July 11, 2011

Digitalism Interview

By Dan Collacott

It’s a humid Monday night in June; my heart is still pounding from the adrenalin-fuelled set I’ve just witnessed from German electro dance duo Digitalism at XOYO. I say dance but their music has a truly schizophrenic edge to it, a factor cemented further by their new album ‘I Love You Dude.’ Recent single ‘2 Hearts’ sees the band bounce into more mainstream indie territory. In fact Isi Tüfekçi’s vocals are more prevalent throughout this record than on their last album ‘Idealism’ which is no bad thing. Vocals aside, instrumental track ‘Miami Showdown’ sounds like an action film chase sequence and the pulsing throb of ‘Reeperbahn’ and ‘Antibiotics’ take the band to even more extreme edges of the dance spectrum. Tracks ‘Blitz,’ ‘Circles’, ‘Encore’ and ‘Forrest Gump’  (with guest vocals from Julian Casablancas) are trademark Digitalism. ‘I Love You Dude’ is a logical progression for the band and expands both their musical style and range in two contrasting directions.

Experiencing the new songs and the band in general live is one hell of an intense adrenalin roller coaster ride that I’d recommend to anyone! We caught up with the Hamburg combo to find out more about the band, the new album, their influences, touring and their musical tastes and experiences.

What were your earliest influences?

1980’s Commodore C64 games soundtracks and any underground music from 1993. That year was somehow pivotal for us; we were only 10 or so, but we started listening to house music, taping mix sessions from the local radio stations. That was when we understood the formula and the aesthetics of club music, which is completely different to radio or pop music.

When did you meet and decide to perform as a band?

We met about ten years ago in a record store where Jence used to work after school. Isi was a frequent customer and as we were around the same age, we started exchanging the latest releases and all that. The shop sold house and techno vinyl only, so it was a hangout for DJs. It was only a matter of time until we started DJing together. When we had the money to buy a CD writer, we started editing tracks at home and burn them onto discs so we could play them in our DJ sets. Over the months, the original material became less and less, and there we were producing our own music. A bit later we decided to take it to the next level and rent space for a studio, that’s how we started.

Your music crosses many different genres - how would you best describe yourselves?

We make very schizophrenic music, one end is techno and the other one indie music, and it’s all very soundtracky. You can probably say it’s cinematic electronic indie music, 21st century 80s.

How did you come to work with Julian Casablancas on the track Forrest Gump?

We tried out a new thing on this album: Because we always come up with the music first and then start writing lyrics, we thought we’d send some instrumentals out to friends and other bands. The early “Forrest Gump” demo felt like it was made for Julian, who by that time had just released his solo album, which was quite electronic. We got in touch via his tour management, and he liked the stuff and the idea, so he sent a little recording over with him sitting down with his guitar. We somehow incorporated some of his ideas into the song and eventually he approved it. It was great to hear from him.

Is it true you put the song together by emailing vocals samples to each other?

It was rather ping-pong. We sent him our music and he came up with some melodies, which he sent over. He kind of ran out of time because he was really busy promoting his album, touring and writing for the new Strokes record, so he sent this little recording and that was it for him, he didn’t know what was gonna happen with it in the next step. It’s true 21st century collaborating, you know: The internet puts everyone in touch with each other, no matter where they are.

What is the song’s meaning?

Same as with lots of other songs on the album, we started writing about something that we had in mind and ended up with something completely different – which makes it much more fun! For some of the songs, even we have to guess what they are about now. We love that ‘cause we’re not so much into day-to-day simple lyrics like “I went into a bar and sat down” or something. “Forrest Gump” was pretty clear for us though. When it was finished we realized it was about someone who must never stop moving or running, either to run away from something bad or to find something good somewhere else. It reminded us of Forrest Gump. No discussion for us.

The album seems to sit at two ends of the musical spectrum, on one hand it has softer more pop focused tracks than Idealism but on the other it also has harder faster tracks. Was this a conscious decision?

Our music has always been very bipolar, with one end being techno and the other one being indie/guitar music. You could also tell on our first album “Idealism”, but the schizophrenia wasn’t quite that strong back then. Over the years we turned into a proper band from just being DJs and producers, and we learned a lot and kind of got tired of “the usual stuff”: When we started making music, we were heavily influenced by club music, which is usually based somewhere around 130 BPM. This time, our musical output is more extreme: The songs are much faster or slower, the melodies are more present now or the music is much harder. The disparity somehow grew a lot, but that’s just what came out of our minds when we were working on the songs. It was a natural development for us and represents our current taste in music.

Do these songs showcase different musical tastes and styles of you each individually?

Of course they do. There’s a bit of 1980’s post-punk in there, cheeky 90’s hip-hop, and it’s all very soundtracky, which is our main love. We are a bit yin-and-yang: Jence likes to go a bit harder and colder, and Isi likes to go a bit softer, warmer and funkier. It’s an eternal fight that results in the music you can find on our albums. We both love electronic club music as well as great indie songs on the other side though. We’re both finding it hard to be dead serious, which is why we put lots of silly ideas into the songs too.

Which female did the sweet vocals on Just Gazin'?

Usually we don’t like features on our music, but just like with a couple of things on the new album we wanted to try out something new. So for this song we invited Cäthe into our studio to sing on it. People probably don’t know her, but that’s good because we can present someone great to the world. She’s an amazing singer/songwriter from Hamburg, and she just released her album in May. Her voice reminds us a bit of Mama Cass Elliot, like sweet but also haunting and rough. 

You recorded your first album in a windowless bunker but for this one you also did some of the tracks in a studio in London, how did that affect your sound?

Oh, we did the same thing again: Everything was written and produced in our bunker studio. We just went to London to record the vocals for a few songs, because we’re not really equipped for this kind of stuff. We never really cared about vocal production. On the first album, we recorded while sitting and the ventilation was running, with the worst mic. So, sound wise it’s just the same, except for the vocals. However, we did renovate our studio a little bit last year, so it looks less like a damp hobby cellar now, more like a studio.

Who have remixed and worked with a number of artists, who else would you most like to tour or collaborate with?

That could change daily in this fast world. You never know who’s coming around the corner next.

How do you think the new songs have gone down with your fan base?

So far the reception has been really good, but of course not everyone is always 100% happy. Now with the new album we think that we kind of start again from zero, and see it pretty disconnected to the first one. Once you try to please certain groups you end up with something that’s not really you. So, fan base is a flexible thing, and some people leave and others join.

What are your favourite places to tour?

That’s hard to say, but probably the farther away from home, the crazier.

What do you think about the current dance/electro scene and artists?

There are lots of great artists and DJs out there, but we miss the mixed crowds a bit. Over the past few years, scenes have separated again into straight techno, deep house, disco etc.. It’d be nice to see everyone uniting again over a good mashed-up sound, and to have the girls back. There seems to be a lack of girls sometimes at the moment. It needs to be sexier again.

The album's name suggests it is about bromance and friendship or putting out love to your fans or both?

It’s a bit of both, but mainly about friendship and maybe some bromance… It stands for that feeling when you’re just really excited and having the time of your life and you want to tell your friends that you love them. It’s like a snapshot.

What song do you most enjoy playing live?

That’s rotating.

What is your career highlight and lowlight so far?

Having presented our new album live in front of ten thousands of people during this festival season is definitely a highlight, a moment when you realise what you’ve done and what the effect is.

Low? Don’t know. We don’t think much about stuff like that. 

What would you like fans leaving your gig to be feeling?

Wanting more, having had a great time.

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