Discovering new music has become more accessible than ever before. We are flooded with multiple streaming platforms, there are more new releases than enough hours in the day, and finding new artists is only a click away. Sometimes discovering new music is also mere happenstance, like listening to the radio. Her voice, soft and sultry immediately draws the listener in.
Once the sequence of sounds has affected you emotionally, you rush to social media to learn more about the artist and expect the usual. DJs promoting and selling their work, portraying a jet-setting lifestyle filled with picture-perfect filtered moments of glamorous parties, idyllic accommodations, sunsets and every so often engaging with their audience. It is very rare and refreshing when a DJ gives you an intimate and unfiltered account of their private life especially if they’re battling with a life-threatening disease.
Meet Moderna, DJ, producer, artist, and host of KCRW Berlin’s weekly music show Brave New Rave. In 2015 Moderna began collaborating with Mexican DJ and producer Theus Mago. Their music is not only the perfect score to lose yourself in a dark, sweaty, throbbing dance-floor, but it also tells a story. Moderna’s vocals take you on a journey while tight-fisted grooves and pulsating bass bounces off your chest. 2019 saw the release of Pesos Not Besos: Remixes on Side Up Works featuring remixes from heavy hitters Ewan Pearson, Cabaret Nocturne, Sara Zinger, Justin Robertson, Martin Noise, and Odd Oswald.
Moderna, a Utah native now based in Berlin, spoke to The DJ Cookbook about growing up in her parent’s diner, her first musical incursions, how her diet changed once she found out she had a #bumpintheboob. The effects COVID-19 has had on music culture, and why white privilege is completely unnecessary.
Q: How did 2020 start for you, where were you when the lockdown began? What did you have planned that was cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic?
A: The first few months had started on a very high note for me, I had just spent all of 2019 undergoing treatments for breast cancer and I had just recovered with positive success. In January, on my birthday, I found out that I was cancer-free, so I started planning a few gigs for the summer. My wife and I also planned a big celebration with family and friends for our marriage we had last year while I was in the middle of treatments. But alas everything was cancelled in March so I just remained grateful to be in Berlin. My wife and I were lucky enough to spend lockdown at her event studio space on the Spree (Berlin and Brandenburg’s main river) since all events were cancelled. We stayed there for 2 months, it’s a beautiful location outside of the main city with nice views of the water and garden. It was the perfect place to be during that time.
Q: Did you try any new recipes during lockdown?
A: Yes quite a few actually, I baked a lot. I made focaccia, carrot cake, we smoked fish and grilled on the BBQ. I think I gained 5 kilos during that time too.
Q: Do you listen to music while cooking, if yes, what do you listen to?
A: Yes, my wife and I host dinners quite often, we always have music playing mostly mellow non-dance music ranging from The Cure to Air to Dolly Parton. It depends on what we are feeling.
Q: You are a breast cancer survivor, did your diet change once you found out you had a #bumpintheboob?
A: Once I was diagnosed with the #bumpintheboob I did what most people do and researched everything pertaining to diet, health, and the process. I decided to start with a Keto diet and I also did water fasting during my treatments. After I got through the bulk of the treatments I relaxed on my diet a bit and just listened to my body with no stress. My body mostly craved fresh things like watermelon and smoothies but sometimes I felt like having pizza or a piece of cake and I was ok with that. A few things became more important to me like getting enough exercise and making sure I’m getting enough of the right things in my diet like Vitamin D, probiotics, lots of greens, and tons of water.
Q: What is a spice, fruit, or vegetable that you can’t live without?
Q: What is your favorite kitchen appliance and why?
A: My coveted Vitamix that I use every day. Always and forever.
Q: You grew up in Utah, what was that like?
A: I grew up in a very conservative state with very liberal parents so I was lucky, I was able to be myself and explore and create with no judgments. I had a very typical American 80’s and 90’s upbringing, consumption and ignorance at it’s finest with some pretty rad styles to boot!
Q: Can you describe a couple of Utah’s most famous dishes? When in Utah you must eat…?
A: I can highly recommend the sweet corn as it’s the best I’ve ever had and trying a “Utah Scone” (fried puff dough) topped with honey butter, it’s delicious and distinct to the area.
Q: Was there a luncheonette, diner, or bar where all the kids hung out, do you remember the menu?
A: My parents owned an American diner for about 20 years. It was called Country Gardens and I even threw a few indie shows with out of state touring bands there in the ’90s. Besides that, It was the typical American diner with a bit of flair, all the waitresses wore Wrangler jeans and listened to country music in the front and all the cooks had mullets and acid wash jeans listening to heavy metal in the back. It was quite a scene. As for the menu, all the recipes were made up by my parents, along with the staple diner food like hamburgers, chicken fried steak, and homemade buttermilk pancakes and biscuits. They also included some unique specials like “The Navajo Taco” which included a “Utah Scone” smothered in homemade chili and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. It was one of my favorites. And my father’s famous baby back ribs are slow-cooked with his homemade bbq sauce and homemade mashed potatoes were to die for! Just thinking about all of this makes me a bit nostalgic and hungry… It was a huge part of my childhood and was a great place to grow up in. I miss it dearly.
Q: Do you come from a musical background, did music play an important role in your family?
A: My parents always had music playing when I was growing up, from classic rock to new wave. I was inundated at a young age, I also sang at my father’s Karaoke bar from time to time.
Q: Who was your first musical crush?
A: I think the very first memory I have was when I was 6 years old, I was obsessed with the band Tears for Fears and I remember reciting the songs with my friends on the playground. We would perform “Shout” and “Head over Heels” repeatedly, and we naturally moved on to Madonna shortly after.
Q: Do you remember the first piece of music you wrote and recorded?
A: Yes, I was in a very experimental noise band at a young age called The Static Cult. In The Static Cult, my bandmates and I wrote a track called “Weather War”. We used a bass guitar, two drum machines, the 303 and 808, the Korg-Poly 800, and the Roland Space Echo. It was an acquired sound so to speak and it was about the government controlling the weather…naturally.
Q: Which track or tracks made you fall in love with dance music?
A: I was always more into electronic experimental music before dance music per se. It wasn’t until later I found 4×4 dance floor music. But I do remember the one track that I think was the bridge that began my crossover was Aphex Twin’s “Vordhosbn” (Drukqs, Warp Records, 2001) it changed me musically in a way I never expected. I then started DJing drum ‘n’ bass and then gradually moved on from there to techno, electro, and dark disco.
Q: Technics 1200, CDJ’s, or Serato?
A: I have played on all of them and respect each one differently. But CDJ’s are now my preference.
Q: What is the best Sound system you’ve ever played?
A: The Function One is my top choice.
Q: Describe your studio setup, what piece of gear are you obsessed with at the moment?
A: My studio gear is in boxes at the moment as we are in the middle of a remodel, so for now I have been just playing with Ableton Live 10 Suite on my computer and it has been nice so far keeping it simple and exploring new plugins like serum and waves smack attack to name a couple.
Q: What inspires a Moderna track? A melody, a lyric, an accidental sound, a film, a book, a world, or a personal life event?
A: My music is always inspired by other music, and thoughts in my head. I will hear a song or a sound and if it inspires me I will focus on it to create an emotion and go from there. I have a book of lyrics that I write as I think of them and I usually start with a written lyric then build a sound into it and then I usually alter the lyrics after I find the sound and arrangement I like. It’s a lot of back and forth on sound, lyrics, and arrangement for me.
Q: How important is dancing when producing or remixing, do you stop and dance to feel the groove and the way the track is going?
A: I’m not too much of a dancer, my thing is while producing a track I like to go listen to it in my car, one of my favorite things is listening to the track I just made on a nice drive.
Q: Is there a contribution that you’re most proud of during your time at Ghostly International?
A: I am proud of everything I contributed to Ghostly, I learned a lot during that time and almost everything I set in motion at Ghostly was successful. My last project, The 10 year Art Show held at The ADC Gallery in New York, included visual artists that we worked with such as Michael Cina, Tycho, and Andy Gilmore, and performances from Sougwen Chung, Com Truise, and Matthew Dear. It was the perfect ending of a chapter for me.
Q: You and Mexican producer Theus Mago have been releasing music together since 2017, how did your collaboration begin, will there be more music in the future?
A: In 2015 I was on tour in Mexico, when I landed in Mexico City I was told my gig was cancelled due to “Ley Seca”, also known as Dry Law, which is when the Mexican government shuts down all bars and clubs for voting purposes. There were several other DJs in the city at the time that were also gig-less, so it ignited an impromptu “illegal” house party set up by locals Mijo and Andre VIII, it was dubbed “LEY SECA”. Mateo and I were part of the line up which included about 10 other DJs. We met there and we decided to meet up at his studio a few days later. I think it was just a few hours of us working together that our first track “Dog is Calling You” took shape. We had good chemistry in the studio so we continued to work together. Mateo and I have a unique flow when we are in the studio together. There is never any ego, we typically agree on each other’s ideas, and consistently have a creative balance. I have learned a lot from working with him, he is a brilliant producer and DJ. When we play out together in clubs we create a specific energy that I haven’t had musically with anyone else before and it shows, which is quite significant to me. We released our 3rd EP together last year on Side Up Works.
Q: In 2017, you guys released Tecno Misógino on La Dame Noir Records. In “Tecno Misógino” you do vocals in Spanish and English. What is the story behind this track?
A: Most of our tracks are either personal experiences or inside jokes between each other, “Tecno Misógino” is the latter.
Q: On Lumiére Noire’s 2018 release Dog Is Calling EP, the track “Papa En Roy” immediately takes the listener to the middle of “a sweaty, smoke-filled club, with bass so hard it hurts” is this an ode to the dance floor or is it about two lovers who return to each other after being lost in the music?
A: We will do a rerelease of this EP in the near future with other remixes and edits out on Mexican dance music label Duro.
“Papa En Roy” is about exactly as it says. It was written in the most literal sense. I actually saw a girl across the floor in a very smokey club with great bass and I asked her for a lighter and she said “return to me” and her nickname was “PAPA” and the club was “MN Roy” hence the name “Papa en Roy”.
Q: A memorable Mexican dish?
A: Gringa al pastor (taco variety with a quesadilla base) is my go-to, it’s with pineapple and melted Oaxaca cheese in a flour tortilla.
Q: When was the last time you were in a club, in hindsight what makes an unforgettable club night?
A: I went to Berghain at the end of February. I was even wearing a mask then because there was already news about COVID-19 in China. I wore a mask at clubs because I was undergoing cancer treatments so I did it out of precaution. But I will always remember it now since I was the only one in a mask and it felt unusual, and now it is normal. But every time I go to Berghain it’s pretty unforgettable.
Q: Before moving to Berlin, you lived in Los Angeles. Did living in Los Angeles expose you to new flavors? What do you miss about Los Angeles when it comes to food?
A: When it comes to food LA has it all really, and I do miss it dearly, I mostly miss my favorite taco trucks like Taco Zone and the one on the corner of Pico and Fairfax which I’m not sure it even has a name and of course Sonoratown. I also miss my favorite ceviche place La Cevicheria.
Q: Why did you move to Berlin?
A: I moved to Berlin for love and it just so happened to be a good move career-wise too. I am married to a German and she is my favorite cook so I love it.
Q: How did the idea of Brave New Rave on KCRW Berlin develop?
A: I was introduced to the program director by Valida who is a KCRW host. After meeting her she asked me if I would be interested in doing a show for them. I was a bit hesitant at first as I had a pretty busy gig schedule at that time and the thought of doing a 2-hour weekly show felt a bit much. After some thought and brainstorming I came up with the name BRAVE NEW RAVE and the concept of doing the first hour Left Field, Dark Disco, and Elektro, then the second half Techno and having a guest once a month. So I decided to give it a try, I was the first music show host based in Berlin for the station and I have been doing it for 2 years now, and to be honest, doing the show has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Little did I know that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer just three months after I started the show having to cancel most of my gigs and undergo treatments in Berlin, so I was lucky because the show was something I could do during my treatments. It was such a quintessential thing to have during that dark time and not to mention now that we are in a pandemic as well, it is something I am very grateful to have and share.
Q: Any musical highlights from the show?
A: I love going through all the new promos and showcasing new tracks along with some of my favorite tracks and artists. Recent artists I showcased include Julia Bondar, Younger Than Me, Local Suicide, Curses, Alinka, and Theus Mago just to name a few.
Q: This summer you began the Brave New Brunch series, you teamed up with international chefs and DJs to bring flavors and sounds to Berlin’s music and gastronomic scene, all while adhering to COVID-19 norms. The series was a success, do you see the merging of food and music stronger now in times of COVID-19?
A: For me, cooking and music go hand in hand. Both are my passion and life. This is the main reason why I created the Brave New Brunch event series, which is exactly that: cooking, eating, playing music, and dancing. I collaborate with a chef and invite another DJ to play with me and then we host a Brunch that consists of 5 courses over 5 hours, the last two were held outside at Studio C. The guest chefs included Danish-born, Icelandic raised Victoria Eliasdóttir and Caique Tizzi from São Paolo, Brazil, and DJs Alinka and Curses joined me behind the decks. Both events were lovely and it was a much-needed release for many during this time.
Q: Do you think the electronic music industry needs to bond and create a union like SAG-AFTRA with a chapter in every country? Do you think DJs, producers, club owners, promoters, booking agencies, and staff members deserve to have health insurance, pensions, and retirement plans as well?
A: Yes, it boggles my mind that large companies are allowed to exploit musicians and producers and those in the industry far too often, it seems that since digital and social format has taken over, the reality of independent artists even making a little bit of money off of music sales has diminished drastically. And now with touring and gig income off the table, for the time being, so many of us are at a huge loss and might not survive it. Why wouldn’t governments step in and take responsibility? It’s known that the music industry adds so much value to our culture and our lives. It is essential for it to continue and for us to keep creating and right now help is needed.
Q: Do you think the dance music industry needs a reality check? Do you think there’s been a sense of entitlement and privilege in the commercialization of dance music?
A: Yes absolutely. I feel society as a whole needs a reality check. White male privilege has taken the front seat far too long and it is completely unnecessary. There is enough talent and creativeness throughout the music industry and society in general that inequality should be a thing of the past. It’s redundant and not helping anything or anyone progress, which is critical for us to grow.
Q: Moderna, thank you for talking to us!
A: Absolutely, my pleasure!
Rave brave and safe everybody!