Barefoot, chain-smoking, and alternately sousing the crowd with champagne and water, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary brought one of the few acts of Identity Festival that didn’t fall back on house variants or dubstep. Their set was compulsively danceable and collected a crowd accordingly—people who wanted to do more than lean, thrash, or bounce. My friend and I danced until the day’s heat and our own windedness stopped us—then we danced more anyway.
Later, in their trailer, we found them to be good-humored and affable, willing to talk about their current American tour, the evolution & devolution of musical trends, and fifteen years of Modeselektor.
How’s the US been treating you?
Gernot: Cool, everything’s nice, it’s very nice weather out here in contrast to Berlin. At the moment Berlin has very rainy cold weather.
Szary: Here it’s real summer.
Gernot: It’s very hot out here. We don’t get out much, you know? . . . Come out of the bus, get up at ten in the morning, breakfast, internet, sound check, lunch, show, and back into the bus and back on the road. That’s the tour.
And you guys’ve been touring a lot?
Gernot: Always. At this time we just choose a town or place we haven’t gone yet, and we tour there.
Szary: It’s an adventure, touring.
So what differences have you noticed in the European electronic scene versus the American?
Gernot: They’re different planets. Absolutely. Here what’s very fashionable is the peak time DJ, like a little kid with a computer tweaking the shit out of the speakers, really peak-timish and non-stop. And I actually like that, but not the whole day. And here, this festival is based on those DJs—non-stop Aaaaagh. And yeah, we like that too, but I think it’s really fun to get more people in it, and push people out into the music and get into a trip. I think it’s important to have a mind trip, and I think this is not the focus here. I don’t want to put the full electronic scene on this lineup, there’s a lot of good music coming from the US—it’s huge here, really huge. Too huge. But we’re very European. The place I was born (Berlin) was more than a thousand years old, you know? The history here is very small, only two hundred fifty years or so. And yeah, I think the US has more than one music scene, that it’s like different camps, that you can’t take the US music scene as a whole.
Szary: It’s interesting to see American youth, the kids, looking to European things and they grab it and they convert it to American things.
Gernot: Such as dubstep. It’s huge here, but this is not dubstep. The meaning of dubstep totally got transferred. And we’ve been touring since, ever, more than ten years, and we’re always surprised how quick things changed this year. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just weird sometimes. When we played here six years ago it was totally different. We won the 2007 Beatport dubstep awards and now . . . dubstep totally changed, and the word’s meaningless. It’s purely American now, purely stoner rock, where people mix it with Korn and shit. It’s like a rock tempo, at 140, 150bpm, and it doesn’t change much in the end. (laughs) We are . . . scientists, music scientists.
Szary: I don’t know where it’s going in three months.
Gernot: It’s different. The music industry, and making money with music, or making music, creating something new in dance music—I think that’s the main difference between Europe and America. Here the industry has more than their hands on the whole thing, you know? Here, with a little bit of money you can do anything. In Europe you can change things with nothing.
Do you feel there’s a difference between America and Europe when it comes to music pirating versus buying?
Gernot: I think pirating is international but I think physical music spending in Europe is bigger, especially where we’re from and the UK. I wouldn’t say Eastern Europe or half of Europe, like Spain or Portugal, the rich countries like Germany There’s a physical record selling industry, very independent—sometimes you can sell more as an independent artist than a mainstream artist. It’s very easy to get into charts when you’re a mainstream artist; you don’t have to sell 250,000 singles to be in the top ten anymore. It’s like, twenty thousand?
Szary: Fifteen, for gold in Germany.
Gernot: And sometimes independent guys like us will sell more, but we’re not in the system of the mainstream base so we won’t show up in the charts. I think the independent market in Europe is much bigger; I think here we sell . . . I don’t know. In France we sell ten times more than here, but we tour here at the same type of shows. It’s weird. It’s too big here. (pause) Yeah, the generation here doesn’t have the feeling—they rip mp3s but they don’t have the feeling . . . So sometimes we have kids coming up to us, saying, “We just downloaded your new record that’s supposed to come out in two weeks and it’s great!”
Szary: You look shocked.
I’m not shocked. I’ve worked retail for too long—people are fucking awful.
I kind of want to get you more into the evolution and/or rebirth of dubstep . . .
Gernot: I wouldn’t call it rebirth. More a death. That’s my opinion. But the death of dubstep . . . Dubstep started dying already, two years ago. And all the big dubstep guys from the UK, the guys who invented it, they don’t do it anymore. They went to different paths.
Have most of them gone the same direction?
Gernot: We are not big fans of musicians who just jump on the train, follow something because that’s what’ll make money. I think it’s more about inspiration, to make art, and not . . . to be accepted. I think genres are very unimportant. We don’t care about genres. We never had a genre, you know, never had a—
Szary: We’re music. We’re Modeselektor.
So how about the name?
Szary: It’s a very boring story.
Gernot: And it’s top secret.
Szary: Boring and top secret.
Gernot: But it’s a nice name. I like it. I like it more and more, actually.
Szary: Especially with the K.
And as for artistic direction: What are you guys up to now?
Gernot: We just finished a record, called Monkeytown. We feature a few artists on it from the US: these guys from LA called Busdriver, a crew from NY called Anti Pop Consortium. We’ve got Otto von Schirach, two songs from Thom Yorke . . . It comes out October 4th in the US.
And for the very most important question of all: In the event of the zombie apocalypse, what is your plan?
Gernot: I always wanted to kill a lot of zombies. I would just buy the biggest gun I could get and just shoot, twenty-four hours a day. One thing I really want to do—
Szary: I know where.
Szary: Morgantown, West Virginia.
Gernot: No, I think—That’s a ghost town, man. No zombies. I just want guns and bombs and everything. (points to Szary) He’s my assistant, he’d be scouting, handing me the guns . . . Loading up the cannons . . .
Szary: I’d be driving the hummer . . . Or driving the golf caddy.
Gernot: I’d be dead after two days.