It’s challenging to neatly summarize Modeselektor’s music with a single genre tag, simply because the very essence of their sound is a shifting mass in which genres collide; quite literally, you can often hear the structure of one formula buckling under the sheer weight and gravity of another. They relish in these combustive impact points and controlled explosions, rather like mad scientists continually high off their own chemical fumes.
Formed by Germany’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary around 1992, during the genesis, and ensuing dominance, of original acid house culture, there’s a rave-wit and comedy about their work too, which definitely draws on that particular barrier-busting era – after all, the weekend-long warehouse is largely a laboratory of sorts, where stark concrete and bleak emptiness become a blank canvas for exploration. Together, they’ve released a total of five albums over a decade-long blizzard of intense studio productivity – three as Modeselektor and two with Sascha Ring aka Apparat, under combined alias Moderat. They’ve collaborated with artists from contrasting ends of the sonic spectrum, from Thom Yorke to rapper Busdriver, Otto von Schirach to Basic Channel affiliate Paul St. Hilaire, as well as finding time to run their trailblazing labels, Monkeytown and 50 Weapons.
Here’s a look back at some essential moments from their musical journey, that illustrates how Modeselektor have come to represent a fun and anarchic alternative to the conventions of, well, everyday dreariness and musical boredom.
You can also get a glimpse of the Modeselektor universe through their exclusive mix for Carhartt WIP Radio, in which the duo cut up some of their favourite Monkeytown releases (including their own). Download the brand new Carhartt Radio app for free now: iPhone & IPad | Android.
(picture: Kevin Lake)
Fundamental Knowledge: Nervus Faciales (Mad Benton Records, 2000)
A little-known gem here to begin with. Prior to becoming Modeselektor, Bronsert and Szary previously released a couple of EPs under the Fundamental Knowledge moniker. This standout cut from the Java EP is straight old school boom bap with dark jazz undertones, but hints at the duo’s latter sense of space and ambience. As musique concrète-influenced sound effects and swooshes dart across the background, razor-sharp snares dominate the foreground, hinting at a colder, more futurist aesthetic. This grounding in hiphop drum programming continues to be one unifying point across their work today.
Modeselektor: In Loving Memory (BPitch Control, 2002)
Two years after Fundamental Knowledge, and their second 12” for Ellen Allien’s BPitch Control label, In Loving Memory opens with the sound of a rhythmic telephone dialer, which gradually calls a crackling, staggering orchestra of sounds into life around it, as though the pair are conjuring a toy box full of puppets into a robotic ensemble. Once the wistful, sentimental church organs and beat box duet kicks in, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a bootleg VHS tape of Boards Of Canada’s wedding, successfully gatecrashed by Biz Markie.
Modeselektor feat. TTC: Dancing Box (BPitch Control, 2005)
This opening salvo from their debut album typifies the Modeselektor brand of humor, with guest rapper Teki Latex of TTC struggling to understand if his mic is actually being recorded or not – “Yo, tell me… when to… Yo? 1,2...” It’s a disarming intro to an iconic track that fidgets around so hard it just can’t sit still, with rap hooks tripping over hip-hop and dancehall riddims, eventually collapsing into a techno head-rush for the chorus. Bonus points for shouting out the merits of German motorway design in French in the verse, and for the unforgettable bit where the goat bleats.
Modeselektor: The Rapanthem (BPitch Control, 2005)
Another stand-out cut from Hello Mom!, The Rapanthem is ODB’s Got Your Money viewed through a fish eye lens, where the bastard’s signature double claps open up to reveal the pathways of perception, a doorway into futuristic landscape of twinkling synths and echoing thoughts. Enough cosmic platitudes: Alice In Wonderland gets crunk, in short.
Moderat feat. Paul St. Hilaire: Let Your Love Grow (BPitch Control, 2007)
Let Your Love Grow is a gently lilting groove, rooted in digi-dub, drenched in a bucket of glitched-out texture. Basic Channel collaborator Paul St. Hilaire anchors the riddim with his ragamuffin prose as though he’s keeping one foot in reality, whilst audio shrapnel crushes and collapses around him. An early co-production with Apparat, the track is featured on the second Modeselektor LP, the Dadaist-titled Happy Birthday, which wore its electro-dancehall influences proudly on its sleeve.
Modeselektor: EM Ocean (BPitch Control, 2007)
Provided here to give you with some context: it’s not all glitch-hop ragga instrumentals, you know. EM Ocean hints at the Eno-esque ambience and sense of orbital space the pair specialize in, that’s often hidden right at the back of the frame of their productions, and much more prominent in the sound of Moderat. Just when you’re relaxing into it, out of nowhere a robot suddenly burps loudly, reminding you that you gotta take the rough with the smooth.
Moderat: Rusty Nails (BPitch Control, 2009)
A truly satisfying fusion between two complete opposites, El-B indebted 2-step grooves and much more traditional songwriting techniques, Rusty Nails soars along in mournful, ecclesiastic harmony before shifting gears into a glitchy dancefloor shuffle. The gentle motion of Ring’s voice against the mechanical rhythms is perfectly enacted by the weaving sheets and intertwining polygons of the video, as though smoothing over the rough edges of the beats. This was a bonafide international hit for the trio known henceforth as Moderat, and a perfect launch pad for the eponymous album that introduced Modeselektor to whole new audience of Pitchfork readers and festivalgoers worldwide.
Modeselektor feat. Miss Platnum: Berlin (Monkeytown, 2011)
This ode to their beloved hometown chugs along with sizzling leads and powerful bottom-end weight, showing off the duo’s influences and stylish sheen to their beats. The vocal hook and lyrics in Romanian supplied by guest vocalist Miss Platnum oddly wormed their way into the memory, becoming an instant headnodder – or maybe neck-breaker – anthem with the abstract b-boys and girls. This record came to symbolize a certain moment in time in the Berlin club scene, challenging the prevailing dominance and rigidity of minimal house and techno in its colorful wake.
Modeselektor feat. Thom Yorke: This (Monkeytown, 2011)
Not many acts can claim that they personally encouraged Thom Yorke to take an interest in dance music, but facts are facts, and the duo really did inspire their pal to put down the guitar and invest in some turntables and vinyl (as well as eventually convincing him to guest on a number of tracks). This one is taken from their third and most recent album, Monkeytown. When asked about this track, which pairs the Radiohead man’s dulcet tones with a wobbly, elastic, technoid arpeggio, they responded enigmatically, “every Venus needs a bust”. Well, why don’t you just check it out, above...
Moderat: Last Time (Monkeytown, 2013)
Another stand-out jam from Moderat, and a perfect closer for this list, Last Time is drawn from sophomore album II. “Towering, they build the walls outside”, sings Ring, against a video backdrop of scenes of suburban angst, hinting at a deeply rooted desire to escape those repetitious shackles of teenage boredom. Rhythmically, the track recalls the minimal Detroit hip hop of Dilla and Dabrye, and lays a sparse, swinging foundation for the expansive, emotive vocal. Spine-tingling stuff.
Nick ‘Mr Wilson’ is a DJ, producer, music scribe and all-round top chap based in London. His new EP for Marshmallows, is out now on Tief Music.
(picture: Kevin Lake)