The German duo drop a vinyl mix and talk to Dazed about working with Flohio and Tommy Cash on their new album, Who Else
Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary first started making music as Modeselektor in Berlin in the early 1990s, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and started throwing underground techno parties as a means of escaping the political upheaval around them. Over two decades later and there’s a new kind of political turmoil facing the world, and Modeselektor find themselves once again responding to the circumstances around them with their latest album, Who Else. Instead of using music as a form of retreat, the album sees the duo directly confront the current moment, one in which “people are waking up” to the injustice around them, as Bronsert tells me over the phone. Who Else is a short and direct recird, pulsing with a sense of speed and urgency.
It’s been eight years since Modeselektor’s last album, Monkeytown. Some of their time away was spent making music and touring live as Moderat, their more pop-leaning side project with Sascha Ring, aka Apparat. Bronsert admits that they fell out of touch with the underground club scene during this time. “We got trapped in a bubble,” he says. “Touring like a real band with a tour bus, we came to venues or festivals, played our shows and left.” When this project took a break in 2017, the duo decided to instead tour as DJs for a year-and-a-half, playing everywhere from Tulum to London to Tbilisi to Berlin. Coming from from the live scene, Gernot Bronsert says that they “learned a lot about what’s going on again”.
Ahead of the release of Who Else, Modeselektor put together our latest Dazed Mix. We also caught up with the duo’s Gernot Bronsert (Szary, while present, was “too polite to interrupt”) to talk about the politics behind their latest album, mental health in the industry, and whether or not their kids like techno.
Tell me about the inspiration behind your new album?
Gernot Bronsert: When we started making music as Modeselektor, it was after the reunification of Germany. We became artists during the biggest political change in Europe since World War II. We were only 18 or 20 years old, and we just wanted to get away from all this complicated political stuff and started throwing our own parties to build an island, to escape.
Now we have this right wing thing going on and populism all over the world. We are both 40 years old now, and we are reflecting on things maybe a little bit more than we did when we were 20. All these questions made us realise that we lived in a bubble. When you live in Berlin and you do this techno thing your whole life, you think all this ‘political correctness’ is part of society, but it’s not. It’s part of the scene, but it’s not part of society. We really woke up, but we woke up the hard way. So that was the main influence on the process.
I do think you can feel that political energy in the album. Clubs have become a lot more political, too.
Gernot Bronsert: I think club culture became political again – these things happened with Ten Walls and Giegling and all these people who had this poisonous male energy. Bringing club culture and political stuff together is a complicated thing. The electronic world and club culture is a place where we’re (supposed to be) all equal, you know? We shouldn’t even (have to) think about stuff like this, because it shouldn’t be a problem at all, but it is.
The last few years weren’t too political at all, so this is a kind of waking up period. That’s why the album is how it is. It’s short, it has eight tracks, it’s 34 minutes long. We tried to make no bullshit, no interludes, no filler tracks. We got rid of all the unnecessary stuff.
Gernot Bronsert: I found Flohio through a friend in London. I called her to ask if she had any MCs she sees working with us, and she said “You really have to check out Flohio.” I was really impressed and asked her if she wanted to work with us. She came to Berlin two days later. She’s super inspired and a nice person, very talented.
Tommy Cash is, I think, the prototype for this Eastern Europe fashion hype. I just found him on Instagram and asked myself, “What’s this guy wearing Vetements clothes, eating kebabs, and making Chris Cunningham-style video clips?” I just contacted him and he responded directly and came to Berlin.
Both artists inspired us because they are both self-made. They do everything themselves. They don’t have big management and they do the music because they love it. They make art, not for an industry, they do it for themselves.
My favourite track on the album is “WMF Love Song”. Is it really a love song? How do you pick the titles in general?
Gernot Bronsert: WMF was a club in Berlin which closed down. It was kind of like the Plastic People of Berlin. This is where we grew up. This is kind of a love song to this place, because this type of music was pretty big there, or the vibe of the music. “One United Power” (another Who Else track) is more romantic. When techno started in the 90s, it was all about one unity, love, peace, ecstasy – I think we need that back a little bit. “Fentanyl” is the stuff Michael Jackson died from, and Prince too. It’s really strong morphine, the strongest ever. (With) the titles, we don’t have a concept – they just appear, and then we like it or they make sense.
There’s been a lot of talk about mental health and self-care in the industry recently. I was wondering how do you balance your family life with touring?
Gernot Bronsert: You need a good partner, and one who understands what you do, but you also have to switch realities all the time. When you have a weekend and you play three shows – one in Istanbul, one in London, and one in Amsterdam – you are in clubs, you meet so many people in one weekend, everyone is pumped all the time, it’s a different reality. Then you come home, and you have to do normal things. We were always really into having a family, so we like being at home and being a dad or husband and a friend.
I think the main thing is that you don’t do drugs too much. If we did, we couldn’t handle it, because we couldn’t switch from one reality to the other. If you’re a professional musician or DJ, and you have a drug or alcohol problem, you are pretty much fucked.
A lot of people are informed by their parent’s music tastes. Do your kids like techno?
Gernot Bronsert: My kids use streaming services. This is the only media we allow them – no YouTube, no Netflix – so they have started to form their own music tastes. Charlie’s daughter really likes Madonna, which is fun, because Charlie has nothing to do with Madonna. And my eldest son turned into a metalhead. I have no metal records at home, I am not metal at all, so for us, it’s really nice to see how they choose their own music. It’s totally the opposite of that what we’re doing.
“We are both 40 years old now, and we are reflecting on things maybe a little bit more than we did when we were 20... (we realised) that we lived in a bubble” – Gernot Bronsert, Modeselektor
At least they seem like they’ve got their own distinctive taste.
Gernot Bronsert: Music is a part of our lives, and they are well educated in good music taste, I hope. They know all the basics. I have a little one, he is six years old, and he knows almost all of the important songs from Prince and Queen. I think it’s important for their education, to form (as) a human being.
Is there any advice you’ve gotten over the years that has stood out?
Gernot Bronsert: We never gave up – when we start something we try to finish it, even if it’s just for us. And sleep is important!
During your DJ tour, did you feel that the crowds had changed, or that there was anything different about the clubbing scene?
Gernot Bronsert: Yeah, it pretty much changed in the last, I would say, two years. There’s always a generational change, and that starts in the underground. Last year, the kids really liked fast techno – fast, hard techno. It's what we used to call schranz. And all these kids, basically millennials, who are listening to this stuff, they will get tired of it next summer, or maybe this summer, and then a new thing starts. It’s very exciting.
You’re a magazine from the UK – it’s crazy how big the influence of electronic music from the UK still is. There’s no other place in the world (like it), they have such a huge amount of creative musical output. I don’t know why. It’s so varied in genre, it’s crazy.
Are there any tracks you’ve heard recently that blew you away, or anything or anyone you would recommend our readers listen to?
Gernot Bronsert: There’s this singer from Austria called Falco. He’s from the 80s. I think he died a few years ago, but he was a superstar. He had a German-speaking number one hit worldwide. This guy is such a strange character and the song I really like is called “Der Kommissar”, it’s so weird. Check it out.
Any UK artists you like in particular?
What’s in your mix?
Gernot Bronsert: It’s an interesting story. We spent our vacation together, Charlie and I, with our families in California this winter. We made a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and during this trip, our car got robbed. They stole all our stuff, including our whole DJ set. So all our digital files are gone.
That sounds like a disaster.
Gernot Bronsert: That’s what I thought first, but now I really like the fact that we have to start from zero. We decided that if we DJ in 2019, we will play records only. So the mix will be a vinyl mix and we will choose the records spontaneously at home. A mix of old and new stuff, vinyl only and no effects.
01. Text Chunk, “Roulette”
02. Topdown Dialectic, “05”
03. Hoover, “Hoover1”
04. User, “Untitled B2”
05. Culture Clash, “Sultan Groove”
06. P-Jam, “A1 Untitled”
07. Bambounou, “Temple”
08. Peder Mannerfelt, “Un Air”
09. The Maghreban, “4 Finagling”
10. Equiknoxx, “Congo Get Slap Like A Congo Get Slap”
11. J. Tijn, “Water Walker”
12. Efdemin, “Ohara”
13. Modeselektor, “Who” (feat. Tommy Cash)
14. Skee Mask, “800AB”
15. Modeselektor, “Prügelknabe”
16. Lokey, “Believe Me”
Modeselektor’s new album Who Else is out February 22