Moderat talks vinyl, “teatime ravers” and “dark, shitty” Berlin winters

When we catch up with Sebstian Szary, he’s zooming home to Berlin on the Autobahn, fresh off a U.K. festival performance with his Moderat cohorts Sascha Ring and Gernot Bronsert. After about four years of radio silence since its eponymous debut record, the techno and breakbeat trio released II August 8 on Mute.

Szary, his fellow Modeselektor member Bronsert and Apparat’s Ring link up every few years to pen collections of pounding, ambient electronic tracks with touches of hip-hop and IDM. Fans of Thom Yorke’s solo work, Shigeto’s instrumental wizardry and Mount Kimbie’s bass-heavy production will probably gravitate towards their textured and progressive sound.

The recent Britsh date was the first of many lined up for Moderat, as the trio is launching an extensive tour that will run through November, and includes a U.S. stopover in late August. ITM got the lowdown from Szary on putting the album together, releasing it on colored vinyl (with artwork by fellow German producer Siriusmo) and gearing up for Electric Zoo in New York.

One of you three is quoted as saying II took six months to produce, but that you all “aged about 10 years” in the process. What’s the deal there?

The six months it took to produce the album were very intense, compared to the first Moderat album four years ago. For the first one, we just went to the studio. We didn’t have a deadline or anything planned, and we made it in a year. On this one, we did it in six months, with a month’s rest in between, over the winter. The dark, shitty, Berlin winter. So it was a bit distressing, but I think it was the perfect situation for going into the studio. There are no distractions, no other things tempting you out of the studio like, “Let’s go to the beach!” [laughs]

How do you three write songs together, coming from two separate acts?

It’s different from track to track. Sometimes we wrote together, when each one of us had an idea and we’d do a jam session around it. We’d jam for about 30 minutes, get into that techno feeling and record it. Then we’d cut maybe three minutes out of that, and start with an idea for a song. Other times, Sascha would write some piano, then Gernot and I would go in to the studio together to write around it.

How do you draw that line, and differentiate between writing as Szary and Gernot from Moderat, and as Modeselektor?

We found out, when we produced Moderat, that we had to separate the two. For Sascha, it’s not a problem: He’s Apparat, a one-man thing [laughs]. But for Modeselektor it works if we say, “Gernot’s doing things, Szary’s doing things. Let’s bring it together and show it to Sascha.” It was an interesting shift to make in our musical career.

What about physical releases still appeals to you? You’re pouring all this energy into making beautiful CD and vinyl products for II, but why do you think that’s still relevant?

The three of us all grew up with physical records. First, in our childhoods with the records of our parents. Then we all started DJ-ing techno in the early ‘90s and on Thursdays we’d go spend almost all the money we earned on records. You had the music in your hand, and it meant you had to do your research. When you were in a club, there was no Shazam, you know? It was an experience. I think it’s important to present music as a physical product to have something to show for your time in the studio. And I think music can sound better on vinyl.

Having grown up in Berlin, what about its music scene still inspires you?

I’ve started to feel like I’m a tourist in my own town, there’s so much new stuff on the scene! I’m 38 now [laughs], and I still admire all those people injecting life into the city. There are a lot of countries where governments limit how much young people can express themselves like that, and I love that in Berlin people have that freedom.

What about in this part of the world? How are you feeling about playing to the American style, neon-glow EDM crowd at Electric Zoo?

I think we’re very well prepared because it won’t be our first time seeing young rave culture in the U.S. As Modeselektor, we went on the Identity Festival Tour two years ago, traveling from city to city and with these mobile arena gigs. I love the festival, I think they’re good guys. But after the first of 13 shows, we thought “What’s going on here?” The crowds were like teatime ravers, people in their early twenties drinking lite beer and wearing all the fluorescent rave gear. We saw that in Europe like 20 years ago! Then half a year later I heard about the term EDM [laughs]. I knew about IDM, intelligent dance music, but not EDM. But we’ll see what direction this music will go in the future. We’re all making electronic music, so it’s just a question of interpretation. And we can’t wait to play.