Interview | Digitalism

Digitalism is an indie dance production duo hailing from Hamburg in Germany…but you probably knew that already. Their debut album, Idealism rocketed members, Jens Moelle and Isi Tuefekci to global fame with dancefloor hits like “Zdarlight” and “Idealistic”. MM had a chat with the pair to discuss their second album, I Love You Dude, electronic music today, and dodging Dubstep.

I heard you guys met working in a record store, how did you come to form Digitalism?
We met about ten years ago in a record store in Hamburg. Jens was working there, I [Isi] was a frequent customer. We were around the same age and just finished school, so the store was our new hangout, browsing through the Techno and House vinyl crates every day. We started DJing and soon did that together. After a while we started doing our own edits at home on an old PC, and because CD writers were finally affordable, we could take those edits to our gigs to play them. The original material that we used in them became less and less, and after a while we ended up with our very own productions. Over the years working in the store, we got kinda bored with all the weekly new output, and we made more and more own stuff to play in our DJ sets. With the help of some friends from a huge German pressing plant, we were able to release our first white label vinyl with a few edits, and a few months later “Idealistic” in a first version. That’s when Kitsuné picked us up.

Your second album, I Love You Dude sounds more personal than your first album, what is it about?

We started writing, I Love You, Dude with a travelling theme, because we drew lots of inspiration from all the touring around the world over the last few years. It is very cinematic and much more down-to-earth than the first one, which was more like spaced out. The record is about relationships and friendships, and features songs that are shorter and more to the point this time. The music is more extreme now, so there’s really fast and slow stuff, and the melodic parts are even more melodic, whereas the hard stuff got harder. There’s more full songs on it than on Idealism, which is something we felt like doing after we finished off the first album with “Pogo.”

What sort of stuff did you listen to growing up that impacting your musical tastes?

I listened to a lot of stuff, but some major ones could be 1980s computer games (Atarai or C64), ’90s hip hop, and any generally edgy production like RZA did, or in French house, electro-clash or post-punk. Finally, soundtracks. We think pretty cinematic[ally].

In some songs, and most prevalently in your second album, Jens provides vocals. Is singing something you [Jens] always had an interest in?
In a way, yes, to complete a song according to a vision that we have in mind. We got used to it after a while, it’s something you have to accept for yourself (that you consider yourself a singer). We never thought we’d be songwriting and singing though when we started making music years ago.

How do you decide which songs will be instrumental and which will have vocals?

It’s always gut decisions. Some songs are complete because they might have a prominent element or synth hook that would replace a vocal layer, but then others just scream for something to complete them. It’s hard to say really.

How do you write your music? There seems to be a lot of different production elements, what is your production process like?
We always come up with the music first. We start jamming with our gear and create a couple of loops and ideas that we turn into full tracks or songs. Usually once we have a favourite we then sit down and start writing lyrics, depending on what the music inspires us to. Yes, it’s the other way ’round; we compose and then see what it inspires us to, instead of composing according to an inspiration, theme, or subject that we had. On the last album we tried out a new technique that seemed to work better with us, which is making the music, then putting it aside, start writing lyrics, and then adding the music that we already had (or with changed chords) in the last step. We also do sample ourselves a lot, so those loops might end up somewhere in totally new songs too. Each song is kind of the 20th remix of the first idea.

Which track of yours are you most proud of/ is your favourite to perform?

That’s a rotation, like on a radio station. We get bored easily, so it’s always something else that we might have enhanced for the live show and looking forward to performing. But “Pogo” is definitely a special one, people everywhere chant along with us, and there’s probably never been a gig since 2007 that we didn’t play it. It’s still fun to do it!

Who have been some of your favourite people to collaborate with?

It was great to be asked to remix Depeche Mode (twice) and of course, get in touch with Julian Casablancas, even though it was only briefly. One of the most important ones though was working with Kim of The Presets, who contributed some lines to “Pogo”; ever since we are best friends.

How did you find collaborating with Julian Casablancas to make “Forrest Gump”?
It was great! By the time we were in touch with him he was busy touring and promoting his solo album and writing new stuff for Under The Cover Of Darkness. We didn’t think he would be up for jamming something out to us. He seems really nice.

Do you ever test new material during DJ sets?
Of course! That’s how we started making music, and that’s always something we go back to when we start working on new music.

What’s your opinion of dubstep? You seemed to not buy into the trend during the four years between your albums, was that an intentional move?

It wasn’t really intentional, we’re just not into it. We respect it, but it’s nothing that really appeals to us. In a way, the current “mainstage dubstep” is an electronic version of white metal music, you know where they headbang and grow long hair. That was never our thing. We like dub and bass music that’s more black, soul influenced instead.

When you’re putting your music together, who do you imagine listening to it? Do you ever have a specific audience in mind, or is it mostly for yourselves?

It’s mostly for ourselves. If we don’t like it, it doesn’t leave our studio. But we have this motto, “keep it sexy” that says the music should also be accessible for the ladies.

What is your favourite environment to play in? Do you prefer festival or club audiences?
We love summer festivals. You get to see lots of other bands and hang out with friends that you might not have seen for a long time. And it’s great to play the big stages which have enough space for your whole production. Club gigs sometimes are a bit limited space-wise, but that makes them better because you have to improvise more. It’s cool to see an ocean of people being happy during your show on festivals, but standing right in front of everyone at a club gig is something so magical and intense, you definitely need both. You’re sometimes too far away from the people at festivals. And we like it sweaty.

Do you have any memorable/favourite gigs?

The best one was definitely our very first live gig at L’Ososphere Festival in Strasbourg/France 2005! We had to empty a whole fridge of booze before we went on stage, we didn’t know what to do there. We survived the 35min set and then killed another fridge. Just to pick another one…Once we did a switch from an old to a newer live show which involved lots of preparation and also going from 8 channels to about 34. That was when we were playing Parklife Festival in 2008. We ran out of time to rehearse (as always) and just had to try it out on stage, headlining in front of 30,000 people. It went down well and people went crazy – it was one of those days when you’re full of adrenaline and pray that everything goes right.

Who are some of your favourite DJs/producers around at the moment?

Gesaffelstein, Hey Today, Junior, Harvard Bass, Brodinski, BS1… to name a few. Some of them have been around for a while, but they’re good.

You’re known for your incredible lighting at your shows, how important is the live show and aesthetic for you?
Thank you! At the moment we only play live so it’s the thing we’re most focused on right now. Digitalism has a very vivid, image-driven universe, and that starts in the music and ends on stage with the lights and all the visual stuff that’s going on there. You cannot unlink those two things. We want to make sure people get the entire idea behind what we’re doing when we come and play.

How did you find your experience of touring Australia compared to other audiences worldwide?

Australia is always very full on, it must be the generally good weather. You can tell people are having a good time there, and that kept us coming back ever since our first tour down under that we did with The Presets in 2006. It’s crazy though how people connect worldwide and watch gigs on YouTube or live streams while they’re sitting on another continent somewhere. Punters and club-goers globally are like the ocean currents that take things to other places.

You will be playing in Brisbane next month, what do you hope your audiences take away from a Digitalism show?
A great time of course! We’re excited about doing our first solo show in Brisbane this time, and everyone should watch out for the new show that we’re bringing over.