Band of the Day

2012.08.17

Modeselektor

Berlin electronic innovators resist labels, injecting life into everything from glitch to hip hop
Death dances, comes to you, just watchya going to do?
lyrics from Shipwreck

Berlin-based producers Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary are the techno wizards behind Modeselektor. The German duo were formerly known as Fundamental Knowledge from 1992 until 1996, when they changed their name. Modeselektor has long been a favorite of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who has collaborated on two tracks from their latest album, 2011’s Monkeytown, released on their label of the same name. The duo has long been crossing the boundaries of genres from IDM and electro house to techno and hip hop. All of Modeselektor’s genre crossing has led to a high profile list of collaborators including Maximo Park, Siriusmo and Apparat. They’ve had two releases with Apparat under the moniker Moderat, 2009’s self-titled, full-length album and the 2003 EP Auf Kosten Der Gesundheit. In March 2012, Modeselektor mentioned on their Facebook page a sophomore album for Moderat would be underway after both artists ended their 2011 album tours.

Modeselektor's latest album Monkeytown is wondrously eclectic. But upon hearing certain tracks your first thoughts might be, “this sounds a lot like Radiohead's last couple of albums and Thom Yorke's solo album, Eraser. You might assume they're copying the world's greatest currently active bands. Well, it may be the other way around. In an interview with the magazine Clash, Modeselektor's Gernot Bronsert said “Thom told us that we explained to him without words what electronic music can do.” Of course, Los Angeles' Flying Lotus-led beat scene has had a huge influence on Yorke, too … but that's still high praise to say the least.

The German duo are veterans of electronic music, having first risen in Berlin in acid house's heyday of the early '90s. Since then, their music has spiraled off into a plethora of fertile directions. As Yorke noted, the group really does expand what your concept of electronic music can be, combining styles as diverse as hip hop, ambient, techno and house into a glitchy, pulsating beast of a sound. For all the frontier smashing adventurism, their sound is surprisingly clean, giving each sound plenty of space and putting accessible hooks front and center, even if they're in places you wouldn't normally think to look.

“Blue Clouds,” the opening track off of Monkeytown is funky pastoral space pop. Modeselektor begin with a fuzzy, buzzing cloud of a synth, and power it with drums that feel very much organic and alive, a great middle ground between, house, hip hop, and funk drums. “Shipwreck” features vocals by Thom Yorke, and the track would fit right in on Radiohead’s latest album The King of Limbs with its eerie synths and quick percussion, sounding like a slightly sped up version of Phil Selway's (Radiohead's drummer) classic tight, rollicking sound. Breaking from his day job, Yorke lets loose, busting into some breathy falsetto that feels more carefree than his usual apocalypse-foretelling flair as the drums feel like they could blast off into the ether at any moment. Elsewhere, Modeselektor dabbles in rhythms that are more grounded in hip hop and glitch (“Berlin feat. Miss Platnum”), as well as the happily intergalactic hip hop of "Pretentious Friends feat. Busdriver" and more melodically pretty, grandiose sounds (“Green Light Go”).

Modeselektor are certainly innovators with a fresh sound, but more importantly, they've got soul, injecting everything from glitchy drum breaks to hovering synths with life.