How the German three-piece found themselves once more…

To echo an old joke from Withnail & IModerat kind of became a band… by mistake. Three musicians embroiled with Germany’s labyrinthine club scene, Apparat (Sascha Ring) and Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert, Sebastian Szary) first starting making music together purely for fun, allowing their limitless studio sessions to billow out into all manner of ideas. Fast forward a decade – and three acclaimed albums – and the trio were touring the world, their schedule slowly grinding them down. So, they stopped.

“It was never out plan to go on tour with a truck, a bus, and plane,” laughs Gernot over Zoom from their studio. “We would arrive at festivals with this huge production. Becoming a band was… never the plan. We are all DJs, in the end. It got out of a control a little bit”.

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Pressing pause, the group parted company. Enjoying the time apart, each indulged themselves in outside projects, before – eventually, inevitably – the allure of Moderat became too much. Six years, two American Presidents, one Brexit vote, and one pandemic later, the group have just released their outstanding fourth album ‘MORE D4TA’ to huge acclaim, but they seem pleasingly non-plussed and deadpan about fan rapture. “We never really said we’re gonna stop making music, we just needed a break,” explains Sascha Ring. “The pandemic happening at the same time was a coincidence, but it kind of gave us even more time to work on music. So, in a cynical way, the timing was actually quite good!”

After months of discussions and plans, Moderat were finally able to hole down in a Berlin studio. Outside, the world grappled with COVID, and the restrictions placed on our daily lives; inside, three electronic boffins were ready to let magic happen. “Strangely,” observes Sebastian, “it wasn’t so different compared to the production of the other records… just because when we go to the studio, we try to be in a bubble anyway. It’s always lockdown for us when we get together, so it wasn’t that different a situation.”

‘MORE D4TA’ is a remarkably unified experience, one driven by a singular purpose – yet, as Moderat explain, they aren’t musicians who work towards some grand plan. Embracing studio chaos, for them the process itself – for all its wayward necromancy – is the method. “We are not the sort of people that have big concepts and follow them,” nods Sascha. “We do come up with concepts, but once we start working, our goal usually goes in a totally different direction… because we kind of work from the gut.”

Gernot laughs, and adds: “It’s always the same story – we have big concepts and big ideas, and it never happens. The only concept is that we hang around together.”

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Musicians who relish operating in a state of flux, Moderat made a number of key changes that were to have a profound impact on the album. “Before we used Logic, now we use Ableton Live,” says Sebastian. “That instantly changes your workflow, because you don’t have some technical things you’re using all the time. You don’t have them anymore. And then sometimes we also don’t allow ourselves to use certain things anymore because they’re overused. There’s this box of cheap tricks we have, we tend to look in there when we’re stuck!”

Curiously, one influence Moderat did cite doesn’t come from the club sphere – they became enraptured by the recent work of American slowcore band Low. For Sascha Ring, it was the idea of operating within an identity, while moving forwards. “We got impressed by how a band, which has existed for so long, can change their style and the whole attitude of music without losing its identity… and that impressed all three of us.”

While it would be churlish to label ‘MORE D4TA’ a ‘pandemic album’, it’s also framed by its circumstance. Sebastian comments: “When we started talking again about recording new music, Trump was still the president of United States. And when we started working, the pandemic started. And when we finished the record, Putin was sending tanks. It’s so crazy.”

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As vocalist and lyricist, much of the emotional focus of the album falls on Sascha Ring. “We didn’t get influenced by specific parts of all these crises,” he comments. “But the whole energy – which is still in the air – is of course influencing your mental health, and also your sensitivity. When you are an artist, you just need one good moment for inspiration. And inspiration for me is nothing else but channelling ideas and trying to turn them into music. And this time, it was crazy. But our studio was like an escape room from all the weird stuff, which was going on around us.”

Continuing, he cites a lockdown influence in Renaissance painting and trips to local museums with his young family as a real boost to his creativity. “During the pandemic, we were quite bored and we started going to museums,” he recalls. “We just looked at old Renaissance paintings for hours. We were exploring the details, the symbolism in it. They are really deep, most of them and also very graphic. It’s kind of a bit of a comic – a poor man’s comic – back then, for people who couldn’t even read.”

“A lot of songs are about topics we found in these pictures, but they can also be applied to current times. That was also a little bit of a healing process – going to galleries and looking at very, very old pictures. Realising that these people had to deal with very similar problems back then. There’s always been a diseases but also love and all these big topics that repeat through history.”

With the world opening up, Moderat are preparing to get back to their natural context – the club environment. Touring plans are swinging into gear, and the trio can’t wait to let the songs on ‘MORE D4TA’ breath a little. “I mean, we started as a live project,” Gernot points out. “We started as some guys having fun just to jam live sessions. And actually, the debut album just sort of… happened!”

“It’s a reward,” Sascha points out. “Being in the studio, sometimes it’s really exhausting. And there’s a lot of tension – in a positive way, but it’s exhausting and makes you feel so squeezed out after a while. Sometimes it takes months to finish a song. And you have to suffer all the time. So it’s a suffering process.”

“But then you go on tour,” says Sebastian, “and all of that is just released. It’s like a gift!”

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‘MORE D4TA’ is out now. For full Moderat live dates visit their website.

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