Germany’s Moderat busts the ghosts in its hard drive

Sascha Ring was haunted by ghosts. In 2007, and Ring, a Berlin-based producer known for electrocoustic compositions under the name Apparat, found his hard drive littered with unused melodies he describes as Songleiche, which translates as "song corpses."

Elsewhere in Berlin, Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert, aka bass bin abusers Modeselektor, found similar sonic phantasms in their collection of disembodied beats. These sketches longed to escape the unfinished folder purgatory, but needed a medium to help bring them forth.

Moderat: Reanimating dead beats.
Melissa Hostetler
Moderat: Reanimating dead beats.

Faced with these challenges, the three artists — who first collaborated as Moderat in 2002 — set up an idea swap. Still unable to finish each other's work, they spent 2008 directly reanimating these dead pieces together.

The results comprise Moderat's new self-titled, full-length debut. The 15 tracks are a detail-oriented aesthetic blend, drawing together the sinewy, blunt, and astral elements of left-field techno, dubstep, shoegazer synth-pop, and electro dancehall.

But this subcultural amalgam wasn't without its challenges. Modeselektor's bottom-heavy, overdriven antics lend themselves to bodies slapping and champagne showers. Apparat, on the other hand, deals in meticulously processed internal monologues that use custom reverb instead of words. In order to mesh, "We set out to restart," Szary says.

Moderat created what Bronsert calls an "antirecord," a release that wasn't the next logical step for either group. Moderat slows Modeselektor's tempo and adds bass anchors to Apparat's bit-crushing. Whereas Modeselektor usually represents the id, Apparat brings the ego, marking the LP as both behemoth and subdued. The vignettes "A New Error," "Seamonkey," and "Porc #2" condense crisp percussion surges under the trailing legs of liquescent melodies. "Slow Match" (featuring vocals from veteran Berlin dub techno toaster Paul St. Hilaire) and "Nr. 22" produce a resonance so clattering and cavernous its gradients simultaneously retreat and double back to stalk listeners.

Moderat's previous EP, 2002's Auf Kosten der Gesundheit, translates as "At the Cost of Health." Continuing that harrowing theme, the cover art of Moderat is a caricature of a woman punching herself in the face. It's no wonder Ring admits some ruffled feathers during its creation ("Sometimes people would leave the room pissed, but the most fun part is the rough ideas," he says) and Bronsert describes the immersive editing as a painful "social experiment." But the skirmishes over erect/erase had rewards.

On Moderat,.the trio broke with not only the preconceived roles about their acts, but also with those about the city in which they live. Ring and Bronsert both mention a common misconception defining Berlin's music scene as host to nothing but minimal techno played to a bleary scene of three-day-deep clubbers. Moderat.was born from a vastly different city, which Bronsert watched evolve as a child of East Berlin who was 14 when the Wall came down.

To Bronsert, the metropolis maintains one of the last undiluted hubs for underground collaborations based on personal rather than purely commercial partnerships (he name-checks San Francisco as his follow-up favorite for historically informed, contemporarily irreverent cloistering). Berlin's counterculture supports Moderat's melancholic embellishment as much as the club bangers, allowing for songs that are introspective without being hermetic.

The trio's homebase also permeates Moderat in the accompanying deluxe edition DVD. It features short films from Berlin VJ collective Pfadfinderei (also responsible for Modeselektor/Moderat tour visuals). This slow-motion imagery depicts deconstructing materials (splintering wood, exploding concrete, other pairings of opposing forces) and, like Moderat, navigates the overlap between a slab of potential energy and an eruption of minutiae.

"I think Moderat has allowed us to make more personal music than before, and Berlin is the background to that," Bronsert says. While a lot has changed for his city and scene, he feels that accepting both the light and the shadows is integral to the trio's continuing approach. On the eve of sculpting live arrangements, Bronsert, Szary, and Ring face yet another series of democratic give-and-take, but this time they're possessed by a positive spirit.

 
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