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  • Interview: Digitalism

    Tue, 12 Jun 2007 14:24:01

    Interview: Digitalism - The German dirty electro duo talks about "New Rave" and their uniquely scuzzy sound

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    Hailed as "the most exciting dance music duo to come along in a decade" (Mixmag) and "exhilarating and staggering" (The Sun), Digitalism are taking the dance music world by storm with an edgy electro-rock sound that's equal parts Underworld, LCD Soundsystem and Depeche Mode. Bursting out of Hamburg, Germany's unheralded club scene, partners Jence and Isi first made a name for themselves with whiplash-inducing remixes for Klaxons and Daft Punk, then invaded the UK top ten with an original track, the relentless "Zdarlight."

    Here, Jence and Isi talk about how they got start, how they cut tracks in their unique studio (an abandoned World War II bunker), and what all the fuss is about this so-called "New Rave" movement.

    How did you meet?

    We met seven years ago in Hamburg, where we both grew up. Jence was working at a record store to get more in touch with the local DJ and club scene, Isi was a frequent customer and sometimes helped out when Jence had to learn for school exams instead. The store owner did parties from time to time and put us onto one floor once, as we were the "youngsters" in those days. That's how we started playing together.

    Were you making music before meeting?

    Both of us were DJing, apart from that, Jence had done some hobby stuff at home throughout the years, mainly trying out silly stuff with tape decks and a cheap Yamaha keyboard and his brother.

    At what age did you start making music?

    Isi started as a teen by DJing for parties, that's where he discovered his love to providing the sound for a night. Jence went to music school as a young kid for a year or two to learn keyboard and electronic organ, but that was a really long time ago. DJing started around 16 or 17. Disco and hip-hop first.

    What acts influenced you when you started making music together?

    We set up our studio within a WWII bunker, so the atmosphere was really raw, naked and edgy. This was actually the biggest influence on our music. A lo-fi touch and garage band punk attitude that comes up in that world on its own. We started making music together because we were pretty bored from the general vinyl output, so we felt forced to do the kind of music we'd love by ourselves. Which was pretty loud music actually. Soundtracks, also classical ones (John Williams for instance) and those big old school hip-hop legends like Dr. Dre and RZA, and other acts or producers who don't take everything too seriously, are influences, as well as wave bands like Depeche or the inventors of instrument-destruction, The Kinks. And UK emo bands like The Verve and U2.

    How do you work together, who does what in the studio (what instruments do you play)?

    Although we use pretty much live elements in our music, we're not professional guitarists or drummers. The stuff's just lying around in the studio and we use it, sometimes also in an unconventional way, and process it afterwards. We don't really care about perfect record takes and stuff, 'cause we're pretty impatient and cannot wait to go on quickly. This way you also get a good evolution in your works. Jence has a huge melodic output which he usually hammers into the gear and Isi is directing everything. It's very complementary how we work. It turned out to be quite effective.

    How would you describe your sound?

    Digitalism do edgy, emotional and melodic electronic indie music, which is really loud and anthemic.

    Did people understand your music immediately, or did it take a while to take off?

    At the very beginning, when we started sending our music around with the help of a friend, people weren't really immediately interested. The first ones to pick our output were Kitsuné from Paris, which is why we landed there instead of a German base. We started with "Idealistic" and it took us actually nearly half a year until we discovered that "Zdarlight" was pretty huge on the floors.

    I've read that you don't care about your sound, but tracks like "Zdarlight" are well produced. Does it take you long to get the right sound and structure to your songs?

    We're pretty impatient always, this is one reason why we don't care about perfect record takes or something. We have tons of layouts and ideas floating around in the studio. We get bored pretty quickly, so we can't really deal with a song that would take us longer than one or two nights to finish. Actually, "Zdarlight" was done in only one night, and it may sound pretty well produced, but that's an exception, because the whole song only exists only 'cause we tried out some new cablings and mixing techniques. Lots of our music comes up by accident when we're trying out new stuff. And then there's Isi, who's the best inhouse A&R, who very quickly directs everything into the right channel on the fly.

    Your sound is very popular at the moment. Why do you think this new wave of dance music has taken off now?

    It's a natural process, like, there's always a trend and an anti-trend or contra-reaction against what's existing. For a few years, clubland has been dominated by minimal, deep techno sounds, and it feels like people are a bit fed up with it now. Also, with all the Web 2.0 sites, everyone is much more informed about movements, ideas and what's happening than before. The demand for music that makes you jump and combines the best of different genres, like, electronic elements and song structures, concerts at dance parties or techno sets at rock festivals, has risen a lot. People want to be set into a positive mood again nowadays. And that's a global thing.

    You've become associated with the Ed Banger crew, LCD Soundsystem, MSTRKRFT and Simian Mobile Disco, do you see yourselves as being similar to any of these bands? Did any of them influence you?

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