Modeselektor—Sebastian Szary (left) and Gernot Bronsert.
Photo: Ben De Biel
Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary sit in the back of a tour bus, smelling of stale smoke and fresh sweat. The Berlin-born-and-bred duo, best known as Modeselektor, has just completed a mid-afternoon performance on Summer 2011''s IDentity Festival, making a sweltering Northern Virginia crowd go ape to cocky, engorged bass.
The showcase—full of digital irreverence and analog flippancy—does justice to Monkeytown, the group''s upcoming third full-length and the name of the record label/booking agency Modeselektor has formed for its release. Passing laptops, a bag of commandeered cables, a sack of Marlboros, and a bunch of bananas back and forth, the two decompress in their mobile lounge and explain what it takes to be “maybe the undeepest act from Berlin, but probably the most deep act on this festival,” says Bronsert.
Rave-enriched Modeselektor doesn''t represent profoundly emotional, analytically-minded composition, but still follows in a Berlin tradition of low-end-obsessed outlaw sound scientists while exploring a more tweaked, cheeky reality. This gig, which delves deeper into undulating frequencies and fluctuating tempos than the rest of the electro-prog-house tour''s big room bliss aesthetic, is what Bronsert declares a DJ set rather than a live performance.
Onstage, a laptop runs Native Instruments'' Traktor Pro 2 through a Kontrol S4, a Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer synced to Traktor''s clock, a Korg Monotron, and some distortion pedals—“just what fits in two bags,” says Szary. In a way, these selections embody some aspect of everything that makes Modeselektor''s Monkeytown, which was compiled in a relatively condensed 10 weeks.
The duo uses several software products, but has a very close relationship with fellow Berliners Native Instruments; Bronsert recounts how several new tracks were sketched in transit with Reaktor, Massive, FM8, and especially the additive synthesizer Razor. (The track “Evil Twin” is a prime example.) They also lament leaving Germany prior to the public unveiling of Native Instruments'' scaled-down, bus-powered Traktor Kontrol S2 2.1-channel system and Maschine Mikro compact clip trigger controller, as they covet the portability of components whose full-sized siblings are integral to studio sequencing and impulse-driven performing.
Physical hardware, meanwhile, has played a renewed role in Monkeytown. Prior to the album, Modeselektor took possession of a former film sync studio previously maintained by minimal techno composer/DJ Daniel Bell. “It''s the first good space we''ve had; the other ones were like band rehearsal studios, very smelly and dirty,” says Bronsert. With the help of acousticians and Helmholz resonators, Modeselektor cleared a frequency hole and centered the space around Logic Pro, the RME Fireface 800 interface, API lunchbox preamps, and an Allen&Heath WZ 16:2 DX mixing board.
Most importantly, Modeselektor became re-acquainted with 20 boxes of accumulated MIDI gear, such as the Clavia Nord Lead 1, the Korg MS-10 (to reinforce sub-bass pressure, creatively detuned on “Blue Clouds”), a rare, original Electro-Harmonix vocoder (on “Green Light Go”), as well as one of every Roland drum machine. (“Except one, the 727 conga station,” reflects Szary.) Additional synths and outboard gear from Boss, Casio, Hofner, Doepfer, Moog, Alesis, dbx, and Yamaha pepper the album. Four different monitor setups—Genelec 1038A, Genelec 8040A, Genelec 8020A, and Mackie HR824—plus four headphone types assure all the blinking LEDs add up to pitch-bent sound design that never loses track of the club''s arterial insistency.