Music & clubs

We are still Modeselektor

INTERVIEW: OB-boys (as in Ost Berlin) Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert started making electronic music two decades ago in the ripely unified Hauptstadt. Monkeytown Records released a DVD-only documentary on May 3 about the duo's rise to fame.

Image for We are still Modeselektor
Photo by Tania Castellvi

Back in the anarchic post-Wende 1990s, East Berliners Sebastian Szary (left) and Gernot Bronsert (right) delighted in blending myriad wacky influences, both musical and cultural, which they pumped out at makeshift parties. And now there’s a film that explains it all to you.

When Thom Yorke from Radiohead came buzzing, their reach expanded, even more so when they merged with Apparat in the DJ supergroup Moderat. They don’t play Berlin as much these days (though Vans and Boiler Room did organize an invitation-only show at the Oderberger Stadtbad earlier this year, as referenced below) so we’ll have to make do with the DVD documentary We are Modeselektor (Monkeytown Records), out this month, featuring the most plugged in of plug-in culture.

Do you still get nervous before gigs?

Sebastian Szary: We are nervous because this is Berlin.

Gernot Bronsert: We already played Boiler Room a few months ago, and we are not DJing that often and we play all over the world, so we don’t have a residency. That means we are not allowed to repeat any music we have already played that makes me nervous.

The crowds are different here.

GB: What do you want me to say the crowds in Berlin are shit? Berlin crowds are the same as everywhere else in the world. You have all these clichés about this country or this town making a big party but it depends on the spot. You can go anywhere for a little money. It’s more difficult to play a small DJ set, it’s more intimate.

SS: [Looking at interviewer’s pad] Is this shorthand? It looks like Persian.

You tweeted for requests from your fans.

GB: The replies were really funny on Twitter. They asked for Modern Talking, whatever, so there was no serious reply.

Did you want serious replies?

GB: No, not really.

SS: Some people come to the front when we DJ holding their mobile phone with the track title and shouting, “Can you play this?” I’m thinking, “I can’t even see it.” But at least they tried.

How do non-Germans perceive your music?

SS: There is no big difference in the way non-German people perceive our music. But you won’t have a party like this again in Berlin, with this line-up [which included Boys Noize and Brodinski]. We threw a party with Boys Noize and a few others four years ago, off-location like this, and announced it a few days before and it was really packed. It was dangerous and they thought the house would crash down.

Things have changed.

GB: The Berlin we grew up in doesn’t exist any more it is lost. It died at some point. But we are not the kind of people to put on a sad face and keep complaining and looking back; we want to celebrate the present. We try to bring things forward – we had a period in our life when we all realised Berlin would change. A lot of money came into the town, big parts of the subculture died. Back in the day, if you wanted to hear house music you would go to this special place, but now it is all focused on the artist.

Has anything changed for the better?

GB: Berlin is becoming this international city that it used to be before the Third Reich. Everything has a light and a dark side and the grass is always greener on the other side of the river. I think Berlin’s music scene is comparable to the fast internet culture: everything changes so quick and it’s still changing because of places like this. Ten years ago, a party like this Boiler Room night would cost you five bucks to get in, you wouldn’t have a big sponsor, and you had the same fun. Now you need to give tickets for free, get a sponsor.

Is corporate involvement better, then?

GB: I like the fact that companies with money look for the right people to help them out with things like this. It’s easy for us. We don’t have much work to do when we used to promote parties, there was a lot of work. We did a label party at Berghain and it took months of work. Now it took us €15 cab fare and two posts on Facebook our publicist did the posts, actually.

And you have your financial involvements, as well. Running a record label, for instance.

GB: It’s different. It’s important to befriend and work with young artists. When we were young we were in a battle with artists from Paris, New York or London. Now we just signed a couple of young artists who still live in their mummy’s house and they make amazing music we helped them to release their music and come on tour with us and have a good time. We learn from them and they learn from us: it’s a win-win situation. We still remember what it feels like to be 22. Now it is much easier, so there are more people making good music. When we started we needed a shitload of money.

SS: When I bought a [Roland TR-] 909 [drum machine], it was DM2000. And when you earn maybe DM400 a month it puts it into perspective. We still have it – it’s a piece of history.

GB: I had to work the whole summer to buy just one turntable. We were really influenced by Chicago house and British music and it was never enough for us to just make records; we always wanted to play live.

SS: In the beginning Modeselektor was a live experience. We took stuff from the studio and had a party every week, a jam session.

GB: That’s pretty much the same as it is now just on another level.

Which level is that?

GB: I don’t know. It depends on the point of view. We are working on a new record with Apparat for this new Moderat project, and it’s such an important challenge for us because even though we have played so many concerts in our lives, we are still thirsty, we are still not happy. We don’t arrive at the destination, the holiday, until the ends of our lives, so it’s not over.

But there must be more genres to explore.

GB: Sebastian is quite into Arab music; he just went on holiday to Morocco.

SS: I would like to convert smell into sound because when you are walking the little streets in the city of Marrakech, every five minutes everything is changing: spices, then shit, then pee, petrol and people. That would be a big step.

We are Modeselektor is out May 3 on Monkeytown Records.

Originally published in issue #116, May 2013.