German Electro duo Jens Moelle and İsmail Tüfekçi are pretty legendary. As Digitalism they lead the vanguard of mid-2000’s Electro resurgence, riding the high point of, and contributing to, Kitsuné’s cool and generally paving the way for modern Electro-House and Indie/Electro crossover. With raucous songs and an energetic live show, Digitalism showed the world that electronic music could rock…hard. Seven years and two studio albums later, Digitalism have consistently proved they are not only masters of rocking a crowd with high-octane Electro, but also deft songwriters, effortlessly mixing Indie and Electro amongst melding pot of styles that encompasses Disco, ElectroClash, Punk and Techno. Big beats and great songs, what more could you ask for?
Recently the duo were asked by Studio !K7 to curate and mix the latest in the long, prestigious line of DJ-KICKS albums. Released next month Digitalism’s DJ-KICKS through some of the best, punchiest, Electro around with the two Germans both paying respect to their career since 2004 and dropping some brand new exclusive tracks of their own. The likes of Vitalic, TWR72, WhoMadeWho and The Rapture rub shoulders with fresh tunes and reMixes from Digitalism in possible the best DJ-KICKS album for a while.
Jens and İsmail were kind enough to take some time out of their busy promotion schedule to put up with our waffle and fill you guys in on some of the inner workings of an Electro legend.
ER. Interviews tend to start by asking about influences, but in this case we’re really interested to know what your influences and music backgrounds are. Digitalism has always been such a melting pot of sounds, from Electro and ElectroClash, to Punk and Indie, to House and Techno. Where does that all come from?
D. It probably all started with growing up with 1980s computer games. They had amazing 8-bit soundtracks, and they were sometimes all about diving into weird different worlds made of bits and bytes. There were amazing compositions, and they sounded a bit new wave and punk sometimes. We love soundtracks in general, also the classical ones from John Williams, Vangelis and Ennio Morricone. Some people said we sound quite ‘Nordic’, pretty atmospheric and melodic like Röyksopp and Björk for example. Maybe true – we live close to Skandinavia in Germany. In the 1990s we started listening to Dance Music, especially House, and got hooked up by a weekly radio show that played the top ten tunes, vinyl, 10-minute versions. It was the first insight into nightlife and a totally different formula of music. We then met twelve years ago in a record store and started DJing House. After a while we got bored of the regular new releases, everything sounded the same. That’s when we started going more leftfield and alternative in our sets, like with Disco Punk, ElectroClash and Breaks. It was more fun. Of course we also had our years listening to early U2 and even Trance (in Germany, unavoidable in the 90s), and we share a love for Hip-Hop. We absorbed a lot of music and made it into a very broad dough if you want. We don’t like concentrating on just one genre too much, we get bored too easily. But what combines all of our music is that it’s electronic, it’s riff-heavy and it’s cinematic. And cheeky.
ER. And so how do you see yourselves? I would say most people we know who are fans of Digitalism are Electro fans, but some the time you are straight up Indie. Where would you say you fit and do you see yourselves bringing, say Indie to Electro fans, or Electro to Indie fans?
D. We reside within the two poles of Techno and Indie music. Ever since we started making music, we did it in a DIY way. So even when we make something that’s more techno, it might have that garage band attitude shining through. We didn’t care much about flawless production, that’s why our music sounds pretty raw in general. At the end, we’re electronic artists, because we don’t have a band background and we don’t play guitars and all that. We use those sounds, and we have those instruments lying around in the studio, but at the end we work with electronic gear, and we come from a Dance Music background, so even our more songy tracks are still danceable.
Our home base was always the electronic scene, so you could probably say we’re bringing Indie to them. But then again – we’ve played so many festivals with band line-ups programmed around us, that we sometimes also gave an insight into Electro to those live-band audiences. It’s great to have them all aboard.
♫ Digitalism – Simply Dead
ER. So what’s the story with you two coming together? Did you decide to make music with a bit of everything you liked because no-one else was?
D. We met in a record store in Hamburg twelve years ago. Jence was working there in the afternoons after school, and Isi came round as a frequent customer. It was a place to hang out like in ‘Hi-Fidelity’, and they were specialized on House and Techno vinyl, so it was more for DJs only. We spent a lot of time there, practicing mixing on the turntables and browsing vinyls. We were just old enough to go to clubs, and we started DJing. The owner of the store did parties every now and then, and he put us on the bill together. Since then we’ve played together every time. Having spent so much time in the store, we started to get bored of the releases that would come in every week. They all sounded the same, and we didn’t want to play stuff that 99% of the others would be playing. So we started making our own edits at home to have something unique, and later on when we had more gear, like a keyboard and stuff, we made our own first tracks. We felt like there wasn’t really the type of music that we’d love to play, so we had to make it ourselves – a mix between techno, punk and electro. Back then, we were the only ones in our home town. That’s why we played mostly abroad at the beginning. Now it’s thriving with lots of young and really talented producers.
ER. ‘Idealism’, and the singles that came before it, were some of of the biggest records that were part of the 2005-2007 resurgence of Electro, how much was that a pressure when recording ‘I Love You, Dude’? You must have felt like all eyes were on you.
D. It wasn’t too bad to be honest. We had a couple of years of touring-only after the release of our first album, and we got more experienced in playing live, and collected lots of impressions from travels and being on the road. All that went into the second album. We knew we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, that was clear for us. Everything else was basically freestyle. Like with the first album, we started making quick ideas, tested them in DJ-sets and then had some favorites that we later on turned into full songs and tracks. We loved them, so we just stuck to them. This time we wanted to get deeper into songwriting for a change, so lots of the track on ‘I Love You, Dude’ are shorter and more structured, and have vocals on them. It was just something we felt like doing when we made the album.
At the end, we had something that was obviously different to the first album, but also was pure Digitalism, and we loved the finished songs, so we just released it. You know, as long as you love what you are doing there, you’re good. If you have doubts then you should reconsider. We weren’t doubting, because we make music out of passion in the first place, not to please people. But of course, you never really know how to handle that follow-up record. You establish a certain profile with the first LP and then you can only extend the spectrum with the second one. We felt like that was the case, so all good. Now that we’re through the notorious ‘album 2’, we feel free to do anything. Looks like exciting times are ahead!
ER. So now you’ve been asked by Studio !K7 to put together their latest DJ-KICKS album. That’s quite an line-up to follow, how did you go about compiling your playlist?
D. For us it was very clear that we wanted to present our sonic universe and history as DJs to the people. So we started by writing down all our favourite records, labels and producers from back then, and added more new music by those people or a few new favorites by upcoming artists and friends. We wanted to make sure that the list covers our whole musical spectrum, from techno via electro, house and disco to new wave and indie music, and that people know us better after they’ve had a chance to listen to the mix. At the end we added a lot of new tracks that we’ve been working on, and we had a perfect compilation. It’s like when we started making music for our DJ-sets. Now it’s a DJ-mix with ups and downs, waves, time to breathe and harder bits, and again we’ve added new music. It’s like going back to the roots, but at the same time it’s a next step for us.
ER. And the new Digitalism tracks on there, would you say they were leftovers from ‘I Love You Dude’ era Digitalism or a peek at Digitalism’s next era, what the future holds?
D. Who knows? A lot of the new tracks were made earlier this year, without a plan. We then got asked to do a DJ-kicks in the middle of that process, so we just went: ‘Yeah let’s put all this stuff on it to make it even bigger!’. Two tracks are a bit older (‘The Pictures’ and ‘Simply Dead’), the rest are all new, and the remix for The Rapture was made exclusively a few days before the deadline for the DJ-kicks. We were just jamming around in the studio, so we don’t know what’ll come out of it next when we’re back there.
♫ Digitalism – A New Drug
ER. Having reMixed the likes of Depeche Mode (and Dave Gahn) and The Cure, would you say you had a fondness for old SynthPop and New Wave? Sometimes, in some of your arrangements, we get the feeling that might be influences coming from there. I always hear a lot of New Order in your more Indie-Electro songs.
D. That’s correct, we like the mix of live bass, edginess, amateurism and synthesizer sounds ever since the 80s video games that we’ve mentioned earlier. A lot of New Wave and Post Punk music had that kind of vibe – it was a bit colder and darker, they used the first drum machines and sequencers, and they had warm basslines with icy synths. Something really appealing. People should check out that era (end ‘70’s ‘till mid ‘80’s).
ER. Your reMixes tend to be pretty different to the original. what’s your process when deconstructing and reconstructing a track you’ve been asked to remix.
D. We approach a remix usually the same way we deal with our own original material: We make a Digitalism track out of it. That’s the same with our music: We have one idea and remix it about 20 times.
ER. So what’s in Digitalism’s studio? Do you have a favourite bit of kit?
D. The heart of it, since we started, is a computer. We have a huge analogue mixing desk that’s wired up with all sorts of hardware synths, new and old ones. We have a guitar there, even though we’re really bad in playing it, but we compensate that with the use of samplers and other tricks. From day one we always found our own ways of production and of making things happen and getting the results we wanted. Back then we didn’t have any money so our first computer was so slow that we were forced to get creative when it came to multiple tracks and all that. That’s when we started sampling ourselves a lot.
We love our Korg Electribes (we even had them on stage until last year, our studio is full of them) and old Teisco synths, and we have an EMS Synthi A. That’s a super rare one from the 70s. Its ‘brother’ synth the Putney was used by Brian Eno all the time. You can patch anything through it and it has nice real spring reverb..
ER. If money was no object, what piece of studio gear would be your dream to own?
D. Some massive modular synth probably. And The best high-class valve hardware compressors. Couldn’t afford them so far.
ER. How’s the Hamburg music scene, when I think of Germany my mind goes straight to Berlin, Sell Hamburg to me?
D. Hamburg’s been big for House music in the 90s, with people like Boris Dlugosch (who used to produce with Moloko f.i.) and Knee Deep (big in the Miami scene back then). Our record store boss even is good friends with Masters At Work, Dimitri From Paris, Roger Sanchez and all those people. There was a legendary club called ‘Front’ that gave birth to underground and acid House in Germany back then.
You’re right, people first think of Berlin when they hear the word Germany, but now Hamburg has a big electronic scene doing its own thing and making some really good music. Tensnake, Solomun and Stimming for instance are all from Hamburg. There’s a lot of stuff happening – and it’s much more beautiful than Berlin, like a huge park with lots of canals.
Oh, and Hamburg is famous for its redlight district, the Reeperbahn. Nearly everyone’s heard of it. It was the place where The Beatles started, and it’s got so many venues, clubs and bars that many close after a few months due to competition, then re-open and so on… It’s a very dynamic and interesting place.
ER. So you’ve played around a few places. Any crazy rock ‘n’ roll stories from your adventures?
D. Of course, but we don’t even want to get started with that – it’s like opening Pandora’s box. There’s no artist that’s been touring for a while without any crazy stories.
ER. What would be your preference, to perform as a DJ team or as a musical outfit?
D. We like to switch back and forth between playing live and DJing. Since last summer we’ve played about 120 live shows, and at the moment we’re on a DJ-tour through the States. It’s good to have that for a change every now and then, so we can test out new ideas and drop some favourites in the sets. When we play live, we it’s more physical and we can get rid of lots of energy on the other hand. We use a lot of sweat usually, performing.
♫ Digitalism – 2 Hearts
ER. What’s coming up for Digitalism after DJ KICKS is out?
D. There’s be music releases around the DJ-Kicks of course, and we’ll be touring more, as DJs and live. Everything else is under wraps – we like to surprise.
ER. Is Digitalism a Cereal or a Full Continental Breakfast kinda’ band? Would your answer change the day after a show?
D. We love cereal but the next day after a show is always good with bacon and eggs. We’re not big fans of continental breakfast.
So, there you have it.
Many thanks to Jens and İsmail for taking the time to share their thoughts with our readers.
Digitalism’s ‘DJ-KICKS’ record is out 10th July. You can pre-order the record here.
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