When they enter a studio, Gernot Bronsert, Sebastian Szary, and Sascha Ring purposefully begin their work without preconceived ideas or expectations of the end result. Together, the three men form German electronic group Moderat, a project that the trio has maintained in addition to their primary projects, since 2002.
Veterans to the genre, Bronsert, Szary, and Ring have been active on the scene for decades; with Bronsert and Szary representing the harder, more intensive side of electronic music through their act, Modeselektor, since 1992. Ring sits on the opposite end of the spectrum, where he has mastered the smoother side of the genre under his stage name Apparat.
With purposefully little notion of what they’re seeking to capture, Bronsert, Szary, and Ring come together to create new music through Moderat. In the studio, reaching an end result is only the beginning: to carry a track to completion, the men begin to pick away at the song’s layers, peeling them back to remove the sounds that belong to Modeselektor and those that are Apparat’s, until what is left belongs to neither party. What is left stands on its own as a separate identity, the moderate common ground between the once-conflicting styles of hard and soft electronic music. In harnessing the key sounds that define Moderat, its members find the core of each song and present it at times in near-solo form, polished and standing on its own with little-to-no instrumentation to support it. It is the sort of careful artistry that could only result from knowing not fully what Moderat is, but what it is not.
We got the chance to sit down with MODERAT and ask them a few questions about their music, their roots, and their future projects. Here’s what they had to say:
Decompoz Magazine (DZ): Tell us a little bit about who you are.
Sebastian Szary (SS): We grew up 20 kilometers from the centre, outside of Berlin. It’s a beautiful area, so we had a really nice childhood.
Sascha Ring (SR): We had similarities. I’m not from Berlin either, I’m from a small town in the east, so our situations were similar. Techno started happening after the reunification of Germany, it was a result of the reunification basically. At least for some.
DZ: How did Germany’s division and reunification influence your sound?
SR: I mean, it influenced the music in that there was suddenly so much freedom. There were so many empty buildings where people could actually have parties. The techno back then was pretty rough, because that was the context. It was needed in that time, somehow. Back in the day, techno was an anti-political movement. We had to deal with so much political shit in east Germany. It was really cool to just be there [in a unified Germany] and be with this group of people that had no political background.
DZ: You’ve described yourselves as the “outlaws of the techno flood”. What were you trying to do differently?
Gernot Bronsert (GB) : I think that what we had in common is that we were always swimming against the stream musically. We don’t follow the masses or the trends, so we always tried to find our own path through the electronic music world. We found out pretty quickly that techno is kind of like a way of life, a spirit. It’s not about a rhythm or a tempo or melody. We’re just looking for something else. That’s how we found our own sound. We also met when we were in our early twenties, which still a bit like childhood. This is what glues us together.
DZ: You’re doing a lot of big tours now. What is it like coming from the underground and entering into a more mainstream environment? How do you connect the underground to the mainstream?
SR: That’s just progress, you know! We started 20 years ago and we started in techno-based bands, but it became a little boring for us. At some point it was all the same. The reason I started producing is because DJing became boring to me. There was a moment when there was the musical trend Trance, which was like really hard techno, and it was all over the place. It was really boring to me and at a certain point, I was like “fuck it, everybody likes Trance now”. So I just went to the studio and made my own music. That’s what we always did. We evolved all the time and that’s what brought us here. [Moderat] was something we hadn’t done before. It’s more band-like, more song-based. For us, it’s new and it’s still challenging and an interesting territory.
DZ: Where do you see yourselves in the next 20 years?
SR: I see myself on a boat in 20 years. You can’t always keep up with the hot shit or the young producers, and I don’t even want to. At some point you just play piano ballads or whatever. It’s up to someone else to be innovative. For us, we’ve always done this for ourselves. We try to do new things because we get bored easily. In our case, that will work for a while, but...I don’t know. Maybe someone will come up with a real fresh idea at some point and then there’s gonna be a whole new genre of music. I hope so, that would be really cool, but I don’t really think that’s going to be us.
DZ: What is Moderat’s creative process like, since the styles you play with Modeselektor and Apparat are so different?
GB: It’s a nightmare to be honest. In every way. Imagine if you had three chefs in a kitchen and they need to make one steak and each chef has his own perfect way of doing it. It’s going to be a nightmare. Why are they making it? I mean, the steak will be nice, but it will be different.
SR: You need to try like, ten steaks before you have a nice steak.
GB: It’s a lot of trial and error. One step ahead, two steps back all the time. Sascha is pretty busy writing lyrics and gathering song ideas, then we just bring them together. When we make something with Moderat, we do what we are not able to do with our own projects. Sascha is Apparat, and Szary and I are Modeselektor. For me, Moderat is the quiet side of music. I think for Sascha it’s the loud side. It’s Moderat, it’s pretty moderate.
SR: We meet in the middle somehow, yeah. It’s true. Considering the process, it’s about quantity. We throw up a lot of ideas all the time. As many as possible. Then we have to distillate the core of it. That’s what takes the most time, because we want to make minimal music in the end. Not totally minimal, but stripped down somehow. We try not to use too many ornaments. That’s what takes the most time; shrinking it down.
DZ: You guys have great visuals for both your concerts and your music videos. Your newest video, Reminder, seems to be politically charged. Is that the case, and can you tell us a little bit about it?
SR: For Reminder, that is the case. It is one of the few songs that have a political background. The video tries to translate that, which is the first time we’ve had that happen. Normally, we work together with PFADFINDEREI, the guys who do the visuals, and we don’t really tell them what to do and we don’t explain ourselves much, so the only thing they have to do on is the music. Sometimes, for example in the Bad Kingdom video, they have their own ideas. We never really stopped them, so in the end, even though Bad Kingdom wasn’t meant to be a political song, it could have that meaning if you look at it from a different angle. That’s what PFADFINFEREI did, and in the end they made that video with the English, upper class, aristocrat-type guy. And it made sense, but it was not what I had in mind when I write the words before. It’s really interesting, how it works. In the case of Reminder, it was the same. It was PFADFINDEREI again. Again, I didn’t tell them too much, but this time our ideas were closer together.
GB: And it’s always their interpretation, same for the live show. They have their own vision and we don’t disturb their ideas. This is based on the long term relationship we have with them.
SS: 22 years.
DZ: The video for Running takes place in an airplane shipyard. It feels like an interpretation of the struggle that some people have to find a meaningful life. Is that accurate?
GB: Exactly. Running is a very personal song. I think all the lyrics on this record are personal. Sascha went through a time in life where he changed a lot. He had a motorcycle accident and when he was in the hospital he had time to stop the machine for a couple of months. The life we live and used to lived before…it’s hectic and we’re always touring and traveling nonstop all over the world, every week-end. Every month we are away. I think at some point we grew up with Moderat and [that’s why] this record was written more deeply than the ones before. Things seem clearer for us. I think we’re very close, musically, to what Moderat could be.
SR: Also, we don’t hold back that much anymore. Where we originated in techno basements, you’re always afraid that you’ll do something that’s not cool enough or that’s too pop-y or whatever. At this point, we’re just like “fuck that”. We do what we want to do. We all loved Depeche Mode when we were kids and Depeche Mode is still cool and it’s pop, so pop is not necessarily something bad. There’s not so much self-censorship this time.
DZ: You’re a lot more comfortable on this record. How did that come about?
SR: Stuff like that just happens during our production. It’s not that we go to the studio and are like “yeah, let’s make a Depeche Mode record!” We were like “let’s make an instrumental record and see what happens”. We realized it doesn’t make sense to have any preconceptions, because that’s not what’s going to happen anyway. In the end, it’s just the three of us going to the studio and finding common ground. We have to do that every time. Every single time. We postulate around each other a little bit and get closer and further away from each other. During the times when we made a record, we have to get really close together. It’s quite a bit of work.
DZ: You guys have worked with Thom Yorke. Can you tell us a bit about that?
SS: We are friends, that’s it.
DZ: You come to Montreal quite often. Xavier Dolan is one of our film prodigies here. We were wondering how it came about that you song ended up in his film Laurence Anyways.
GB: We didn’t even know. We just found out this spring when we started promo for the album.
SR: No, I knew!
GB: Yeah, but I didn’t. I knew there was a license for a French [Canadian] movie, but I didn’t have a clue how big it was.
SR: In France, everybody talks about it. It’s crazy. He’s really well-known in France and in every interview they asked about Laurence Anyways. Apparently [Dolan] is really picky about the music and is really good at getting the right music for the right scenes.
DZ: What are some of the cities or venues that you love to play at?
SR: It’s going to sound like I’m full of shit, but Metropolis [Montreal] is an amazing venue. Seriously. If you asked me that question in some [place] in Vienna, I would still say Metropolis is an amazing venue. It’s one of the best places to play. Everybody can see what’s going on, the sound is good, and it has a good vibe. We always look forward to playing here.
GB: I’ve played in this place many times, and always had good shows here.
SR: We have to spend a bit more time in other places in Canada now, because we always come to Montreal and we never make it further. We’re going to Vancouver now.
SS: For the first time!
DZ: This album is the end of a trilogy. Can you let us in on what you’re planning to do next?
SR: I don’t know. It’s not an end.
SS: It’s the end of three albums.
SR: I mean, record is always an end of something. It’s the end of a long period of time that we spent together, and a record is the result of it.
SS: It’s like a story, we close it and then open a new one.
SR: We don’t know what’s next yet. We’re [still] too close to this [record].
GB: I think we are going to make music with our own projects again, just because we have more freedom.