In 2003, long before Modeselektor and Apparat became critical darlings independently of each other (Modeselektor with Happy Birthday! and Apparat with Walls) they collaborated as Moderat on an EP for Ellen Allien’s Bpitch Control. The four songs making up the EP were so exhausting to produce that the trio called it Auf Kosten Der Gesundheit (“At the Cost of Health”) and dropped plans for a follow-up LP. They stayed in touch, working on remixes for one another and co-producing a few tracks, but the idea of a full-length was forgotten until they ran into one another last year on the streets of Berlin.
The results of this recording session seem to indicate a more relaxed creative process than the one that brought about their dissolution six years ago. Not only are the tracks less complex, less compact, than those on the EP, but interviews with the group suggest that they made a conscious effort to step back and let their muses guide them. For instance, the album was initially planned as an all-instrumental affair, but casual meetings with Busdriver and Seeed’s vocalist Eased changed their minds. In addition to these guests, the Modeselektor boys convinced Apparat to sing on two tracks, and they dug up a vocal track from Paul St. Hilaire that they had recorded for a dead-end Modeselektor track.
This is not to imply that these songs are ill-conceived. Both Modeselektor and Apparat are known for their perfectionism, and that is fully evident here. Rather, having learned their lesson from painstakingly attempting an entirely new Moderat sound for their EP, they have played to their respective strengths and allowed one’s style to guide the composition more than the other’s when necessary. The album balances Apparat’s carefully constructed electro-pop with Modeselektor’s somewhat freer techno, but one is always dominant. This is not a complete integration of their sounds, as was the case with Apparat’s 2006 collaboration with Ellen Allien, but each artist’s tendency to inject their own style into a track is counterbalanced by the other’s ability to support and inform that sound with their own.
On “Rusty Nails,” for instance, Apparat’s vocals and the soaring synth lines that pull the song along are completely his, but the beat that keeps everything together is straight from Modeselektor’s playbook. “A New Error,” meanwhile, is built from a square wave pulse à la Modeselektor, but the subtle background crescendo is all Apparat. “Porc #1” and “Porc #2” integrate the their approaches most seamlessly, and they are the standout tracks here. “Porc #1” builds on a guitar groove reminiscent of that from Thom Yorke’s “The Clock,” and then bleeds into “Porc #2,” full of hypnotic drum and vocal loops.
Moderat doesn’t succeed in synthesizing the trademarks of Modeselektor and Apparat into an entirely new sound, but the purpose of collaboration isn’t necessarily to strip off all indicators of each artist’s individual project in the name of reinvention. Oftentimes, it’s exactly these telltale markers that create what’s exciting about collaborations such as these. There is a tension inherent in the contrast between such well-known artists that makes for interesting possibilities. Moderat do well here by playing off of this tension while creating highly listenable songs.