When I think about having interviewed a group who collaborated with Thom Yorke, I’m not gonna lie, I get a little giddy. If you take a look at Modeselektor’s website, you see an array of photographs from each of the stops on Identity Festival they’ve hit so far. This is only after you get past the fifty or so words they’ve come up within a week of the tour’s launch to poke fun at the word “dubstep”. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dubstep despite my naive tendency to isolate one sound from a category of music to the point where every song sounds the same, it would have to be that the US’ interpretation of dubstep is vastly different than the rest of the world’s. This is mainly in the UK and Europe, where dubstep is trendy in a way that is personified in a far more sophisticated manner than its US counterparts, perhaps even to the point I can say *gasp* it’s respected. From Jamie Woon’s rise in 2011 to James Blake’s recent collaboration with Bon Iver, anything’s possible at this point. They’re so over dubstep across the pond they’re already cranking out post-dubstep kingpins.
First touring electronic festival of its kind aside, I think Identity Festival highlights the stark contrasts between the European and US bubbles of electronic music and how its perception has changed the more mainstream this type of music gets. Commercialization and popularity certainly have the potential to catch on to any form of music, because at the end of the day, it’s all just a bunch of sounds. What’s important, though, is the image those sounds accompany. In this case, the image of Identity Festival capitalizes on status-quo definitions of cool that have entirely different cultural interpretations. What’s considered cool in the UK is quite different than the American definition of cool, speaking in terms of trends, of course. This has never been more apparent to me until I met the fellas of Modeselektor, who were accompanied by only their tour manager and a slew of fellow electronic musicians whose varying definitions of “cool” clashed behind the stage to create a hierarchy of scenes and their followers. Upon being asked about other musicians, such as the annoyingly popular Skrillex, they claim, “That’s not dubstep.”
The duo, accompanied by an audio/visual artist, cover a broad spectrum of genres within electronic music. From grime to glitch to electro, they stray from becoming closely associated with any one in particular. In Germany, Modeselektor announces their shows with little notice because their turnout is that massive, which they mentioned in our post-set interview where we had the chance to talk about their motives behind participating in the tour. Their reception in the US, however, has been underwhelming so far. “We only gave about 10%” they said of their set, which had a slot time of 4:15PM, their biggest complaint. When asked about the poor turnout, they “felt sad”. Perhaps they meant the situation was sad, because their 10% performance was still the highlight of the day for many of my peers, who would certainly agree that Modeselektor was deserving of a better time slot. “They told us that most shows are going to be like that,” a dismal prospect for the journey they’re about to take between each corner of the US, touting their German pride, noticed only by others who get it.
“I think the US is a different planet. A totally different thing. It’s not comparable to anything else. It’s really bad on one side and really good on the other. And I just think you need to find your balance in the middle. It’s very important to be sensitive with what you’re doing and how you do it here in the US. Trying to be Modeselektor, it’s a grown-up thing. It’s not kids with two CD players and fancy clothes. And management, an army of old men behind them who make it happen. Really, I don’t get it.”
I don’t get it, either, but the dubstep remixes keep on coming. Bassnectar keeps getting booked, despite the fact his hair swinging poses a serious health risk, and we all go home having learned one new color of the neon rainbow. That’s what it’s about, right? Today began with a number of my friends sharing this timely Hipster Runoff post about “The Middle American Commercialization of Rave”. It featured pictures from reputable photo blog The Cobra Snake, who’s decided to tag along to capture images of all the “cool” kids and the best moments of the tour. The photo from the Burgettstown stop that stuck out to me was the I one I saw being taken – a geeked out, post-adolescent, rather average dude who was at the top of a grassy hill, walking and BSing with his friends, and clearly not giving a shit about the Disco Biscuits being on (not that I cared either).
The first comment on this photo reads, “I want to have this much fun when Identity comes to SD!” I’d much rather see the photo of the kids who were smokin a doob within plain sight of about ten security guards, had The Cobra Snake only turned around. In the end it’s just a picture, but then again, why do you need a photo to prove you’re cool? Does your enjoyment factor exponentially increase because you looked like you had a good time? I know my fun factor goes up a few notches at the prospect of seeing some fuzzy boot-wearing, cupcake-shaped broad who wouldn’t know how to choose the appropriate size tank top if it was shoved up her ass. Is mainstream electronic the new emo? I can think of a few mainstream trends that have caught on to a point where they’re supported by large tours – Ozzfest, Vans Warped Tour, and now perhaps Identity Fest if it can manage to stay afloat in this competitive industry.
You’re probably still wondering what the hell an act like Modeselector is doing on a tour like this. They don’t need Thom Yorke to toot their horn any more than he already does to know they’re hot shit in their hometown. “We have a lot of friends in the US, especially on the east coast. We’ve never been here (Pgh). We have no idea what it’s like to be here. We know what its like to be in the middle of the country in Germany. We know the relationship between big cities and the countryside. We were just curious about that.”
At this point, the circumstances in which Modeselektor prefers NOT to perform are clear. When asked what types of venues they enjoy playing, they put more of an emphasis on the crowd and the type of mood they’re going for. A manufactured touring festival like Identity doesn’t allow the opportunity for someone with a 4:15 time slot to create that type of ambiance. Not even the popular destinations of Berlin’s electronic music scene are their preferred method of attack. They lean towards likeminded artists who want to execute progressive audio/visual events that push the boundaries of all genres of music. We found this point in the conversation appropriate for bringing up VIA, in which they responded, “This is the type of bill we’d love to be on”, and claimed they “will tour again to support our new album in the fall, just not in a context like this. I like to build up my sets. One hour is not enough. Usually when we DJ, we’re a live act. We play like 4 and a half hours.” Having cracked the shell and made some headway on the types of fans we were, they mentioned “I could see the people who came today were into it and they understood it.” Yes, all 100 of us. You should have seen the crowd for Rusko. Someone’s gotta pay the bills.
This dialogue evokes a topic that has slowly been coming to the forefront of the mainstream vs. underground electronic debate. It has peaked with the arrival of a festival of this caliber, which sells neon trucker hats with the words “LEGIT” and “RAGE” by the masses. If you’re buying what they’re selling, so be it. As for their new album, it’s called Monkeytown and drops October 3. If you can’t wait that long, peep the track previews below:
Modeselektor “Monkeytown” (MONKEYTOWN015) OUT BETWEEN SEP27-OCT04 by Modeselektor