Interview with Digitalism
By Bob Gourley | Published on November 23, 2014
German duo Digitalism are the type of band who seem to be blending genres out of a love for music, so it comes as no surprise that members Jens “Jence” Moelle and Ismail “Isi” Tufekci met while working at a record store. While rooted in techno/house, Digitalism have utilized a wide variety of electronic styles, and have also been known to bring a rock edge into their music. While there have been common threads connecting all of their work, the members of Digitalism have let their sound morph and change considerably over the years. For example, their 2007 album “Idealism” has some very dark songs that are a far cry from the bright, uplifting sound of their recent tracks “Wolves ft. Youngblood Hawke” and “Second Chance.” Digitalism recently wrapped up a US tour and currently are at work on a new album. In an email interview, they discussed their evolution and creative process.
Your sound has changed a bit over the years. To what factors do you attribute the evolution of your sound to? Do you feel like you’ve made conscious decisions regarding the direction you want to take your music, or is it more of a natural evolution based on your collaboration and the music you enjoy at the time?
You can see our current sound as the evolution of the one that we started off with. Sounds in electronic music always evolve, and you learn new skills in the studio. And then there’s the kind of music that you’re into at a certain moment. You could say that our new singles are a logical next step from the sounds on our album ‘I Love You, Dude’. It’s song-based and very ‘Digitalism’, but also we’re not in 2011 anymore. And not in 2008. It’d be boring if nothing would change over the years right? But on the other hand, we used that decade since we started to really refine the core of our sonics. There’s a constant element that makes something ‘Digitalism’ in everything we’ve made, from 2002 until now, and it’s more clear now than ever before.
What is the collaborative process like between you? Do you feel that you each specialize in coming up with certain types of parts?
It’s like Jence builds the Lego blocks, and Isi shifts them around to build something with it. It’s very complementary. One dives into an ocean of details, the other one has more overview.
Is it always obvious whether or not a track will have vocals?
Very much so. When a track is finished, you can already tell what’s going on by how you talk about it. Some are instrumentals really, others are complete without the extra layer.
What do you look for when deciding what remix projects to take on?
We have to like the artist and the song of course. It has to be fun. If it’s not, we don’t do it.
Do you feel that the remix work you do for others has any influence on your own music?
Actually, we came up with a lot of our own songs from ideas that grew from remixes we were working on. But that’s more because we always have so many ideas while we’re working on something, and we can only use one for the finished remix. The rest goes into our audio melting pot.
Do your DJ and live performance sets influence each other? If you use your DJ sets to test out new original music, are there any particular tracks that you’d cite as being strongly shaped by this practice?
Our live sets are not directly influenced by our DJ sets, but from DJ sets in general. We always try to create a certain narrative with it that includes peaks and troughs, to grab people and take them on a journey. When you feel comfortable with one bit, it might flip entirely the next minute into something else. It’s something we learned from our roots as DJs.
There’s been some influences from our live sets on our second album. While ‘Idealism’ was mostly based around 130 BPM, we found out that when we play live, some of the stuff could do with a little speed boost. Some tracks on our second album were much faster (or slower), we opened that spectrum.
Doing DJ sets and remixing, you’re probably exposed to a lot of music; when it comes time to make your own, do you ever find it difficult focusing and figuring out exactly what you want to do with your own sound?
The more music you make, the more your sound crystallises. If you’re not sure where you want to go, just wait a few songs, and you can tell where you want to go.
I know that you met while working at a record store, but were there particular artists who inspired you to start making music together?
It was mostly a matter of wanting to contribute to the scene. If you sell vinyl in a shop that was specialised on House and Techno for DJs, you can’t resist the call of the decks. Once we were DJing, we felt the urge to drop our own tracks. That’s how it all started for us.
Having done remix work for more rock-oriented music, I’m curious as to whether you’ve ever considered going more in that direction with your own music? (like perhaps working more non-electronic musicians)
We’ve worked with a lot of indie and rock bands in the past — it’s what’s influenced a lot of our music. We like things that have and edge to it and are not 100% clean. You can find that a lot in guitar-driven music. There’s always been songs that we released that were ‘more rock’ than others, it’s an eternal battle. Our music is spanned in between Techno and Indie somehow, and sometimes it goes more the one way, sometimes more the other. What it’ll lean towards in the future or at any certain moment, we don’t know yet.
While you are creating music, you think about how songs will come across live?
We tried to keep that in mind when we made the second album, but we forgot… So basically, no. But if we listen to new material and we get up in the studio and heads start banging or feet tapping, then at least we know we really want to perform that stuff live.
When it comes to performing, are you satisfied by the current electronic equipment? Do you feel limited at all? There have been some unusual controllers coming out; are you always exploring the current gear, or comfortable with what you’ve been using?
There’s so much stuff and so many possibilities out there, it’s totally fine… At least for us! Whatever you want to do, you can do that live now.
Either with your live or DJ sets, do you do you tend to approach things differently depending on what country you’re in? Do you find that different audiences respond differently to particular material?
Of course they do, but that’s not a country thing, it’s actually different from city to city! – Which makes touring so much fun. If every night would be the same, it’d be boring wouldn’t it! – We generally like to keep our sets independent from where we play, because we have a certain script in mind that we want to bring across. Sometimes there might be regional extras.
Your music has been featured in many soundtracks. How particular are you about where your music is used? Are there any things you don’t want it used for?
Having your music run in games and motion pictures is a great thing, especially because we grew up with playing video games, and we love soundtracks. It’s a new way to broadcast your music, now that radio stations seem to be fading a bit.
Have you done any music specifically for soundtrack work?
What can we expect from the upcoming new album? Is it complete?
We cannot tell yet.
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