In honor of Record Store Day, Modeselektor reminisces about its vinyl-slinging days
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Modeselektor doesn’t spend much time deejaying, but that wasn’t always the case. Before forming the Berlin-based techno-and-bass-music act, both Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary were spinning and stocking vinyl bins, coming of age in the thriving German rave scene after the fall of the Berlin wall. With the Modeselektor tour bus rolling through Chicago to perform at Metro on Record Store Day, we rang Bronsert in his studio to chat about the charm of vinyl shops, his early days working in one, why physical music is special and why he'll never forget his first time in the Windy City.
How much does physical music still play into your world personally?
Szary and me are in our early 30s, so we grew up with vinyl of course. The kids these days, this is something they don’t know and there’s a big mystique around it. I think vinyl has become a luxury item. Back in the day it was the only way to get, for example, techno music. We had some DJs here in Berlin, two or three of these guys went to every record store—this was in the mid ‘90s—and bought all the copies so they were the only ones to have them and to play them. This is something that’s not possible anymore. So this is one good thing.
But then there are a lot of bad things, of course with all the digital music and illegal downloads. A lot of kids grew up with this way of getting music, going on websites and downloading the tunes, but they don’t understand that there’s a huge amount of work behind it. I’m not a teacher who’s complaining and shouting to the people. We started the label just two years ago, so it already happened—the music industry was already dying. We decided to make two record labels and one of the labels is based on vinyl. We just wanted to make it because we love the item and the material and the idea behind it. We’re not really nerds who buy records and leave them sealed in storage. We use vinyl also. It’s more about the fix, the romantic side of the black discs. You need a mechanical turntable which has a wheel and a disc and you can put vinyl on it. Then you have this very tiny needle that brings the bass on to the dance floor. We are very fascinated by this.
You know bass music producers who are still releasing things exclusively on vinyl. Do you think that’s to maintain this exclusivity since it’s so much harder for DJs to get their hands on a limited pressing?
I think all the DJs that get the tunes aren’t playing vinyl anymore and they still play all the tunes. I wouldn’t do vinyl-only releases because these guys lose a lot of money when the tracks end up on the Internet anyway. There are a few young DJs from the U.K. who are very into vinyl and they prefer to spin vinyl because it’s something new for them. They go a step back because they didn’t grow up with it and just discovered the way to deejay with vinyl.
You talked about growing up with vinyl in Berlin, I know you were around for those early rave days. Were you into this music before the fall of the wall?
It was not possible to get records, but very quick after the wall, that became the soundtrack of our childhood. I grew up with techno. I used to work at a record store here in Berlin, it’s a pretty famous one called Hard Wax. I used to work there and that was just because I was one of the oldest customers there.
I think I was 13 when I went there the first time, I remember exactly what record it was. I went there very early in ’92 or something. I saved a little money—I think I had 25 bucks or whatever—I went there and said, I want to buy a jungle record. I started very early discovering new styles of music. Techno was there or whatever, but there was this thing called jungle and I wanted to know what it was. I got my first record, which was not jungle. I asked for jungle and they gave me Aphex Twin. That was how the whole thing started, I thought this music was jungle and I really liked it. I think it was Selected Ambient Works.
Do you still go to the record store to shop for vinyl?
Of course. I just go to Hard Wax, or if we travel we have our stores where we go always. Any favorites? There’s a store in London I go to called Phonica, and in Glasgow there’s one called Rubadub. In the U.S., sometimes it’s difficult. We would always go to Amoeba in San Francisco. Since I used to work at Hard Wax, we still have our shelf there with our names on it and they put all the new stuff in it and we go there once a month to pick up the records and talk to the guys.
If you were given the chance to open a record store of your own, what would you do with it to make it special?
I would never open a record store by myself because I wouldn’t be able to make it special. It would mean that I would need to change my whole life and live for it. If you want to make a record store which is good, you need to live in the record store actually. You need to be constantly on the ball and know nonstop what’s going on. Pretty much the perfect record store I know for electronic music is Hard Wax Berlin. I don’t want to make a commercial for them but I need to because this is something the kids should discover when they come to Berlin.
Well, you’ve had a 20-year relationship with the place. It makes total sense.
When you come there as a greenhorn and don’t really have a clue and don’t ask the right questions, you can get maybe rough feedback from the guys, but this is just protection from them. They are very nice and will help you out. If you go there and educate yourself a little bit and they see that you know what’s going on, they will help you and it’ll change your life. I think they influence us more than anyone else on this planet. Going to a DJ record store and shopping is a unique experience. You actually work with the salesman to find what you like. This is more like a sport. It’s not even just collecting, it’s more about the communication you have in the store. That’s a special thing which most of the young music lovers don’t know. They just go to their blogs or their download platforms or whatever and they buy the stuff and just read what’s going on the blogs. That’s very anonymous. When you have someone in the store that you’ve known for a long time and this someone knows a lot about music, I think it’s more the fact that you’re coming into the store and having communication. You talk to someone. This is actually the special thing. I really appreciate it when a record store has a personality and picky characters behind the counter.
If money were not an issue for you or the customer what would the ideal deluxe edition of a Modeselektor release be?
I’ve always wanted to release a tape. But not a cassette, I’m talking about a reel-to-reel tape, like from the ‘70s. This is something I really want to do but it totally makes no sense. I just know one person with a reel-to-reel so I think we would just sell one. And then keep the rest for ourselves.
Any future plans to do more work with Apparat?
Right now we are in the studio, Szary and me, and we started working on an EP, which I think we will release at the end of the year. In September we are going back into the studio with Apparat to work on the new Moderat record which is supposed to be released in 2013. It looks good, we already have a few sketches.
We’re happy to have you coming back to Chicago.
I actually have a funny story about Chicago. When we played there the first time I asked the promoter to bring me to a restaurant with the best chicken wings because I heard Chicago is famous for chicken wings. I don’t know, for some strange reason I heard that. And he brought me to this place, I asked the waiter for the specialty of the house. I didn’t have an idea. I took one of these chicken wings and I started eating. It was the most spiciest thing I’ve ever had in my mouth. I was about to call the ambulance. Then I saw all these pictures on the wall, they won a few prizes for the spiciest chicken wings on the planet and they brought me the spiciest shit. It was inedible. I wasn’t prepared. I had this pain in my mouth and then I touched my eyes. I was so fucked, you cannot imagine. This is actually the first memory that pops up when I talk about Chicago.
We’ll have to get you out somewhere new while you’re here. We don’t want that to be your only Chicago memory.
Chicago’s a great food city. I know. They’re famous for good food.
Dude, I’m from Germany. I grew up with 200 million sausages, so I don’t know.
As part of Abstract Science, a group of radio hosts and DJs who broadcast every thursday here in Chicago, I worked with the crew to chop up the live audio of this interview and couple that with a live set we had in the archives. Here are links to that as well as the rest of that particular show.
Stream and download after the jump.