Everything came together for Moderat in 2016. The project consisting of Modeslektor‘s Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert and Apparat‘s Sasha Ring released its third and best studio LP, III, in April of this year. On that record, a coalescence takes place that has been building up since Moderat’s 2009 debut I.
Both I and to a slightly lesser extent II (2013) suffer from the same flaw: one can all too easily pinpoint where the influence of either Modeselektor or Apparat won out. Modeselektor, known best for its love of supremely danceable beats and flowing champagne showers, is at its best a perfect match for Apparat, a decidedly more ambient project. Singles like II‘s superlative “Bad Kingdom” brings Szary, Bronsert, and Ring together in perfect unison: the latter’s vocals soar atop the fuzzy bass synth laid down by the former. In other cases, the club igniting technique of Modeselektor takes the forefront (“No. 22” on I), pushing the often gorgeous melancholy of Apparat (see “Damage Done” on II) out of the pulsating limelight. Many of the tracks on the first two Moderat LPs stand on their own, but the albums don’t quite cohere into a full, dynamic collaboration. Moments of creative fusion would then give way to a passing of the baton.
III changes that, solidifying a clear back-and-forth between Modeselektor and Apparat, with each track melding together both projects’ aesthetics into a sensuous, nocturnal whole. The stunning opening track “Eating Hooks” features an insistent beat that one might find on a Modeselektor record, atop which Ring ponders, “Why must I hide / In the forest of my mind?” When the track blossoms into a crescendo awash with glittery synths and a stratospheric vocal performance by Ring, the beauty of the Moderat collaboration is realized in full force. The Monkeytown artist page for Moderat says this of the project, “Perhaps the secret of Modeselektor’s and Apparat’s collaboration lies in the fact that they never even tried to get close to one another. Modeselektor’s thundering bass rumbles in the cellar, Apparat’s delicate and subtle melodies float high in the eaves.” This interpretation fails to hold true on III: Modeselektor’s bass is an ever-important foundation for Moderat’s music, but now it hits the same highs of Apparat’s melodies. Three is finally company for Moderat.
It’s appropriate, then, that the trio closes out 2016 with a live release to commemorate their career peak. The sleeve art for Live, recorded in a sold-out hometown show in Berlin in June of this year, features a layered representation of the figures on the covers of I, II, and III, a clear flagging of the synthesis achieved on III. Moderat has long been touted as one of electronic music’s must-see acts; in 2009, the year I dropped, the trio was voted the best live act in the world by the readers of Resident Advisor. Of course, Szary, Bronsert, and Ring already had plenty of performance experience by the time they took to stages around the globe as Moderat, but it is remarkable that they accrued a reputation for top-notch live performance so early on in their existence as a trio.
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As a CD and digital-only release, Live cuts out a crucial part of the Moderat live experience: the visuals. The light show and films that feature in Moderat’s concerts are essential, enough that a live DVD/Blu-ray package would have been well worth the expense in an alternate world, one where live DVDs actually make money for artists. Nevertheless, Live may not be the full experience, but it is a full experience, spanning the entirety of Moderat’s still-young catalogue, with particular emphasis on III.
The results range from spellbinding to propulsive, and most places in between. Moderat give their all to the ecstatic Berlin crowd, whose cheering forms the interstitial matter in between the 14 tracks of this fluid set list. “Eating Hooks” is expanded into a nearly ten-minute-long trance: after the album version concludes, the trio then segues into the Siriusmo remix of the song, extending the impact of Ring’s climactic vocal delivery (“Under my skin / Lies the world feeding / The cure of myself”). The crowd goes appropriately nuts for a pitch-perfect rendition of “Bad Kingdom” that has Szary and Bronsert injecting spastic rhythmic interruptions into the beat. Best of all is the elongated closer “No. 22”, whose tantric main riff caps off the performance masterfully. It’s impossible not to imagine the waves of bodies dancing along to the music. If Live is the sound of Moderat in 2016, then it’s safe to say that 2016 was Moderat’s year.