“If you haven’t heard of Novelist in the last year you’ve been under a rock,” says Gernot Bronsert as we make our way to a Shoreditch eating spot.
We’re joined by the other two members of Moderat, Sebastian Szary (his partner in Modeselektor) and Sascha Ring – otherwise known as Apparat. “He’s good but he’s nothing new in grime,” Gernot continues. “Also DJ EZ, he’s a festival headliner this year!” The local knowledge displayed by this particular member of the trio eschews the notion that the German techno scene never looks beyond its own borders.
Moderat’s third album is imminent. For the many who hold them in the highest reverence, this will be one of the most anticipated records of the year, and they have never been in more demand. Their Bristol Simple Things show sold out in two days, and their London KOKO show was quickly upgraded to Brixton Academy. Last time I experienced the full Moderat live show the trio were closing the La Route Du Rock main stage with over 30,000 other people watching. At this point, they are arguably the German techno scene’s most successful musical export.
But this is not without struggle, as becomes evident when I ask about the recording process for III. “It’s trial and error,” explains Apparat. “We have like 45 ideas and then we strip them down until a few are left, and then we produce them until the end. Not even all of them end up on the album. It’s a distillation process.” Does it ever get argumentative? “It does sometimes,” admits Gernot. “Good democratic decisions are always based on arguments. In the end it’s a system with no system. It’s not easy to make every member happy with each song, but this is our filter. We have to create and write and sometimes you invest a lot of time and passion into an idea and it doesn’t get the love you were expecting it to get. Then sometimes you make some really thoughtless, shitty sketches and it flourishes.”
The combined acts of Moderat unites two strands of German electronic music. Those who enjoyed the melancholia and emotionally fraught soundscapes of Apparat’s solo work saw him paired with Modeselektor, who can be credited with putting a degree of fun back into a serious German techno scene. The result is a sound that’s accessible but high on intensity, thematically darker and, particularly for Modeselektor, a distinct alteration of their musical character.
So does being a Moderat member come easier to Apparat? “It probably fits my image better, but I do like other things too,” he says. “When we started the first record, we didn’t really know what it was going to sound like. In the end it became a mixture of us both. Sometimes we enjoy taking different roles within our collective. I might make a beat and they write the melody.” For Gernot, variation is key. “We still enjoy being Moderat members because there are things we can do here that we cannot do as Modeselektor,” he explains. “It’s funny being in Modeselektor. When we started, me and Szary had very strong sense of humour but we always had another musical face. All these sad beats.” Apparat chips in. “It’s also an image you found as Modeselektor and the world developed it a bit for you. They haven’t always been like this. When I first met them they had lots of melodic soft songs. They aren’t just techno hooligans.”
Switching between their previously defined musical roles has proved difficult. Especially so when Apparat had a motorcycle accident in 2013, in the middle of the last Moderat album tour. This event has obviously informed much of the writing on new album III, and is something Apparat is very forthright about. “Things changed for me,” he admits. “Before I was more of a party guy, drinking a lot. Afterwards I played a completely sober tour. That was really a moment to sit down and digest what went on before and what had happened to me. It was a big topic on the new record.”
For Szary, the movement between their two aliases was at its most prominent in the wake of the accident. “There was this moment it all switched. We started the tour for II but after Sascha’s accident we had to switch to a Modeselektor show. We took the Modeselektor live stuff from the garage and we were like, ‘okay, we have to switch’. It was not easy.”
“It takes a lot of effort and energy to switch back into other projects,” Apparat continues. “We were in a really nice flow off the back of the last record and the tour wasn’t that crazy or big, so once we stopped touring and were able to make a record, we had more music to play. This time we didn’t break the flow.”
“When you break the rhythm whether that be Modeselektor, Moderat or Apparat, the other projects will end up in the shadow. So it’s a big decision”
“We gave it two weeks to think about getting together again,” Szary says, explaining the democracy within the group. “When you break the rhythm whether that be Modeselektor, Moderat or Apparat, the other projects will end up in the shadow. So it’s a big decision.”
III is Moderat’s most personal work to date. Apparat’s vocals are more present than ever and the production values are equally as grandiose. Sounding much more like a continuation of the more commercially successful second album, only the blistering Animal Trails feels like it could be lifted from their groundbreaking debut. When asked about the popular conception that this record is the completion of some kind of trilogy, not least because of the numerals that act as the titles to all three of their albums to date, Apparat is forthright in his response.
“It’s promo bullshit,” he insists. “We are always trying to come up with a story, but we are not conceptual at all. We just go to the studio like we did 15 years ago and we just mess around with shit. In the best case something happened, and in the worst case we have arguments and we both go home depressed. Or alternatively we crack open the vodka and we’re really happy something good happened. Saying it’s a trilogy would mean we thought a lot about it. We don’t overthink things.”
III is released 1 April via Monkeytown and Mute