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  • The Mad Genius of Modeselektor

    Fri, 14 Sep 2007 16:35:30

    The Mad Genius of Modeselektor - A look at the electronic duo who are collaborating with Thom Yorke, Maximo Park and TTC on their eclectic and awesome new record, <i>Happy Birthday!</i>

    Berlin-based electronic duo Modeselektor caused a stir in 2005 with their debut, Hello Mom!, and built on the buzz earlier this year with the release of their rambunctious Boogy Bytes club mix (hyped in this very publication). Now returning with their second studio album, Happy Birthday!, Modeselektor continue to carve out a niche for themselves as precocious shape-changers.

    Their twitchy, genre-hopping sound feels just as at home on a solitary pair of headphones as it does on the dance floor. From dub to ambient to underground hip-hop, they bite off a little bit of everything—and deliver one of the year's best electronic albums in the process.

    "We always did what we wanted to do," the duo says (they choose to answer collectively). "Like the saying 'Only dead fish swim with the stream.'"

    This streak of rebelliousness and self-reliance is more than a talking point; Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary began making music together under heady historical circumstances. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city began a slow and ongoing rebirth; artists in essentially every medium began swooping in and taking advantage of low rent and a unique cultural landscape.

    "After the Wall came down, everywhere in Germany and especially East Germany there was a lot of chaos, anarchy," says Modeselektor. "Nobody, especially the authorities, knew what to do. So they didn't interfere when someone put up a pair of speakers in an abandoned building, put in a fog machine and strobe light and threw a party. Due to those illegal rave parties in the '90s we found our way to Techno. Throwing parties and buying records went together back then. At the time, Techno was something incomputable. You didn't have the chance to know about new releases through the music press or the internet. It was all through mouth to mouth propaganda and copied flyers."

    "You were kind of an outlaw," they continue. "You wanted to be different, to have your own style. Sometimes you had the feeling that you could build your own society. Everywhere was a feeling of breakup and a feeling of depression at the same time. Mixed feelings, insecurity and big hopes everywhere."

    Modeselektor eventually attracted the attention of Bpitch Control founder Ellen Allien—no surprise, given Allien's reputation as a curator of all things cool in Berlin, not to mention one of the city's biggest musical cheerleaders. After Bpitch Control released Hello Mom!, Bronsert and Szary began having some cheerleaders of their own, including Radiohead's Thom Yorke, whose ambient guest vocal on the new album's "The White Flash" recalls the direction of his own solo album, The Eraser.

    Other guests on the album include French hip-hoppers TTC, Berlin electro-rappers Puppetmastaz, British rockers Maximo Park and singer Paul St. Hillaire. But Modeselektor insist that they didn't have any grand designs for the album, or even guests in mind for individual songs. Instead, they drew inspiration from their new roles as fathers and also from their contribution earlier this year to the Boogy Bytes mix series (theirs was Vol. 3). Assembling a mix CD can be a lark, but Bronsert and Szary took the process seriously, eager to be off the road and embracing music other than their own.

    "The Boogy Bytes mix was very important to us," they explain. "After playing more than 120 lives shows last year, we felt tired and uninspired. We hardly ever were home and didn't have much time to buy records. So mixing the Boogy Bytes gave us new energy and inspiration—like a training for our album."

    Freshly recharged, Modeselektor will be bringing their eclectic Happy Birthday! party to clubgoers around the globe for the rest of 2007, including a very brief flyover to the States for four October dates on the West Coast.

    —Adam McKibbin

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