Moderat is a singular group of musicians. They exist as a minority. Electronic music often has a problem with nostalgia – artists draw from the past and end up sounding like their influences. Moderat are a group that sound contemporary and unique in their sound, their ethic and the emotional content of their music.
On the eve of the release of their new album, ‘III’, the concluding piece of a musical trilogy that has taken around 10 years to complete, Clash caught up with Sascha ‘Apparat’ Ring, producer and group vocalist and found him in a frank and reflective mood as he discussed 13 years of Moderat, the group’s song writing process and the approach of their gargantuan live tour of over 40 international venues.
Moderat has always been an exercise in collaboration Apparat’s career has led him through numerous solo and collaborative projects, including running the short-lived but fruitful label Shitkatapult. Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastien Szary) have remained steadfast in the dedication to the dance floor. Their music has always been fast, energetic and incredibly hedonistic. Both parties have always been masters of their own craft. This is what makes Moderat albums a pleasure to listen to: the combination of emotion and sound design accompanied by dancefloor prowess.
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This time is a little special...
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“Phones kind of feel like they are from the last century,” Apparat tells me over Skype. This comment is telling: Moderat’s music has always sounded immediate and contemporary - Moderat are not a retrospective group of musicians. Their new album, simply entitled ‘III’, marks a pivotal moment in the band as they morph from a group of musicians working together to a truly collaborative project. “This time is a little special, because this time we actually grew up and rehearsed! Now we take it much more seriously.”
Despite 'II' and 'III' being entirely different beasts, they were recorded in quick succession. “We just kept on making music. We didn’t really stop. Of course we had a tour and there were some things, like a motorcycle accident, which I had in the middle of it all! But basically we weren’t really ready to stop. We got interrupted by a deadline and then we had to deliver the second album.”
Many groups stagnate after the release of an album and it’s subsequent tour. Moderat avoided this pitfall by simply continuing to record. 'III' does indeed sound like the product this developing musical process - it feels sharper, more concise and reveals far more depth upon each listen than its predecessor. “Everything we do works on a emotional, not mental level”, Ring declares, “most of the time it comes from the belly.” This continuity gives ‘III’ a sense of completeness that ‘II’ lacked. Often, ‘II’ felt like a collection of rough yet striking musical sketches; ‘III’ sounds more unified.
Moderat has allowed both Apparat and Modeselektor to grapple with the age-old technique of songwriting. “Even though song writing isn’t really the hot topic, for me it is!” For artists who spent their formative years engaged in the Berlin techno scene, this remains stimulating. “From my perspective, this is still kind of a new thing. Even though I have been singing for a while, writing songs and dealing with the structure of songs, for me, is kind of exciting. It’s new. Actually, when I go to the studio I’m searching for something, a bit of a challenge.”
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I’m searching for something, a bit of a challenge...
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‘III’ marks the moment where the band’s musical combination of songwriting technique and techno sound palette finally come together with ease, creating something bigger than the sum of its parts. “There are two moments, there’s when I write and when I sing. That also means we become a bit more professional because we now have a distinct song-writing phase, and a production phase [laughs].”
The band's creative process has indeed changed dramatically over the course of the last ten years. Despite this, some things never change. “We are still messing around a lot. It’s not that we really have a plan. Nobody really has a job in the band. It easy to say 'he’s the guitarist and he’s the bass player' but in our band, everybody is everything.”
In the past, Moderat tracks could have been identified as sounding more like the work of Apparat, or Modeselektor, but on ‘III’ this distinction is dissolved entirely. Each track sounds like the combination of both parties, but adds up to something more. ‘III’ sounds like a true collaboration rather than a partnership. “Its like sport. In sport there’s a team of runners and they run and they give this little pole to each other, I think it’s called a relay - that’s what we do. That’s how we get through that stressful procedure”'
Trust between band members is especially important when it comes to collaboration. Apparat notes that letting go of his own music, and letting Szary and Gernot change it beyond recognition, is something that he has only recently become comfortable with. “We have learnt how to trust each other on this album, which is really important I think. I think the early music was more... It wasn’t so much collaboration. Somebody would make a song idea and we would swap it around, and remix it. So there wasn’t so much interaction. It was more like 'you start it, I finish it'.”
But things seem different on ‘III’. “There’s this song called ‘The Fool’ on the new record. I wrote the idea and it was quite a traditional song. But then one night Gernot had a night shift and he took it completely apart. He put in a completely new context and made a new song out of it!” Ring accepts that this, while painful, is what makes collaboration worth taking part in. “In German we would say “I have to touch it with velvet gloves”. You know, very soft and gently. If I am pissed off with him the next day in the studio then it’s just not going to work.”
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We have learnt how to trust each other on this album...
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Isolation, tension and release have always been themes in Moderat’s music so it makes sense that, despite it being a collaborative project, each track begins in private. “I don’t think you can write a song with someone else – from the very first second. That’s the moment where I really need my freedom and when need to be alone.” The songs on ‘III’ are shot through with ideas of paranoia (like opener ‘Eating Hooks’) and themes of escape (like album highlight ‘Running’).
As conversation turns to their upcoming live tour, it becomes clear that it will be more expansive then ever before, but will still only feature the three core members of the group on stage. “Moderat is a very electronic thing and if you introduce that human feel, with too many instruments, it is not going to sound like that anymore! It needs to sound a little German, you know!”
Tracks like ‘The Fool’ and ‘Finder’ do not sound as if they were produce with the dance floor in mind, nor do they sound like they were produced for home listening. They transcend that distinction. Instead, they sound like the culmination of Moderat’s alchemic combination of breakbeat, techno, ambience and raw emotion. “A lot of people say the new record sounds more pop. It’s not necessarily what we would call pop. It just that we all grew up with Depeche Mode and Talk Talk and for us, that’s pop”.
Ring sounds as if he has exorcized demons by completing the trilogy. He looks towards the future of Moderat optimistically yet exhaustedly. “I’m pretty sure the next record will have a name finally. Honestly, making these records turns out to be quite exhausting. Its really difficult, so in the end we just gave end up giving them a number!”
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'III' is out now.
Words: Alex Green