Digitalism came out of a dissatisfaction with what Jens Mölle and Ismail Tuefekci saw happening in music when they first met in a record shop in 2011. The duo started their revolution from their bedrooms, using a simple PC to make their first edits. From there the two continued their DIY methods to create an aesthetic that spans the genre spectrum. Sure you can hear from French house influence, but Digitalism crosses aspects of house and rock in a way that throws all notions of musical boundaries to the wind. Jens and Ismail have recently created a mix for !K7’s legendary DJ-Kicks, a series the two admired together in the record shop they met at almost twelve years ago. The backbone of the 22-track mix is a healthy portion of new exclusive Digitalism material along with choice tracks by Optimo, Alex Gopher, WhoMadeWho, Vitalic, The Rapture, and many more. I had the chance to chat with the ever enigmatic duo about their influences, their new mix, and who they’re listening to right now.
Nancy Lu: I have to ask, who are some of your influences?
We grew up with 1980s computer games from C64 and Atari. There were a lot of really cool 8-bit soundtracks, very cleverly composed. And they had a bit of an electro/new wave influence in them, as they scored mostly futuristic or phantastic games. These years probably play a huge part in our sound, and started our love for soundtracks. We listened to a lot of John Williams, Ennio Morricone and the likes.
We then discovered dance music in the early 1990s by listening to the weekly dance charts (early house music back then) on a local radio station, and were hooked up ever since. The formula and the theme around that music fascinated us. It was different to pop and it was mostly set in the nightlife, which was totally different to a young student’s everyday life. It was a first insight. That was around the time Joe T. Vanelli’s ‘Play With The Voice’, Tension, Stevie V, Gayland and The Uncanny Alliance were out. A decade later we were working in a record store, selling vinyl… Especially the French House movement was big for us. The production was so simple but so effective. Of course we listened to a lot of Roulé and Crydamoure.
And there’s the HipHop stuff that we started DJing with like Flip Mode Squad and Wu-Tang Clan, and early U2 records and The Hives. One day we were watching one of their gigs and it blew us away.
But of course – there’s lots more. It’s a big amalgamation.
Nancy: Do you think it’s strange that for a project that came to being because there was a lack of a scene for there now to be a “scene” and devoted following around Digitalism? Does that in any way influence you when writing new material?
Yes that’s a bit weird of course, but we just go ahead with what we feel like producing or writing. On the last album for instance we explored the field of songwriting a bit further, instead of just repeating ourselves. It would have been really boring to just make another ‘Idealism’. Of course people love you for a certain thing you do, but also they want you to evolve. It’s a fine balance. The reactions on ‘I Love You, Dude’ were mixed, and we guess that’s a good thing. If everyone would have loved it then we wouldn’t have gone far enough probably. It’s good to make something that doesn’t please everyone on purpose, for it’s that means it’s too average.
Nancy: How does it feel to have a mix with DJ-Kicks, a series that you two grew up admiring? Does it feel like your career is now coming full circle?
Totally. Being asked to do a DJ-Kicks and making it felt a little like getting the knighthood, it’s a next step, and it’s taking us back to our origins as DJs at the same time. We started making music to have something outstanding and unique for our DJ-sets. Every week we’d spend a lot of time working on edits and own ideas in a simple living room studio setup, sometimes super last-minute, so we could play it on the weekends.
Nancy: The two of you started Digitalism out of your bedroom so to speak. What was involved and how did you transition from that to the production you do now?
We started just with a simple PC back then to make our first edits. It was the time where CD writers finally became affordable, so it opened a whole new world to us – you didn’t have to press acetate vinyl to play your own stuff! We then added a simple keyboard and started adding our own sounds to everything. After a while we got so into making music that we decided to rent space to set up a studio. Because we didn’t have any money the only option was to go into a derilict WWII bunker. Space is cheap there. You can only use them for storage or rehearsals. Some friends joined and chipped money and some equipment in, and we started learning more about production. After some first payments we then started buying lots of gear. And then anytime we bought something new it inspired us to certain tracks.. Our whole growing up thing is very DIY and has been a natural, slow evolution. We like it that way, because we think you should know everything about the basics first before you dive into super complex things.
Nancy: To me, Digitalism was one of the first electronic groups of the 2000s (with strong Kitsune associations) to come out and become big. Do you feel like having that marker is a lot of pressure?
No, because at that time we came around the corner with our sound and somehow it blew up. When we did the second album, the world had already moved on. We didn’t feel like we had to prove anything. Important for us was that we deliver something that we are 100% behind and love, that was the only pressure. And now this year it’s quite interesting, we tend to stick out again because we didn’t join the arena house train… It’s nice.
Nancy: What are some adjectives you hope people associate with Digitalism?
Romantic, beautiful, driving, mystical.
Nancy: Between the two of you, how do you split up songwriting, production and DJing?
When we’re in the studio Jence usually jams out music and Isi then directs. It’s like camera man and director at a film set. We then discuss what we use, what we put aside for now, and how we proceed. We write the stuff together, we do a lot of brainstorming. Songwriting is not so easy for us because we don’t have that classic background. When we DJ, we ping-pong.
Nancy: Did anything change when you moved from Kitsune to Virgin Records?
Not so much luckily, because Kitsuné were still involved in the whole team around us, and they did the vinyls. It was EMI and Kitsuné together. Last year we moved over to Co-Op, which was appealing for us because they are an Indie network, and we didn’t feel like working with a major anymore. If you’re not Lady Gaga or Coldplay, you’re one of 1000 acts… The indies might be more our thing.
Nancy: What else do you hope to achieve in your music career?
Nancy: What artists are you listening to right now that you think we should get into?
To mention a few, some upcoming people are from Benelux, Junior, Egotroopers, The Presets are coming back finally with a new album, we listen to a big mix of some future stuff by the Mad Decent guys, Grimes, Lex Luger production and Girl Unit… It’s getting interesting out there….our friend Boris Dlugosch has new exciting music coming, and the last Strip Steve and Destructo collab is ace.