Moderat interview: ‘Techno saved our lives in a way’

25 years is a long time in techno, especially if you’ve been in the game for two thirds of your life. As a member of both Modeselektor and Moderat, Berliner Gernot Bronsert is at the controls of two of modern electronic music’s most revered acts, and he can barely remember a time before his life was mapped out by bleeps and kickdrums. He says the extent of electronic music’s influence just hit him recently.

“I just realised a couple of days ago that I was at a techno party for the first time when I was 13 years old, because I had an argument with my big sister and she told me that,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it, but she was right. We really grew up with this thing.”

If you’re going to grow up around techno, you may as well have your teenage brain rewired in Berlin. The German capital is considered techno’s European base, and the club Berghain has crossed over so far into mainstream consciousness that it’s basically a meme.

But the Berlin techno scene of Gernot’s youth is a world away from viral videos of Claire Danes talking about Berghain rollovers on the Ellen Show, and Lonely Planet guides to Tresor and Watergate.

Just before German reunification, techno from Detroit had already started to infiltrate and strengthen bonds between young East and West Berliners, with its middle finger militancy and futurism. The fall of the Wall in 1989 then turned the no-man’s land into a clean slate that was quickly filled with raves in warehouses, power plants and office blocks.

I’ve caught Gernot on the phone in Berlin, taking a few hours off from the studio as he and his Modeselektor partner Sebastian Szary, along with Sascha ‘Apparat’ Ring, prepare for festival season as Moderat, and he says the three have a shared memory of this lawless pursuit of partying.

“We accepted the fact after reunification that everything was possible,” he says. “It may be hard to understand to someone who wasn’t part of it, but when the Wall came down I was a very young teenager, for me all the political stuff didn’t count. There was total freedom.

“Szary started promoting raves in empty warehouses and they didn’t have the internet or even the money to print flyers so it was only mouth to mouth. I think there were parties with 1,000 people dancing to some shitty acid music, and it was really changing our lives.

“This is really the big connection we have with Sascha, with Apparat. He’s doing such different solo stuff to us but he has the same history and the same experiences. Electronic music is still his source of everything.”

It’s been just over a year since Moderat released their third album III, conveniently tying a bow around their three albums to date. Moderat have been gradually edging towards song-based productions over the past eight years, and III is their biggest mission statement. It largely bypasses Modeselektor’s glitchy, dubby breakbeats but hangs on to Apparat’s melancholy minor key productions and falsetto, and proves again that it’s not a mere compromised fusion of the two acts.

Bronsert says the three members had been working towards the trilogy, as a loose deadline for closing the band’s first era. Moderat was never supposed to be a so-called ‘supergroup’, but it’s outgrown both solo acts after 15 years or so, and their initial live analogue jams back in 2002.

“When we met in 2000 for the first time we didn’t have the plan to make music, just hanging out and talking about drum machines and technology and stuff,” Gernot says. “We just started making music just for fun, like a side project. At one point it changed, Moderat became the main project. Then we did the second Moderat album and after this it was clear that the response to this was way bigger than the response to our solo projects.”

He adds: “We’re taking the band on a hiatus now… there will be one last concert on September 2 in Berlin, and this may be the last one, we don’t know. Moderat was never planned to be a product or a company, or something that could generate a lot of money, but everything got so big. Sometimes it is a bit scary. It used to be going on tour with a backpack but the backpack is now getting bigger and bigger.

“I think with the third record we just closed an era, we shut the era down. We don’t wanna make a fourth record in the same way as we made the other records. It will be totally different and we don’t give a shit if we piss people off with the next Moderat record or not.”

One reason the trio may be taking a break is the extreme graft of three producers locked in a studio with the pressure on. Compared with the PR censored version of the recording process, one Facebook post described the “blood, sweat and tears” involved producing their second album II, and Gernot immediately backs that up, saying: “Yeah it’s a pain in the ass to make music together. Imagine you have someone you really like and you respect the person for what the person is creatively doing… but when we are in the studio it’s 75 per cent discussion, 10 per cent panic and maybe the rest of the time we make music.

“We have a really honest relationship, we really wanna take control about everything in our lives. It worked out for some weird reason that we can be in a band and and be good friends and make a business together at the same time. There is some shit of course, but we are all the time learning. I’m 38 now so I’ve been doing this for a long time, but when you learn all the time you never feel really old.”

(Photo by Eric Pamies)

After 80 headline shows last year, Gernot says the pressure is off this summer as they’re exclusively playing festivals, and says: “I like the fact at festivals, people are kinda locked on the site so they can’t escape, they’re just ready. It’s a chance to reach more people.”

One of the trio’s highest-profile festival slots was a recent show at Coachella, and even though Gernot is “the type of person who always has a walk through the whole site”, the big California desert Instagram-fest leaves him slightly cold.

He says: “I mean the show was amazing, but the festival itself? I’ve played there four times now, and for me as a born and raised East Berliner, it’s a little bit too clean. It’s the first time in your life you’ll see a very clean festival like this, plus you’ve got all these stories and fairytales about the stars at the festival, all this made-up bullshit. But I really love the line-up and production.”

Despite their gritty East Berlin techno credentials, the Moderat crew admit to a few minor extravagances to make life on the road a little more bearable than the nocturnal animal DJ routine. Gernot laughs at the idea of a barbecue as a luxury, but adds: “You don’t really need the backstage, we do barbecue all the time, and we have a friend who is a really good cook so we hired him for the festival season. It’s pretty much all about having a good time with friends, we are 14 people, 13 boys, one woman.

“When you’re travelling as a DJ it’s only you and your tour manager. You arrive at the airport and the driver is not there of course, the driver is on the phone talking about traffic and he’ll be there in 40 minutes… we wait for him then go to the hotel, go to dinner, go to the club, get fucking drunk, go back to your hotel and sleep too long and miss your flight because your tour manager is not really a manager, just a friend who’s coming with you so you’re not alone in a club somewhere. I do enjoy that pretty much, but touring as a band is so comfortable.”

He’s still not knocking the DJ life though, and it’s logical that Moderat are coming full circle with their final home gig (for now) in Berlin — even if the 17,000 outdoor arena Kindl Buhne Wulheide is a few rungs up the ladder from their teenage warehouse days. He says Berlin’s shape-shifting scene keeps them fresh, and DJing literally saved his life.

“All the hype about the nightlife in Berlin is something maybe I don’t understand, but in the end I understand it because you have generation changes all the time, you have new generations that discover things and claim them for their new thing,” he says.

“When I was young, not even 20 years old, man we partied unbelievable hard, you cannot imagine it, we never slept.

“You know, when we went out to clubs like Tresor and one of our friends showed up and you saw that he changed his clothes, that meant he went home and had slept. That just meant he was out of the game, it was like, ‘Man you’re such a loser, you went home and changed your shirt, what the fuck?’. This is how I grew up, all of us, Sascha, Szary and me, we have the same history.

“We quit very early doing lots of drugs and living this weird nightlife thing because it destroys you if you don’t stop at the right time. I saw a lot of people dying in my life because of too much drugs and too much partying. Losing it, you know.

“At some point we changed our position from the dancefloor to behind the turntables. This saved our life in some way I think.”