the Tiergarten host the annual Love Parade, from whose circuit is coming out people like Sven Vath, Dj Hell  and Dr. Motte, who will become the veterans of the clubbing of the nineties.

LablandAnd in 1998, right in the middle of the ferment of the Berlin scene, another artistic partnership was born, that between Krsn Brasko and Codec Völker, in the Pfadfinderei project, a studio located near Hackescher Markt, which had become a lively cultural center of the capital's nightlife, as well as a crucial transport hub. In the studio, which was initially active above all in graphic design and video art, designers, typographers, and DJs and musicians active in the capital, including Modeselektor, began to take part in the evenings of Codec, which published flyers and graphics for the events of the main clubs in Berlin. Soon Pfadfinderei becomes a real collective, and the evenings organized by the common take the name of Labland, soon becoming a reference point for artists of all backgrounds.
The format of the evenings is more that of a free experiment than that of a club, but at the dawn of the new millennium, it is inevitable that the spirit of revenge would grow through the expressive freedom of dance, and it is here that Bronsert and Szary begin to find a more solid and dynamic frame. The collective will accompany in the future all the artistic production and visual concept around the Moderat brand, creating a collaboration of mutual trust that is still ongoing.

Moreover, always inside Labland, also the DJs of BPitch Control, a rising record label, result of the experience in the dancefloors of the '90s of Ellen Fraatz, better known as Ellen Allien, who besides making Modeselektor emerge also outside the German metropolis, will make known another story, the one of Paul Kalkbrenner, who will then become known to the most with the film directed by Hannes Stöhr, "Berlin Calling", and that for the label of Ellen Allien will publish together with Sasha Funke the music of the film. We are therefore in a musical dimension that acquires more and more the aspect of cultural movement, involving not only electronics but all artistic expressions, up to cinema.

Another prominent figure in the movement is the then 20-year-old from Quedlinburg, Sascha Ring, who moved to the capital for better luck in the mid-90s, finding the intellectual boost he needed. With T.Raumschmiere, a disc jokey on the circuit with an obsession for coldwave synths and punk, he founded Shitkatapult Records in 1998. Initially he is a percussionist, in fact he will collaborate on Ellen Allien's successful second album, "Berlinette", but he soon realizes that his range as a musician crosses not only the drums, but also the bpm of techno that his colleague usually plays in the evenings. Multifunktionsebene, the first record released by Ring in 2001, has already in its electro-dub beats a first taste of what we will see later with Moderat, albeit in a naive and very reiterative way. We are not even very far from the sounds of Autechre, or, still remaining in the German borders, of Alva Noto, who in those years publishes his first ambient pearls. It will take a few years for Apparat's musical weave to strengthen and in 2003 he publishes the more substantial Duplex.

Ring's talent having become visible to most, Modeselektor decide to join their experiences to Apparat's, lending their knowledge of effects and sound modulation to Sascha's compositional ability, able to juggle electric bass, synths and percussion. Always for BPitch Control is published the debut of Moderat, moniker born from the fusion of the two musical souls of Labland, and is a nice EP entitled Auf Kosten der 7Gesundheit, literally "at the cost of health", with graphics signed by Brasko and members. Although very immature, this EP presents in compressed form all the characteristics that we will find in the first LP of the trio, although the heavy and iconoclastic hand of Modeselektor is definitely prevalent. Tracks like "Koxring", "Mode", "Russian Courier", already foreshadow that those collages of samples supported by the beating subwoofer of the selektor and the melodic and existentialist airiness of Apparat's master keyboard can be something more than a simple jumble. In "Ramadan" you can hear all their passion for Autechre, the sounds of Incunabula and Anti EP, it's the best track on the vinyl and seems to accentuate their substantial resilience through music, at the dawn of the digital age. It's a martial and solemn sound that seems to constantly chase the white radiance capable of ripping through the leaden Teutonic sky, but without finding it all the way. The disc, although good, fails to have a commercial following.

After this first successful experiment on EP, the two experiences are divided for a few years: Modeselektor, after a series of extended, publish their debut LP in 2005, Hello Mom!, which features on the cover the red-eyed monkey that will become their logo in the years to come up to characterize the identity of Monkeytown Records, the label that they will create later. The album incorporates electro fiber elements from hip-hop and reggae, such as in "Dancing Box", with rapper TTC, and "Fake Emotion", which sees the collaboration with vocalist Paul St. Hilaire, also destined to last for the duration of the couple's career. Other highlights are "In Loving Memory", a track already present on the EP of the same name from 2002, "Kill Bill Vol. 4", a cheeky electroclash that distinguishes the duo's sound at least until the invasion of the new Berlin labels to the point of dispersing the novelty, and "Silikon", featuring Sascha Perera. It's a disc made for the dancefloor, but still immature. Despite the release on disc, the duo seems to be still oriented to the entertainment in the clubs rather than to the seriousness of the long play.

In the meantime Apparat collaborates with Ellen Allien and composes Orchestra Of Bubbles, which sees the light in 2006 for BPitch Control. The record is successful, and is destined to become very well known in the minimal sphere, especially with pieces like "Way Out", "Leave me Alone", "Turbo Dreams" and "Jet", but the whole record is on a good level. The feeling you get is like scrolling through the blurred lights of Kreuzberg from the grids of the U-Bahn with your eyes.

2007 is the year of the turning point for both projects. Apparat releases Walls, an album much more narrative and melodic than his previous works, and definitely more complete. Musically it is much closer to glitch and is very similar to what Four Tet is doing in his studio in the UK. Apparat however also incorporates orchestral elements, strings are often present, and he also appears as a vocalist, as in "Leave Me Alone". The cadenza of "Limelight" features some very interesting phrasing, as do "Hailing from the Edge" and "Holdon," which features Raz O' Hara on vocals in addition to Sascha on backing vocals. The production is cleaner than the garage sounds of Modeselektor and the album also has two tracks that are destined to become true classics of Apparat's repertoire, "You Don't Know Me", which will be used in the famous soundtrack of Il Giovane Favoloso, a film about the life of the poet Giacomo Leopardi from Recanati, and "Arcadia", perhaps the highest moment in the solo experience of the now Saxon crooner.

On the other hand, Modeselektor release Happy Birthday!, decidedly compact compared to the previous one, which boasts collaborations of all kinds, from Apparat himself to Maximo Park, passing through Otto von Schirach and even Thom Yorke, who in 2005 had already defined them as one of the best new releases around. "2000007" and "The Dark Side of the Sun", with Puppetmastaz, continue their wacky and bizarre dancehall hovering between Cypress Hill and Daft Punk. Instead tracks like "Godspeed", "The Black Block", and especially "Let Your Love Grow", with St. Hilaire testify to a strong body, and seem to want to resume the discourse opened with Ring with the first Ep under the name Moderat.

"Happy metal, hard rap, country-ambient, Russian crunk. We don’t like it if people tag us as being a certain style or school or scene or whatever. We don’t really care about all that."

From the release of Happy Birthday! follows a long series of remixes on EPs that cover the entire span of 2008, with which the two manage to make themselves known far beyond the German scene. Thom Yorke decides to bring them as backing band to Radiohead's shows in Japan. And it is precisely in this year that in Italy, as in other countries, their name jumps out of the hat of the national DJs.

ModeratThe next step is then to reshape from the sheath the powerful and effective sound of a piece like "Ramadan", and merge the dualism of DJs in the equilateral perfection of the triangle with Sascha Ring. They succeed in 2009, with a disc that is still relevant and significant today. The debut of Moderat on LP, again with the production and support of Ellen Allien, is definitely a step forward not only for the three, but for the entire record label and all the guys who move the threads behind the collective Pfadfinderei. In the minimalist expressionism of the cover, a young girl with a heart pendant unfortunately seems to hit herself in the face. "New Error" starts, and we are submerged by a pressing march supported by the synthetic vaults of Ring; a therapeutic reflection, the point of the situation on the existence of the listener. The refrain expands more and more between compressions and releases until it explodes. It's a great introduction, and you can already guess that it's a pretty solid record. The piece will be their workhorse and will be used in commercials and anything else in the years to come. Next comes "Rusty Nails", and here we sense that the amalgam between the dubstep grip of the 'selektor and Sascha has become one and the same.

The video-editing by Pfadfinderei is this time as exaggeratedly beautiful as it is simple, surely one of their most memorable collaborations, the track synthesizes the philosophical squareness of "Arcadia" and the massive sound of "Let Your Love Grow".

The disc seems a psychoanalysis for restless and lonely spirits of the new millennium, and manages to crystallize in the beauty of listening just that critical fragmentation of youth in the digital age, which now tends to distort the emotional needs in a non-conscious way, readjusting the self in a constant reformulation of what is perceived and felt in the intimacy.

"Seamonkey" sounds like the name of an ocean liner on open sea, as is its sound, full, liquid, swaying. "Slow Match" still sees the presence of St. Hilaire's reggamuffin, but the sounds breathe and seem more vivid than on the duo's records. "3 Minutes of Nasty Silence" raises the suspense for the second half of the record. Subsequent tracks feature more of the hallmarks of Modeselektor's records, such as the paranoid yet lyrically inspired "Sick with It," and then reacquaint the record with the atmosphere of Walls, even managing to incorporate more acidic elements with "Porc," until their anthem "Les Grandes Marches," another notable track, this time very Apparat. "Berlin" is a tribute to their lifelong companion metropolis, the telluric dub-techno of "Nr. 22" marches insistently towards the final "Out of Sight", which bids farewell to the record in a harmonious and calm way.

moderat_logoThe album consecrates them as a new sensation of the European electronic scene. In the same year they go on tour and the readers of Resident Advisor elect them as the best Live Act of 2009, some songs are remixed (I point out Shackleton and T + + of Monolake, both have reinterpreted "Rusty Nails").

From here on for the three the road is downhill.

Like Paul Kalkbrenner in Berlin Calling, Bronsert and Szary present themselves in a documentary film by Amy Grill, entitled "Speaking in Code". The film chronicles the lives of musicians and clubbers who have chosen electronic music as a way of life. In addition to Ellen Allien, Wolfgang Voigt (GAS) and Robert Henke of Monolake also appear in the film.
The concerts cover the whole of 2010, which still confirms them as a live act on the rise. Despite the criticism of their shows, the tours of the first album are memorable bursts of adrenaline; Exit Festival, Cologne, Prague, Lisbon, and they appear live in Italy with the 2010 edition of Electro Venice. While in Germany in the same year unfortunately the Loveparade will give its last edition, which will remain unhappily in the memory as the disaster of Duisburg, causing even 21 victims, the capacity of the location is exceeded by far by the crowd of spectators, and the situation gets out of hand. This is the other side of the coin of festivals.

Aware of this, 2011 sees them again dismembered to continue their respective paths. As for Modeselektor, with the earnings from their success they manage to set up their own new label, Monkeytown Records, with which they debut with Monkeytown. It definitely has a better production than its predecessors, and sees them immediately in raptures with "Blue Clouds", back from the fulminating experience of the tour. "Evil Twin", "German Clap" and "Berlin" do nothing but further reaffirm the fullness of their sound, which by now has plenty to sell, although the disc does not present striking innovations. The album still boasts Thom Yorke's collaboration on "Shipwreck," another of their hits. The gorilla has now taken shape, dancing and vibrating in the frequencies of their music, as in the the cover. Apparat, on the other hand, gives a further seal to his solo career with  The Devil's Walk, inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley's work, published this time by Mute and released in the fall of 2011, and it is a record that will be very much listened to in retrospect, especially with "Goodbye", with the voice of Australian Soap & Skin, which will become the soundtrack of films and TV series. The disc has truly remarkable pieces, the first single extracted is "Ash/Black Veil", followed by "Black Water" and "Song of Los". Another song that sees him as a skilled tailor of harmonies, is "Candil De La Calle", perhaps the best of the LP.

The Devil's Walk further accentuates Apparat's orchestral vein and fascination for more classical instrumentation, to be incorporated into his own reference system. It will be precisely this search that will lead him towards soundtracks, and to a more placid acoustic extension that is much less tied to bpm.

13This path, however, leads him into a vicious circle by ways that perhaps have already been tried by others in the past; the next Krieg und Frieden, launched by "Violent Sky" and "Lighton", does not have the same brilliance of The Devil's Walk, but boasts the contribution of Philip Thimm on cello in the beautiful and nostalgic "K & F". Just the theme of "K & F" will become very famous in the soundtrack of Il Giovane Favoloso, inevitably becoming the musical description of the cosmic pessimism of the Italian poet, in the directorial reinterpretation of Mario Martone, released the following year, in 2014.

Back to us, after Kring und Frieden Apparat returns to his native Germany and is called back by his two colleagues to finish their new pieces, in an attempt to repeat the magic of the first record. Released this time for the newly formed Monkeytown Records in the late Summer of 2013, Moderat II manages to repeat, and then exceed numerically the sales of their debut. The subject of Pfadfinderei's artwork this time is male, showing us a man in the act of wearing a mask to cover his face with another. "The Mark (Interlude)" seems to describe this gesture musically. This time a restless "Bad Kingdom" welcomes us, which seems to want to narrate the discomfort of the character on the cover, through a cinematic dubstep, which accompanies the comic dystopia of Pfadfinderei, in a sort of obsessive conspiracy for the damned of the most suffering social classes. "Versions" continues the mental film with the dub procession, brightening up in the sunny "Let in the Light" that introduces the use of the vocoder, a novelty of this record, which will also characterize them in the years to come, distinguishing them further. Just as Kraftwerk did in the glories of electronics, but Gernot Bronsert renews the use in a very personal way, in an unusual humanoid tone and much more grave.

12From the linear and emblematic "Therapy", through the techno synesthesia of "Milk", the intimate foray of "Gita" and the synthetic soul of "Damaged Done", with echoes even of David Sylvian's Japan, 'till the concluding twilight "This Time", the record has no weak pieces and reconfirms the qualities of the first record, although it does not come to be as brilliant and incisive as the first, more suffered and earned. In commercial terms, the record is an absolute success, and brings them back on tour throughout 2014. It is now a recognizable brand a bit 'everywhere, and travels through Europe from Scandinavia to the Iberian Peninsula, through Poland, France, and Italy, this time in Milan, at Magazzini Generali, and other regions of the center.

While Modeselektor slyly participates in Boiler Room, Apparat, after the additional notoriety that his performance for Martone grants him especially in Italy, starts touring with his own group of musicians, a setting that he will maintain until 2021. With "Live Soundtracks", a show in 2015, which takes him to Rome, Naples, Milan and Turin, Apparat returns to his preference for soundtracks, while he also indulges as a DJ for various clubs on a one-off basis. Compared to the visibility that Apparat manages to have, Modeselektor prefer to stay grounded in their heimat, but then again, these are two characteristics that make them complementary.
For this fact a bit of difficulty results evident in III, return on LP in 2016, again with visuals by Völker and Brasko, this time the 'ambiguous cover curiously depicts a boy in a dancer's uniform in the act of raising his left hand. The disc presents in an even more pronounced way the use of vocoder, which is almost always a positive element in this record, which does not excite as much as the previous two although there are still strong pieces, including the introductory "Eating Hooks", "Intruder" and "Ghostmother", the most choral and light, but in this perhaps is more effective than other pieces that seek intensity without finding it. In "Finder" the experimentation with the voices is the winning element, "Reminder" is not bad, which gives its best live, but the disc as a whole fails to repeat its predecessor, and is very far in the outcome compared to the first. The geometry this time is isosceles, and it's very much shifted towards Apparat's melodic and pastel-sounding style, if it weren't for Bronsert's vocal experimentation (Apparat will appropriate it in his solo albums).

This doesn't take away from the three of them being able to confirm themselves for a few more years with live performances, and this time they manage to get their frequencies overseas, with a tour that takes them from New York to Vancouver, passing through Chicago and other metropolises. In Seattle they take part in KEXP's performances for their You Tube channel, and even from this performance it becomes clear that, despite the American tour being very busy, their formula still turns out to be very itinerant, and their proposal is by no means exhausted. Just in 2016 they publish in fact Live, in which they put on long play the tracklist of the tour.

Beyond the experience in America, Ring continues his activity as a DJ in Europe, with several dates in Italy, as well as Modeselektor, which remain, however, more and more stationary than his colleague. In 2017, it comes therefore to a phase of stalemate, in which in order not to extinguish the flame and avoid friction and different views, each one returns on their own steps, allowing themselves a less hectic phase away from the spotlight.

caprirevolutionIn 2019 they return to studio activity, respectively with  Who Else, which is however lacking in bite and glue compared to Monkeytown, and LP5, Apparat's seventh record effort, which repeats in an even more ethereal and nuanced way the echoes of The Devil's Walk, in a sort of ambient pop that however leaves time to find compared to his previous records. Noteworthy are the single "Dawan", "Laminar Flow", and the Dantesque "Caronte". Apparat's proposal nevertheless seems to be more lasting than that of Modeselektor, thanks to a close-knit group of musicians, with whom he plays the pieces of the album live, even managing to carry out a European tour under pandemic conditions, with dates in Italy this year as well. Besides he succeeds in carrying on his activity in the cinema, composing the music for Capri Revolution, always directed and co-written by Mario Martone, which accompanies the story of a young islander and her attraction to a commune of freak artists coming from Northern Europe, who settled right in Capri. The soundtrack is composed together with Philip Thimm and is worth the David di Donatello.

15We finally arrive at the fateful year of the pandemic, and while Apparat manages to perform live, Modeselektor retreats even further in search of their roots, the sound source from which it all began. Quite thirty years have passed since they first met, and from the moment they first turned the knob on their Space Echo in their small room in the German capital to the year of covid, a lot has happened.
Extended (Monkeytown Records, 2021) is strangely released on mixtape and, like Apparat, the duo chooses to lend their music to a soundtrack, this time for contemporary theater. It is in fact the soundtrack to Work, a contemporary dance performance by choreographer Corey Scott Gilbert, directed by Krsn Brasko of Pfadfinderei:

'All movements and gestures are precisely predetermined (...). All that remains is the hope of a world behind mirrors where everything physical transcends. The hope of escaping the relentless spiral at some point'.

A release on mixtape in 2021 seems at least unusual, vintage, almost for amateurs. But maybe it's a symbolic gesture, a visual reference to the cassette, to the tape. Maybe they are referring to those magnetic tapes of their old Roland, that with their echoes brought them from Checkpoint Charlie to the world stages. The melody that closes a certain Radio-Aktivität by Kraftwerk comes to mind...but maybe it's better to leave Ralf and Florian in their place, in order not to burn the creativity of Moderat in the thoughtless hype.

On October 15, 2021 the Moderat have in fact launched a tour in 2022 that stops also in Italy. The live show is MORE D4TA, and recomposing the anagram you get just Moderat IV.
Maybe it's time to "rewind the tape"?

 Auf Kosten der Gesundheit (BPitch Control, 2003)


Moderat (BPitch Control, 2009)


Moderat II (Monkeytown Records, 2013)


 Moderat III (Monkeytown Records, 2016)


 Live ( Records, 2016)


 MORE D4TA (Monkeytown Records, 2022)7
 Hello Mom! (BPitch Control, 2005)               6
 Happy Birthday! (BPitch Control, 2007)


 Monkeytown (Monkeytown Records, 2011)


 Who Else (Monkeytown Records, 2019)


 Extended (Monkeytown Records, 2021)         6,5
 Multifunktionsebene (Shitkatapult, 2001)              6
 TTTrial and Eror (Shitkatapult, 2002)  5,5
 Duplex (Shitkatapult, 2003)


 Walls (Shitkatapult, 2007)


 The Devil's Walk (Mute, 2011)


 Kring und Frieden (Mute, 2013)
 LP5 (Mute, 2019)


 Capri Revolution (Apparat Soundtracks I) (It's Complicated Records, 2020)


 Soundtracks: Stay Still (It's Complicated Records, 2020)            6,5
 Soundtracks: Daimonen (It's Complicated Records, 2020)
 Soundtracks: Equals Sessions (It's Complicated Records, 2020)           6
 Orchestra Of Bubbles (BPitch Control, 2006)
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Moderat - Apparat - Modeselektor