It's rare that the air inside the club is cooler than the night air outside, but this was the case as Moderat took the stage at the Club Nokia in LA. The tunes of the night reflected this thermal inversion, too. In spite of the frenetic visuals and corporate branding screaming from giant LED screens on every side of the venue, the boys from Berlin put on a reserved, intimate gig, complete with banter, a technical snafu and plenty of deep, air-conditioned electronic pop, frosted with Apparat's fragile sung-spoken vocals.
Moderat pulled the bulk of their material from this year's II, an excellent if slightly perplexing follow-up to their self-titled debut. The single, "Bad Kingdom," struck me as a little safe on the record, but worked better live. Backed by looping video of noir-ish comic book panels from Pfadfinderei, the throbbing bassline swelled to room-filling proportions while sharp pads sliced through it like electrified wire.
In spite of a stubborn keyboard that needed to be reset (and the song along with it), another standout of the night was "Versions," a loping pastiche of snare hits and banshee moans swirling in big brassy synth swells. The crowd wasn't quite sure what to do with it—Club Nokia never fully dimmed its house lights, and the the venue lent itself mostly to stage-staring and head-nodding—but a loyal few that came to dance went ahead and did so.
Opener Tokimonsta certainly bears mention as well. She faced an uphill battle, with a sober 10 PM crowd and a weak soundsystem, but she still managed to throw down some enthusiastic staccato breaks and sinister dancehall samples (In her own words, "I was just playing some shit"). She finished strong, with a surprise visit from Amanda Warner of MNDR, who sang on their 2013 collaboration "Go With It." It was a fitting warm-up to an evening that never really rose above a slow burn.
As they themselves note, Moderat have shrugged off many of the qualities that make them a dance music project in favor of being a pop group. Most of their new tracks have a conventional verse-chorus structure and pronounced lyrics, and Apparat (sort of) plays guitar on stage. Still, the heads in the audience didn't leave unfulfilled. Set-closer "Rusty Nails" (off their first album) decisively got the half-committed dancers into a groove, with Moderat cranking the track's addictive curlicue melody to its breaking point over thunderous percussion. Drinks were hastily chugged, jackets removed, hands raised in the air, cares abandoned.