Nestled in a corner of New York’s elegant NoMad Hotel, German electronic trio Moderat pick at appetizers with the weary contentment of artists who have seen a long project to fruition. That or jetlag.
Features framed by perpetually tangled brown hair, singer/multi-instrumentalist Sascha Ring — known to fans as Apparat — jokes about having narcolepsy before turning serious: “It feels like we finished something.”
Considering the timeline, that’s an understatement. It’s been fourteen years since Ring first met Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary while coming up as the self-described “outlaws” of Berlin’s fertile electronic music scene.
Prior to joining forces for their eponymous debut LP in April 2009, Moderat’s members focused on their own projects while keeping similar company. In 2005, Modeselektor dropped debut album Hello Mom! on Ellen Allien’s BPitch Control imprint and became a favorite of Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, who featured on their 2007 follow-up Happy Birthday! and two songs since. Meanwhile, Apparat released two critically acclaimed albums — 2006’s Orchestra of Bubbles with Allien and 2007’s Walls — and toured with, you guessed it, Radiohead.
In 2013, the trio reunited for sophomore effort II, which included their near-ubiquitous European hit “Bad Kingdom.” Ring’s subsequent motorcycle accident derailed their world tour and tested their resilience, but the outfit bounced back six months later to realize their onstage visions across North America, Europe, Russia and Georgia.
Consumed by the drive to complete their envisioned album trilogy, Moderat built a new studio in Berlin’s bohemian Kreuzberg neighborhood and set about painstakingly producing what would become III, their song-oriented third album released last month. As for the project’s future following their ongoing tour, Bronsert readily admits, “I don’t know. We all don’t know.”
Without further ado, Moderat in their own words.
You’ve described making III as ‘satisfying but not enjoyable.’ Why?
Sascha Ring: The challenge is always that we have to find common ground again. There’s always a little time in between and people change as well. People are turned onto other kinds of music or whatever and then we meet again in the studio and suddenly it’s shifted. We wouldn’t really like the stuff we did last time and then we have to readjust. So it takes quite a few months to go through this period and then at some point we are synchronized and then it’s just… really easy suddenly.
Have the songs changed a lot from their original versions?
Gernot Bronsert: All of them. I think only “The Fool” just popped up like this (snaps) for me. I lost a little bit of hope during the production that songs like “Reminder” wouldn’t make it on the record. It was close, we finished it at the very end. The same with the second single, “Running.” This was also a b***h. Especially because Sascha hated it in the end.
Ring: It’s always the problem if you’re the musician, the producer, the singer, everything in one person. You listen to it so f***king often and you get tired.
Your ears burn out.
Ring: Also your brain. So at some point you have no choice… you just start hating the songs and then you need the others to cheer you up and to be like ‘No it’s great, the song is a keeper.’ Otherwise, there’s always a moment when each of us would throw a song away because they hate it. And then the others come in and it’s really important that they’re there to save the songs.
Sounds like perfectionism.
Bronsert: It’s a disease. It’s not just the music. It continues with the artwork. With everything. The tour.
Ring: If you make anything, who wouldn’t be a perfectionist? You always want it to be the best possible, that’s why I never really understood that term. Maybe some people get more obsessed with it than others, maybe some people can say ‘Easy it’s done’ and some can’t. And since digital music production, it has become much harder to say that something is finished.
What does the future hold for Moderat now that the album trilogy is complete?
Ring: Right now it’s a big mystery. But it feels like we finished something. The main reason to do this record was to have more material to play live because that’s what we actually enjoy most in the end. At some point if you don’t have enough material to choose from, it’s not so easy to play. Our shows shouldn’t be like song after song after song. It should be some kind of dynamic curve and they need to have transitions from time to time, so it’s better to have more material.
What do you envision for the tour?
Ring: The first two shows had some kind of more or less iconic shape which you could already recognize even when the show hadn’t started. And now it’s just got to be stage with three tables and a different shape, but there’s nothing you wouldn’t see. It just all comes together during the show. What we always wanted was more of…. just like the right order of things and the dynamics. So we’re trying to work on this a lot, I think that’s really important. I learned this while making theater music.
Bronsert: The composition through the whole show, you know. Telling the story.
Ring: I worked with a director who always makes very long plays and one was 5 1/2 hours and it was very impressive how the few things he had kept it interesting during the five hours. Just because he took a lot of time to introduce new elements and I think that was quite inspiring. For a live show generally, it’s always very important to remember if you want to hear something very big, you need to go small before that and it’s all about the contrast.
What’s special or different about performing together compared with your individual projects?
Ring: It takes a little bit of the pressure away onstage if you share responsibilities, you know if one person fucks, up the whole thing still works somehow. And you also don’t have the feeling that everybody is watching, especially you at one time.
Bronsert: It’s a band now, basically. When we play as Modeselektor, it’s a couple. Longtime couple on stage… but with Moderat, it’s very powerful. We have more to say. It’s not just simply dance music. You know when I was little, I was sitting in my room and I had these two turntables. I worked my ass off to buy them. I was DJing in my room and always imagined DJing in front of thousands of people. This happened, you know. But I always had this second dream in my mind that I always wanted to be a band, part of a band, but not the typical band with guitars, it was never a guitar.
And now you’re the DJ in the band.
Bronsert: Now I’m the DJ in the band. You know, guitar music never really touched my soul. So I was not a rock guy. We met the Radiohead guys later and it was different, but this is not really guitar music for me but… now we are all starting to bring the childhood dream into reality a little bit. Like leaving the clubs and playing the big stages.
Where else do you draw your inspiration from?
Bronsert: I get inspired when I see other bands playing in festivals, but never because I want to make something they do. I always don’t want to do what they do. Most of them show me things I never want to do, which is also an inspiration. And I think this is basically the sense of Moderat. We don’t know which direction this goes, but we all know which directions it never should go. This is basically our aim. The problem with this way of creation is that you are never satisfied. You know ‘Ok this is what I want to do but only because I really know what I don’t want to do.’ It’s like too philosophical or not?
Ring: I mean it’s the same with inspiration — that’s called inspiration onstage… the same as when listening to other music to get inspiration, which is important.
Bronsert: It’s crazy for me, I never get inspired musically when I see someone.
Ring: That’s anti-inspiration.
Bronsert: It’s anti-inspiration. It’s minus negative inspiration
Ring: (gestures to Szary) How about Einstein?
Sebastian Szary: I always get inspired by sound. When I see a band or concert, I’m impressed by the sound. That’s why I start thinking to regroup and produce records and I discover bands like Iron Maiden through regrouping. Not because I’m a metal guy. But I just want to discover how, because I’m into sounds and recording.
Are there specific sounds or techniques that have inspired you that way?
Bronsert: I think if I know too much about techniques, it destroys magic. I’m not a technique guy. I need someone like Szary or Sascha who can control the machines and tell me what to do. So I’m always like ‘I want this sound,’ but I don’t know how to create it. Help, help me now. And then they show me and they make it even better.
Szary: For me it’s like a feeling of cinema. If I’m listening to a really good movie or a really good soundtrack… it’s the moment the soundtrack fits perfectly to the picture. So it depends on sound and depends on harmony and the mood. I think it’s great. But also you have movies without soundtracks.
How do you feel the democratization of digital technology has changed electronic music?
Ring: Now there’s much more of it. Which is a little difficult because to find good music as a DJ, you have to listen to like mountains of shit. But I think that’s a good thing, because back in the day it was an elite thing. You needed money to produce electronic music, it’s expensive equipment. When I started I had to sell my turntables in order to be able to afford a synthesizer. Now that’s unnecessary, you just get a desktop, steal all the software and then you become Avicii and make millions.
What is your perspective on electronic music’s current presence in America?
Bronsert: It became a business everywhere in the world, but America is the place where everything becomes the biggest business because the whole culture is really about that. So obviously here it was done in a much more aggressive manner than anywhere else. I mean even Berlin used to be such a underground town and it’s still somehow the same clubs, but everything is run much more professionally and also the clubs don’t take so many risks anymore.
I think it’s good on the other hand. I mean we are all pretty well-educated in terms of electronic music and subculture and stuff like this, so I can see very quickly if something is fake. And I think you asked how technology changed the electronic music scene… I think of course there’s much more music and much more bad music. Just have to go through it. But I think the interesting part of living in this electronic bubble is to find the right stuff, to search for it and see what’s fake and what’s not, and to discover things. And we all do this but in three totally different ways, so we like different music, we have different approaches to look for music. We have different tastes and this makes it very interesting.
Ring: Going back to the question of the current American world of electronic music, I think there’s always a chance in the huge, mass phenomenon because it’s mostly kids. And it’s like a gateway and even if just one of those EDM kids decides to dig deeper and they want to find the real shit and find out where everything comes from, it’s still a huge amount of people for a more healthier club scene. So for me, it’s a parallel universe. We never get in touch with it. There are EDM festivals in Europe, but it’s never mixed. They try like an underground stage at Tomorrowland but we never…
Bronsert: We don’t see it.
Ring: So it’s a parallel universe and I think at some point if some of those kids just take the starship and come over to our universe at some point, that’s great.
Moderat Tour Dates
Thu. May 19 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
Fri. May 20 – Montreal, QC @ Metropolis
Sat. May 21 – Chicago, IL @ Concord Music Hall
Mon. May 23 – Vancouver, BC @ Vogue Theatre
Tue. May 24 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
Thu. May 26 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
Fri. May 27 – San Diego, CA @ The Observatory North Park
Sat. May 28 – Bradley, CA @ Lightning in a Bottle Festival