Stage Design, Moderat and 'First Class Digital Shit'. Introducing: Pfadfinderei
Pfadfinderei is a Berlin-based design and graphics agency specialising in production of digital installations and physical artistic innovation - “fusing light, video and spatial design”. Pfadfinderei, (‘path-finders’ or ‘boy scouts’ when translated to English) is a name derived from the agency’s genesis nearly 20 years ago where they worked only with vector graphics - “the path between A & B” and the teams creative passion which drives them to find new paths to follow in the realm of design.
Particularly, Pfadfinderei, like many creative German enterprises, has its roots in the Berlin nightlife scene and now works, amongst their many endeavours, in the lighting, design and stage production for some of Europe’s most sought after electronic artists, namely cult Berlin favourites Modeselektor who have been a member of Pfadfinderei’s creative family since their humble beginnings. In addition to their strong relationship with Modeselektor, Pfadfinderei have worked with Paul Kalkbrenner, Boize Noise, Tiga, and of course, Moderat, the collaborative creation of Modeselektor and Apparat. Pfadfinderei’s ventures into stage design and music video production have resulted in some of the most beautiful, captivating and visually encapsulating stage presentations in live music. We talked to Honza from Pfadfinderei to understand their heritage as designers, their passion for music and what the future holds for stage production.
‘I - Berlin Roots’
Pfadfinderei found its feet as a classic Berlin success story out of little more than a passion for the burgeoning underground electronic scene Berlin is now world famous and revered for. It was their passion for this very culture which was the first inspiration for Pfadfinderei’s desire to work in a live music space.
“What I was a little bit disappointed about when I was growing up there was always this classic set up, (in a ‘nightclub setting’) you watch and face the front, and that was it. What we tried for a long time with Paul Kalkbrenner is we tried to put the lights on the audience, so that they became part of it. The music and energy is coming from the club so the design should be the same, so we tried to bring that into an electronic concert. A concert is much more focussed on the stage where a club should be giving you a constant beautiful defined space. If you go to Miami it's quite different everyone is trying to have the latest effects but for us as we’re coming more from that Berlin / Detroit minimal approach, a club is much more about giving you a defined space where the rest is up to you, where a concert is much more about giving you an interpretation of the music because it's about a show.”
Seemingly for as long as Pfadfinderei has been in operation, they have worked in close tandem with Berlin electronic duo Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary - Modeselektor. In 1999 Modeselecktor joined with Pfadfinderei having signed their first remix contract, what has followed has been an “audio-visual” journey, beginning with the Labland DVD. The Labland project was a purely audio-visual experience, with Pfadfinderei creating visuals to accompany Modeselektor’s music, this was at the time, Modeselektor's first 'album'.
“Modeselektor comes out of this Labland parties we did in Berlin for maybe 3 or 4 years. We made this DVD with Modselektor 2004 that was the first steps somehow after all those DJ nights. We wanted to put it together as a book or something, but obviously a book doesn’t work well for this so we made an audio visual experience and actually that was the first music of Modeselektor you couldn’t buy the music of Modeselektor as an LP or CD, it was only on the DVD.” - Honza
#4 of the Labland DVD « Construction Desert » of « Labland » by Pfadfinderei x Modeselektor, 2004.
‘II - Moderat, an Audio-Visual Experience’
In 2009 Modeselektor joined forces with German countryman Apparat for the second time and released the first album in their trilogy together, the self-titled ‘Moderat’. An unlikely pairing, Moderat is the lovechild of Modeselektor’s avant-garde approach to electronic discipline, heavily laced with tech glitches and powerful basslines - a recipe which has established the pair as one of the globe's most unique, diverse and sought after electronic artists and a quintessential Berlin staple. Matched with Apparat’s far more reflective, introverted electronica pop Moderat is a group which arouses equal measures of suspicion and unadulterated excitement. It should come as no surprise then with such a clash in musical approach that the first experiment between the two artists had been so vexatious and personally taxing for the musicians that the resulting EP was named ‘Auf Kosten der Gesundheit’ - “At the Cost of Health”. After 9 rejuvenating years with the Moderat project on hold their second run together was infinitely more successful and naturally, Modeselektor brought Pfadfinderei along to join the project which spawned music which seemed to beg for a visual experience:
“We are somehow the fourth band member of Moderat and with them, it was always especially clear this should be an audio-visual experience, maybe this is why we take so much care in it, they love to have this involvement. Before we’ve had bands with guitars and drummers and now you have 3 guys on a laptop, or at least synthesisers, and you still have to have this element of a ‘show’. There’s a long, long history of this idea of a stage, people drawing paintings in caves to dance in front of, people have been building visual organs to music for as long as human memory can reach, but we see it with more developed technology now. Such an audiovisual display isn’t always possible with every artist."
'Rusty Nails', video produced by Pfadfinderei from Moderat's first album.
8 years on and Moderat have completed their trilogy of albums with ‘III’ having been released in 2016. With each album we’ve been witness to a development on both their sound and identity. With each release coming much closer to a symbiotic musical production of raw excitement from Modeselektor and beautiful, ethereal intricacy from Apparat, and a development of their ever-evolving visual identity which appears to be in constant flux - a visual journey which spans from 1940’s style illustrations to artistic creations which are constructed from powerful doses of both mystique, marvel. Honza on the progression of the Moderat identity - is there a logical progression?
“No, they’re visually of course the next step somehow. But we more see them as milestones. But as we created this identity, once we found the thing we had wanted to develop and adapt to a level higher with what we were curious with at the time - of course links occur. But it was not meant to be seen as some kind of large, philosophical project, it's funny to see that on the web sometimes with people saying ‘hey look at this link’. No it's a lot of fun as well and we decide with each album "hey how do you want to work". The first album we decided to only work with real footage and shots, the second it was more with the installation footage and everything had to be more in a classical way and we wanted to bring in these illustrations in the Bad Kingdom video. Of course over time, the more albums and projects you have you have to look back at what you’ve done to see what was cool and what worked, 'where can we go on with this', but its not meant to be a big link or something, more a reflection of its time. There is of course always a link, there are ideas behind it, but it's always fun because we say we had this, we had that, lets develop it a little further and this way everyone has a conceptual part, it’s a lot of fun, there is a lot of passion in this.”
‘III - The Future of Stage Design’
Looking towards the future, the realm of design is a rapidly unfolding canvas, trends come and go at breakneck speed. We discuss which design applications we can expect to see take to the the stage in coming years, particularly augmented reality (AR) and 3D light installations.
“In the end, a concert or a stage performance is very classic, it has been for close to a hundred years, as long as people want to stand in front of a performer and face the front, it will stay classical. It is different of course in dance concerts where people might put the stage in the middle of the space, but for live performances, innovation will continue within these boundaries.
3D lights? It’s also a classic, the Opera has been using it for ages with projectors to build stage designs, we’ve experimented with it 3 or 4 years ago. It was a time when everyone was trying to bring more elements onto stage, the approach was to bring more 'arty' installations into the stage. That’s the thing with globalisation, people all around the world see things they are inspired, they ‘remix’ things, it all goes in ups and downs. In recent years all the stage designers have tried to really do different things and bring art installations into the stage and do a lot of different things, which has been great. You can see this with the kinetic installations from the latest Drake tour, where they had this huge, wonderful kinetic display over the audience.
Augmented Reality... I don’t think will get much of a space in future stage design, this is not how I see it anyway. It's a useful tool for designers, especially for installations. Augmented Reality is one of those things people talk about a lot, and its a nice tool, but it’s not that revolutionary - I saw a performance in Berlin, they had an empty club where you took glasses on the dance floor and you could see dancers and a performance, but it was really just awkward.”
When looking at design everyone has a role to play conceptually. Just like how clubs give people a defined space to work with, Pfadfinderei give people a role to play, they give people visual engagement to work with, a tool to better enjoy the music. From there, it is up to you to do the rest - it is yours to interpret how you wish.
See Pfadfinderei's visual displays live in action at a sold out show at the Velodrom, Berlin, 2016. From Moderat's tour for their third album, 'III'.
Moderat has since called an indefinite hiatus on the project after completing their intended trilogy of albums, giving themselves time to once again work on their own individual projects. Below we have two playlists, a compilation of our favourite (of which there are many) Moderat selections across their 3 records and a selection of tracks from Pfadfinderei.
Figaro would like to extend his sincere thanks to Honza for making time in his busy schedule to talk to us, we appreciate it more than you know.