MUTEK 2008 performers Modeselektor in the Magazine
Dimitri Nasrallah - May 01, 2008
By Dimitri Nasrallah
Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary of Modeselektor make the kind of music that fits everywhere and nowhere. They duo freewheel through genres and styles at a pace that verges somewhere between giddiness and an attention deficit disorder, but that’s the charm of listening to albums like 2005’s Hello Mom! and 2007’s Happy Birthday!. Modeselektor discard the uniformity and specialization that qualifies much of the techno scene. To add to their eclecticism of sound, they’ve got a peculiar sense of humour that plasters their album covers and promotional photos, not to mention those persistent exclamation marks that underscore their titles.
Two albums in, Modeselektor gives the impression that they're not about to select a mode; making choices and sacrificing favorites doesn’t appear to be part of this group’s vocabulary. Their open approach to the grab-bag of IDM, hip-hop, dancehall, straight-up techno, and even emotive ambience is accentuated by a cavalry of collaborators: everyone from Paul St. Hilaire (of Rhythm & Sound notoriety) to the digital assault of Otto Von Schirach to French rappers TTC has a place on a Modeselektor album. If anything, these collaborators often stretch the duo's range.
But these methods are just how Modeselektor works. “It happened quite naturally,” Sebastian Szary wrote in an email interview conducted last fall, around the time of the release of their anticipated second album. “We didn't throw a casting show or a competition or something like that. Most of the artists are friends and we hung out a lot, having beers, talking about possible collaborations.”
True to form, most of their collaborators share the same “everything but the kitchen sink” attitude Modeselektor prizes. “With TTC, they guested on "Dancing Box" on our first album and we guested on "Une Bande de Mecs Sympa" on their album, 3615 TTC. We all knew there had to be a follow-up. It's a never-ending story with them, it seems.”
Canadian expat Gonzales also shares their warped humour, and the rapping marionettes of Puppetmastaz seemed a perfect fit for Happy Birthday!. “Puppetmastaz have always been on our list of wanted collaborations. Those dudes are awesome, no matter whether they’re on stage or in the studio.”
“Otto von Schirach is a friend of ours as well,” Szary continues. “We hung out at DEMF in Detroit last year and played a show together, which was great. The guy rocks. This is how most of the collaborations came around - meeting, eating, drinking, and then working together.”
It’s not hard to imagine Modeselektor as friendly guys who are willing to have a drink or meal with anyone to pass the time between gigs on tour. Even their recordings have an inviting appeal that doesn't require the prerequisite of genre expertise. And that approachability, not to mention a killer live shows, has won Bronsert and Szary fans from unlikely corners.
Without question, the most high profile among them is Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, an early and vocal supporter of the duo and the elephant in the room for anyone interviewing them. More than just a famous fan who offers tacit support, Thom Yorke has been actively talking up the band every chance he gets for years now. It's gotten to the point where onne wonders if the duo would have experienced the success they've had without Yorke's endorsement.
When his solo album The Eraser came out last year, Modeselektor were brought on board for remix duty. He repaid the favor by appearing as guest vocalist on Happy Birthday!, and this coming July the duo gets the opportunity to open for Radiohead on one of the dates of their world tour, surely their biggest shows to date.
“Over the years, Thom placed our tracks in his charts regularly and last year he asked us for a remix of his The Eraser,” Szary writes. “We were really proud and tried our best to give him a great remix. We then asked him if he would sing on one of our tracks - and he did it, even though he was recording a new Radiohead album at this point and didn't have much time. So this is why he sings, "You have all the time in the world". Great!”
Great, indeed. But Thoma Yorke aside, it's really their zeal for the ambitious, wide-ranging package that gets the ball rolling; it helps to be good at what you do, and Happy Birthday! is a more cohesive and stirring set than 2005's Hello Mom!. Bronsert and Szary have picked up a lot of experience in the interlude between their debut and sophomore albums.
"We are older and maybe even more mature,” Szary concedes. “This album was produced under different circumstances, and this is probably the main difference. We finished the album in a pretty short period of time and only worked during the day. One could say that the album is full of energy, sunlight, like a ripe orange. We didn't use a studio this time, and worked at Gernot's house instead. We had to stop in the evenings because of our pregnant girlfriends waiting for us at home. Edgar, Gernot's cat, was our biggest fan during that time!”
Now that the record is well behind them and the reception has been more than good, Modeselektor find themselves back on the road, splitting pitchers, sharing food, and making new friends and collaborators along the way. To be fair, the stage is where Modeselektor really state their case. They wrangle an energy that fires up an audience like few other can.
“For us, it has always been important to play unexpected live sets,” Szary writes. “It doesn’t matter if we have a sudden change of style or tempo or pour five bottles of champagne over the audience. The message (in the words of Scooter) is: "I want to see you sweat! I said, I want to see you sweat!”
Fair enough. One may not share their peculiar sense of humour, but that's not so important in the end. What's hard not to share is their energy, and most of all their singularity.