Thom Yorke's favorite German DJ duo takes us on a tour through 2009's best dubstep-influenced hits and a few other loose ends.
Modeselektor are a group I'm only aware of tangentially through their influence on artists such as Thom Yorke. The duo, consisting of Germans Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, are a staple of the past decade's techno scene. Founded in 1996, Modeselektor first started making waves in 1999 when they met with Ellen Allien and were signed to her influential label, BPitch Control. Ten years and countless remixes down the road, Get Physical -- another modern dance staple -- has recruited the duo to crank out the latest issue of their dance floor-monitoring Body Language series.
While I'm most certainly a dance music outsider, I've always judged the series -- first curated by in-house artists like M.A.N.D.Y. before moving on to outsiders like the Junior Boys -- as a sort of beginner's guide to the music of the curator in question. The DJs of these events have rarely seemed so concerned with turning listeners onto the newest sounds; instead, Body Language feels like a series aimed at a good time while remaining accessible and educational to outsiders. Do Modeselektor achieve this assumed purpose?
Yes and no. As far as my own interpretation of the mix, Volume 8 does an excellent job of sequencing and transition. Starting with the interesting vocal effects of "Outro" and the fill-the-floor-immediately hustle of "Zig Zag", this disc reveals itself to be a little more entertaining than your average DJ's set. Modeselektor know just when to drop new tracks into the mix. They do an especially good job of working Felix da Housecat's "Kickdrum" vocal in and out of the mix for a minute, and the way Timbaland's "Lick Shots" instrumental is introduced is much less jagged-edged than I had expected. Speaking of vocals, my favorite segment is probably the most vocal-oriented, beginning with the album's best moment (a dramatically serene vision of Busta Rhyme's "Gimmie Some More" as dance club breather rather than early set burner) that eventually builds into a rendition of Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor" that either erases all skepticism I had of that group, or paints Modeselektor as the best kinds of DJs: the ones that can drop aggravating artists in your grill and get away with it.
The CD isn't all gravy, though. For a disc (I assume) based on club antics, Modeselektor spend an awful lot of time focusing on dubstep. Specifically, the atmospheric side. When I first got a glance at the tracklist my eyes immediately caught a cut from Benga's Diary of an Afro Warrior. This album was one of the releases that somewhat burst my dubstep bubble; while "Emotions" is a great sounding track, it lacks some certain extra oomph to carry me over to the other side. Album closer and BPitch Control spotlight "A New Error" carries a similar burden of pretty enough, but not exactly groovy enough. Because this album seemed like a bit of a party CD, I loaded some friends up for an hour long drive through the steetlights with the music on full blast, and around the halfway point there was almost a unanimous question as to whether the disc would actually pop and make everyone go bonkers, or if this was more of a thinking man's mix for colder nights. Tracks like Siriusmo's "Nights Off" (which I believe samples Radiohead) only furthered this impression after the relative catch-and-release momentum of that aforementioned Busta block.
In the end, Body Language Vol. 8 is a well put together mix of what's currently hot in this corner of dubstep, with a few exciting curveballs like "Wind It Up" and "Pon de Floor" thrown in. But it doesn't succeed very well at actually bringing out any Body Language, and keeps its mood in roughly the same place for the entire runtime. It's a tactic that works for consistency, but I come to DJ mixes for danger and revelation, and both qualities come in far too small of quantities here. I simply expected more.