Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
On August 2nd, Moderat – the studio collaboration between Modeselektor, aka Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert, and Apparat, aka Sascha Ring – released their much-anticipated new album, ‘II’ (you can read Dummy's review of it here). It follows their self-titled debut in 2009, a record which was accompanied by a blistering live show that won accolades from all corners, going as far as being voted live act of the year by the tough-to-please readers at Resident Advisor back in 2009.
Sascha was in the studio preparing for the new live show when I spoke to him to find out more about the record and live show. He gave me an incredibly brief studio tour on his webcam, while fellow Moderat member Szary milled about in the background occasionally dropping into our conversation to offer sarcastic remarks.
The recent music you’ve been releasing with Apparat has been quite conceptual. Do you approach the Moderat sessions with a clear idea in mind of how you want it to turn out?
Ring: First we thought we’d just do it the same way we worked on the first record, but when we got to the studio we realised that it didn’t work that well this time and started making new stuff from scratch. The main difference from the first record is that [this time] it was six months of studio for three people, and we were there the whole time. For the first record, we had a year, but it was mostly exchanging ideas, with three months in the studio in the end. Before, we were a project we made for fun, and then it kind of started its own life and during the tour – I think we became more like a band, and that’s why the record sounds quite different this time.
There was a seven year gap between your first EP and your first album, but the gap is obviously a lot smaller now. Has recording become easier now?
Ring: It’s not easier, unfortunately. It always feels like you’ve done things before, or someone else has. So it becomes harder and harder to be satisfied with what you do in the studio. This time was no exception, and it actually became a little harder because it’s three people involved, and each of them is a producer.
Are you still arguing about rimshot sounds?
Ring: Totally. If you have completely separate jobs it would make things much easier, but in this band, the drummer is telling the bass player what to do.
"10 years ago we had no plan in our life. We just went to the studio at 3pm and did sessions until 3am or six in the morning. We had no kids, we were much more free. 10 years ago was a different life to today." – Sebastian Szary [Modeselektor]
Did you have any major disagreements?
Szary: Major disagreements? Never!
Ring: Of course. In every song it happens – somebody likes the sound, and somebody else likes another sound, and there you are – discussion for the next three hours.
How do you resolve that discussion?
Ring: Most of the time you find some kind of middle way, or very often someone would just give up and say “fuck it – but next time you do it my way”.
Szary: But there is no next time…
You’ve all had albums out since the last Moderat record. How did you find time in between writing new music and touring to actually sit down for six months at the studio and do a new record?
Szary: The main difference with the first album, and the first EP 10 years ago, was that 10 years ago we had no plan in our life. We just went to the studio at 3pm and did sessions until 3am or six in the morning. We had no kids, we were much more free. 10 years ago was a different life to today. For this album, we planned it one year before, to schedule Sasha’s touring, Modeselektor touring, and of course the label. The team we have at Monkeytown and 50 Weapons tried to give us space for work.
Ring: I made two records [in between Moderat albums], but the second record ‘Krieg und Frieden’, didn’t take much time because I’d made the music for a theatre project anyway and only had to go to the studio for a week with the musicians. I didn’t tweak the music and we had three takes of everything, and I constructed the songs out of those three takes without much post-production. It was a very easy record to do.
But for this you were writing in the studio – you didn’t know what would happen until you got there.
Ring: Which is dangerous, because it could be that nobody is inspired, and then you’re fucked. That’s when it’s good to have three people, because most of the time not everybody is equally inspired, but if somebody has a good idea it kind of pushes things.
"It’s funny, Szary and me, we were more like studio guys, right? Then Gernot comes and he’s like: 'oh fuck that, it doesn’t fit the tempo. How are we supposed to play that live? It doesn’t work.' So it’s good to have three people, everyone has a different perspective on things." – Apparat
So Moderat started off as a live show…
Ring: As a fun project, just jamming together. If there was a Modeselektor and Apparat gig planned, the others would join for fun and we’d just jam around. Sometimes it pissed off promoters.
So how are you writing music now? Does it have the live show in mind, or do you write it first and think about the live show after?
Ring: It’s funny, Szary and me, we were more like studio guys, right? Then Gernot comes and he’s like: “oh fuck that, it doesn’t fit the tempo. How are we supposed to play that live? It doesn’t work.” So once again it’s good to have three people, everyone has a different perspective on things. Keeping the live situation in mind is definitely Gernot’s thing.
How does the new show contrast with the Apparat live show?
Ring: Totally, in every possible way. The ‘Krieg und Frieden’ thing was quite improvised on stage – we had songs we had to play and certain moments where certain things had to happen, but it was very free. With Moderat now, it’s really different, it’s all about the synchronisation of visuals and lights. It’s more of a show than a jam concert.
Did you were you ever want to bring any of that improvisational aspect to the Moderat show?
Ring: No, because that’s the purpose of Moderat – it’s supposed to be a breath of fresh air for both of us. That’s probably the reason I even made the ‘Krieg und Frieden’ record, because I knew there was gonna be Moderat. Without that I may’ve thought it was a little bit too far out and experimental, but to have Moderat to balance that now, it really makes sense, I think.
Can you tell me some of the meanings of the track titles?
Ring: There’s one that’s really easy to explain. It’s called Ilona, that’s a very old-fashioned German name. That’s simply on there because that’s the name of Gernot’s dog, and that dog was around the whole time while we were producing the album. It was always sitting on the couch and sleeping. The dog knows every version of every song.
"I’m not even sure if the person is pulling the mask away, or putting it on [in the album artwork]. I think it’s pulling the mask away." – Apparat
Does the dog make a guest appearance on the record?
Ring: She makes guest appearances in a lot of the photographs for the interviews. She’s around for every interview session, and the photographer is always like: “oh yeah, take the dog.” It’s funny, she’s all over the magazines.
How has the artistic direction evolved with the music?
Ring: As a band, we thought we needed a completely different cover this time, because we felt it’s a completely different record. Pfadfinderei always do the artwork and the visuals for the live show, and usually we don’t really tell them much, we just give them the music and they always come up with an idea from their perspective – which I like, because it gives another side to it. But the Pfadfinderei guys, together with Siriusmo – he paints those punching and masked people – decided that there needs to be a second version of the first cover.
Do you know why they chose the mask this time?
Ring: I could try to interpret that. Probably they think that’s the real Moderat this time? I don’t know. I’m not even sure if the person is pulling the mask away, or putting it on. I think it’s pulling the mask away.
Monkeytown released 'II' on August 2nd – click here to buy it.