Pfadfinderei: Graphic Troopers
- Words: Vivian Host
Pfandfinderei means "path finders." It also means "boy scouts," and after you meet the Pfadfinderei it's hard to say which meaning is more appropriate. Pfadfinderei consists of seven graphic designers between the ages of 25 and 37, all called by nicknames (including Codek, Honza, Krsn, Flori, Tobi, and Critzla, which means "scribbles"). Their office is down one flight of stairs from the headquarters of Ellen Allien's techno imprint Bpitch Control, in a building they refer to warmly as "the house."
I mention these facts because it's impossible to separate Pfadfinderei's graphic design from who they are. The crew injects their unique humor and playfulness into the world of so-slick flash animations and cold, hard vectors–their work refutes the tired argument that techno has no soul, combining the organic and the personal with the sharp lines and bright, flat colors of the ultra-computerized future.
The Pfadfinderei coalesced on November 4, 1999, at its core four East Berlin natives. Intimately tied to the city's techno culture from the start, they did club visuals and flyers, and Honza's childhood friendship with Allien led to them designing the logo and look of BPitch Control. "Our graphics fit well to the music," says Flori, who's got a visual way with language and a striking voice that sounds like it came from a gravel pit. "Techno music is sharp beats, hard beats, big beats. It's concrete, like our graphics, which are very blocky, clear, and direct. "In the end, it's a personal thing with [Bpitch]," concurs Critzla, who has the words "working class" tattooed across his back in big, black block letters. "We have been friends for a long time and there is a feeling for it: for the label, for the music, for the conscience."
Perhaps the best part of the Pfadfinderei's Bpitch association has been their work with label mavericks Modeselektor. The septet has formed a tight bond with Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, bon vivants who fuck up the techno rave formula by throwing in dancehall rhythms, massive basslines, and punch-drunk breakbeats. The collectives often work in tandem–Pfadfinderei supplying album cover art and tour visuals for Modeselektor, and them returning the favor with music for special projects like Labland, a recent collaborative DVD.
"We started a weekly party with them in 1998," says Szary of their first work together. "It was called Labstyle (later, Labland) and it was 50% visuals and 50% music–the idea was to watch with the ears and to hear with the eyes." Pfadfinderei used the event to perfect their VJing–which they continue to do about once a month at festivals and clubs–an activity they see as synonymous with their motion graphics and print work.
"We have several rules," explains Codek. "We don't sample anything; everything you see we filmed or designed on our own. The second rule is that we share everything; if someone makes a new movie, he shares it immediately so everyone can play it. It works sort of like a jazz combo. We stand there with three Powerbooks and a mixer and start combining the movies, like a session. Everybody hits on his computer keyboard a certain kind of thing he hears in the music: one takes the high hat, the other the bassline, someone else goes for the mood of the whole song. It's always different because everyone hears music in a different way."
The Modeselektors also see themselves as storytellers. "We are sitting every day in the studio and creating stories," says Szary. "And we are always searching for the best-sounding bass drum." A listen to 2005 album Hello, Mom confirms that the only constants of their music are gut-rumbling low-end and punchy drums; fitting for a duo influenced by grime, dancehall, and Aphex Twin as much as their techno upbringing.
The Modeselektor boys are hilarious on the phone, going off on tangents about starting conga lines at clubs and hyphy act Federation. "They are singing that they wear white tees, and every day they buy a new one for a buck!" laughs Szary incredulously. "That's genius. I love it!" But they are deadly serious that what they do should not be defined. "All genres and styles are old-fashioned," orders Bronsert. "No category is modern enough."
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