Interview: Modeselektor (Germany)

Originally published on Fat Planet.

with a guest list that includes ttc, maximo park, paul st hillaire and mr thom yorke, expectations were going to be sky-high for modeselektor‘s new album ‘happy birthday’. for the last two weeks, it’s been on high rotation on the fat planet stereo and i’m relieved to say that, much like m.i.a.‘s killer ‘kala’, the hype is more than justified. this sophomore release retains all of the punch, kick and bass we’ve come to love from the berlin duo, but with a remarkable upswing of confidence and energy that headbutts us from the first beat of ‘godspeed’ right through to the album’s conclusion. and thus, in the space of just two albums, modeselektor have rewarded our faith and pole-vaulted a legion of wannabes to join the major leagues of electronic music.

this week, the response to fat planet’s email interview with modeselektor’s sebastian szary landed in our in-box. contrary to any notion that building such a heavy guest roster was all pre-ordained in a blue electro sky, szary points out that the net result was simply another instance when the gods of chance dealt a damn good hand. “we didn’t really have a direction when we started”, he says, “but we had a feeling for what we wanted to do. we just listened to our guts, and then ‘happy birthday’ somehow became the continuation of ‘hello mum!’. only two songs existed as live tracks, the others evolved in the studio. many ideas had been ripe for a long time, whereas some emerged spontaneously.”.

‘happy birthday’ hits stores next month and yet the sleeve ink is barely dry on their previous release, the recent ‘boogy bytes vol.3’ mix cd. featuring an impressive roster of heavyweights such as spank rock, skream, burial, mr.oizo, james holden and ttc, the compilation was the perfect precursor to the ‘selektor heading back into the studio. “we really needed this mix cd”, reckons szary, “at the end of the last year, we were pretty tired from all the touring and needed some weeks off! during that time we decided to make the mix cd. it’s very comforting to listen to music other than ones own, we almost lost the ability to listen to music. if you’re playing 120 gigs a year, you don’t have the opportunity to sit at home and put on a record so often. and we don’t like ipods so much.”

the mix closed with the now seminal radiohead track ‘idioteque’, a sly tip of the hat to thom yorke’s guest appearance on ‘happy birthday’. yorke has repeatedly worn his modeselektor fan hat in public, the recent ‘eraser’ b-side ‘iluvya’ playing out as something of a tribute to the berlin duo. and it’s quite a trip for szary. “looking at our new cover now and reading his name on the track list feels quite unreal.” and as for thom in person? “he’s a congenial musician and the singer of a pretty congenial band…” and that’s as far as he’ll go for now.

the album was recorded in berlin and released through ellen allien‘s b-pitch control label, home to the likes of paul kalkbrenner, sacscha funke, feadz and many exquisite electronic releases from allien herself. “ellen’s very spontaneous, ambitious, headstrong and sometimes inconsiderate! that’s what we love about her! she never gave us any instructions and always gave us free hands… but actually, quite often she didn’t have much of a choice.”

but with so much being written about berlin, and so many absurd claims being made about its status as the home of european electronic music, we’re led to wonder what like must be like for modeselektor, living inside the giant hype bubble? “light and shade lie very close together” according to szary, “but to name a single city as a center for electronic music is quite dubious. berlin is like a collecting pond for artists from all over the world. it has the charm of an classy old lady who’s had one drink too many! we can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

the naming of ‘happy birthday’ is designed to celebrate the fact that both szary and his comrade, gernot bronsert, are about to become fathers for the first time (“i’m looking forward to welcoming the little new modeselektors!”). but if we imagine that modeselektor are going to mellow out and settle down, we can slap that thought down straight away – 2008 will see modeslektor back on tour and (for local readers) returning once again to australian shores: “we’re looking forward to this – we love australia! i think next year we’ll come over there for some rooburgers!”.

more: modeselektor.com