If Franz Ferdinand are doing rock music that make people dance, Digitalism are making dance music that make people rock. There are loads of rock bands making music for the dancefloor. Digitalism make electronic music that everyone can rock to. For the past two years, they have been the go-to men for indie remixes, having reworked the Klaxons, The Test Icicles, Cut Copy and The Futureheads. Digitalism is Jens Moelle & Ismail Tuefekci from Hamburg. They met at the city’s Underground Solution record store, soon bonding over their shared love of dance and rock records. When the store’s owner, Ollie Grabowski, began casting around for a couple of fresh, young DJs to play at party, he suggested that Isi and Jens team up. “We were of the same generation,” says Isi, “we liked the same records, so we were put in one room together.” Ever the innovators, the boys bought an adaptor for their first DJing gig, allowing them to plug two sets of headphones into one socket. “So you could hear the same thing,” explains Isi. “You never drop out of the groove,” Jens confirms. As the duo’s DJing reputation took off, so the harder the pair worked to find obscure, unheard records to animate their crowds. In 2001, the price of CD writers dropped sufficiently to allow the boys to burn their own records. “We stared with some edits,” says Jens, “just for our DJ sets.”
Can you describe Digitalism to someone that’s not heard of you before?
I’m practiced at this as we get asked in taxis all the time! We’re a two-man indie electronic band. We started out as DJs and then we progressed into more song based music.
It’s been more than 11 years now since the release of Idealism, how would you say you’ve developed in that time, musically and personally?
When Idealism came out, we’d been around for a few years but everything was still new. We’ve learned about how the industry works, how touring works, even why a soundcheck is necessary! Let’s just say the sound wasn’t the best when we started out, but we’ve always had fun. We learned on the job, we grew wiser. Our sound has changed, but the core elements have always stayed the same. We make the kind of music we like to listen to, and our taste hasn’t really changed. Our live shows are naturally more varied as we have more material. One thing that’s crazy to think about is that some people that come to the clubs to see us, they were so young when we first started out. We respect that so much, and we never take anything for granted. It’s so nice when our older fans are still around, and the younger fans are getting to know us – we never forget that.
You’ve been making music for so long, and you’ve experienced huge changes in terms of technology and the equipment that’s available to you, how has your set up changed?
Our production techniques are more sophisticated now. Even though we’ve got more gear we still like to approach songwriting and production in a similar way. We still make our music in a WW2 bunker in Hamburg. It looks a lot nicer than it did 16 years ago, and we’ve got a lot more stuff to play around with. Even if we have a really fancy synthesiser for example, we’ll still program it from scratch. Sometimes new gear inspires you when you’re playing around with it, but we still work in the same way. At the end, when you glue everything together, add a bit of magic and it comes to life.
How have you experienced the music industry change in the years you’ve been working?
The biggest change is that everything is so democratised. You don’t need loads of money to make a song, you can do it on your phone. It’s interesting to see what people can do, everyone becomes a creator. There’s not the classic division between artist and audience. But then, it’s kind of diluted because so many people are contributing to the musical landscape. It’s interesting, of course, but it also means we are split up into micro-tastes. For example, when Idealism came out, we’d have these moments where the club was really united. You could play anything. A band, a techno DJ, they’d all come and have a good time. There’s not that mix anymore. Everyone has very specific tastes, split up into genres, it’s harder to get everyone under one roof.
When creating tracks, where do you get your unique inspirations from? (whether it’s from movies, games, other music etc.)
It’s hard to tell because we absorb so much stuff that surrounds us and blend it all together, that the question of origin is a tricky one. For instance, we like to recreate certain moods or moments that we experienced on the road with our music. Or sometimes we just try out a new technique or piece of equipment and it sparks a bunch of new songs. our studio is in a concrete WWII bunker, so it’s very faceless and neutral in there — unless you create something! There’s a lot of music and loops that we have from those initial ideas, and that in a second step does inspire us to write lyrics… The music usually comes first for us. Only a few songs have been written and scored at the same time — Holograms is one of them!
What’s your creative process when you’re in the studio?
We work in loops, grouping them together and seeing what works. We try to bring our impressions from the road and our thoughts into the studio with us to paint with our music. Our songs don’t have stories, they just describe something. Sometimes they’re really abstract. If our songs were visual, they wouldn’t be videos or movies, they’d be stills like paintings. The music almost always comes first, followed by seeing what inspires us lyrically. We tend to say I’m the camera man and Isi is the director – if we go back to Hollywood analogies. I have a tendency to get lost in the details, Isi looks at the bigger picture.
What are you most influenced by musically?
Rather than certain artists it’s more methods and genres. We grew up with 80s and 90s video games, when they were pretty basic and it was all about diving into a completely unrecognisable world. Now games are much more sophisticated, there’s not so much room left for imagination. We love big soundtrack stuff like John Williams. Recently, we’ve been re-discovering a lot of records and playing them to each other. Lots of post punk, new wave. Especially German new wave – it was really interesting because these songs were about the end of the world – Germany was right there, in the dark, the borders of East and West. No one knew what tomorrow would bring, there was a lot of apocalyptic dystopian stuff going on.
Do you think that video games provide musicians with an extra outlet to promote their music more efficiently?
Of course! We love video games and grew up with them, so it’s nice to have our own music on some of those soundtracks. We’ve been fans of game music for ages now, because for us it was the replacement for radio. It’s another outlet that you can use as an artist — and a real good one for us as soundtrack addicts!
What’s your favourite video game, that has your music in the soundtrack?
FIFA! It’s our go-to sports game. It was cool to have Shangri-La on FIFA 17.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s good that things happened in the way they did. We’re very Zen in that way.