Insights into a mode of working

Sebastian Szary of electronic duo Modeselektor reveals why they can’t stop returning to Denmark

Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert got together in the early 1990s when their home country Germany had just been shaken by the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The duo found gigs playing a fusion of acid house, techno and hip-hop to hordes of anarchic Berliners in a now-united city.

Since then, they have gone on to produce music alongside the likes of Ellen Allien, the city’s ‘first lady of electronic music’, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who is a fan of their eclectic electronic sound.

The Copenhagen Post caught up with Modeselektor’s Sebastien Szary for a short interview before their massive show at Store Vega a few weeks ago. The topics on the table included Copenhagen, Modeselektor’s musical inspirations and working with Thom Yorke.

CPH Post: So, Szary – is this your first time in Copenhagen?

Szary: Well, Gernot is the one who is really good at counting the years. I think we [first played here] in 2005, and we’ve been back every year since then. This is the eighth or tenth time. We’ve played in Aarhus and Copenhagen and even on Bornholm in the pre-Modeselektor era.

What was it like at Roskilde?

Roskilde was amazing. It’s a really nice festival. We’ve played there twice – last year and two years ago with Moderat, the side-project we have together with [German electronic musician] Apparat. You can feel that it’s a festival with a lot of history.

What was it like playing back in the early ‘90s after the Wall came down in Berlin? 

The situation after the Wall came down was comparable to the Wild West. The Wall coming down was like a revolution – all the different influences, like communism from the East and capitalism, consumption and so on from the West, all came together. It was a very exciting time musically as well. A lot of different styles from all the radios and from different sectors came together.

What’s on your iPod right now? What are you inspired by?

Right now I’m listening to the new My Bloody Valentine album quite a bit. Modeselektor are quite diverse; we came from ‘80s hip-hop, then went straight to acid house, back to hip-hop à la Public Enemy and then into techno, Sonic Youth rock – you name it. There are lots of undiscovered sound samples and non-Western orientated styles of music from the ‘20s and ‘40s that inspire us when we compose, [which] is more like jamming. It helps if you have a knowledge of music, and I have to admit that Gernot and I don’t have proper musical knowledge. I don’t play the piano, for instance, so the way we use our instruments is more intuitive than anything else.

Now a question about Thom Yorke.

Ah, Thom Yorke. ‘The T Question’ – it comes up often.

What is it like to work with him? You guys are quite close, right?

Yeah, we’ve been friends for about ten years. The partnership started with remixes, initially, and then we teamed up with Radiohead, and it’s going pretty well. It’s about more than just music; we are good friends with Thom. He’s a nice guy.

What’s your favourite city to perform in?

There are quite a few, actually. We like cities that aren’t in the focus that much. Glasgow can be pretty fun, even in the rain, and I like the people there. It’s a bit rough and similar to the rough feel of East Germany. San Francisco and New York are fun, too, as is Guadalajara, Mexico.

So – what’s next for Modeselektor? What are you working on at the moment? 

Right now, we’re working on the next Moderat album with Apparat. It should be out in August. It’s time to continue our partnership with Apparat, so that’s taking up almost all of our time. Apart from that, we have our own private lives to keep us occupied!

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