Interview: Digitalism

We recently previewed Digitalism's upcoming show at Lit UltraBar on June 14th to give you a glimpse of exactly what you're in store for.  This high energy, exhilarating German duo embarked on a major tour starting back in May and are going to continue all the way through August.  In anticipation of their performance, we thought it'd be a great idea to pick their brains about how they got their start, who some of their early inspirations were, how they developed their sound, and what this tour is going to mean for Digitalism itself.

Phrequency: Over the past decade you guys have become a staple in the electronic music scene.  Where would you say your earliest inspirations came from?

Digitalism: The first experiments with music date back to the 1980s computer games. We grew up with Commodore C64 and Atari, and they had amazing 8-bit soundtracks. Some of them could totally be from today.  We then first got in touch with Dance Music around 1993, listening to a local radio station that had a weekly show on Fridays where they played the top House music records of the week, and although we were only 11 and 13 and just started secondary school, we were fascinated by it. It took a while to understand the aesthetics behind club music, but after a while we understood the formula and absolutely loved it. It was so different to other stuff you'd hear on the radio - especially pop. There's a certain beauty about vinyls slowly spinning and playing 10 minute tracks at night. It was a peak into the other side of life that only happens after dark. We recorded a lot of that stuff on audio tapes and were hooked ever since. In fact, our song 'Circles' was planned to be about these tapes, but we got lost in the process and ended up with something else instead.

P: In the early 2000’s, Germany was a hotbed for promising young producers; guys like Paul Kalkbrenner and Apparat.  What was it like coming up with them around the same time?

D: We met in a record store that was specialized on House and Techno, so it was kind of for DJs only. Jence was working there after school and Isi started helping out when there was not enough staff. We sold a lot of cool records back then, it was the start of us DJing and our vinyl collections. Sometimes guys from the US like Louie Vega or Roger Sanchez would come round because they were good friends with the owner. We just did our thing there and didn't really get involved with any local or German scene too much. Eventually we started our own studio in a WWII bunker, even more isolated. We didn't really feel like a part of a German thing going on.

P: How would you say Digitalism’s sound has changed since you guys started working together?

D: At the beginning we didn't have any money so we had to be very inventive about music production and how to achieve certain results. That's why our first tracks sounded very raw (as in VERY). We liked it though, and because we grew up with a DIY attitude anyway we kind of kept that vibe, until now. Over the years we learned more about music and songwriting and we decided to spend a bit more time on production and mixing. You could probably hear that on the last album; it didn't sound as 'demo' as the first one. There will always be this Digitalism element in everything we do though, a mix between garage punk, indie sounds and techno, cold cinematic synths and a big bed of bass.

P: Are you trying to appeal to the growing attention EDM has received or are you more interested in separating yourselves?

D: We've done electronic music for a long time and have always been doing our thing. That won't change. Now that dance music has become so big, it's good for us too as electronic artists, but it doesn't mean that we are gonna jump on any wagon. Trends will always be trends. We're glad there's a lot more people around us now, though!

P: What does it mean to you to be compared to the likes of Daft Punk and Depeche Mode?  Did that serve as inspiration to impress?

D: Those are big names, so that means an honor for us of course.
P: What are you looking forward to about this US tour?

D: Going back to a lot of places that were awesome the last times we've been there, and it's summer!! We're gonna indulge in Cinnabons as much as we can and of course - we play in Las Vegas for the first time, and it's a big one - EDC! We're definitely check out the casinos in our free time.

P: How has touring affected your lives?  Do you find it harder to create new material with such a heavy schedule?

D: Usually when we're on tour we don't really produce, which is still a bit old-school probably. We love making music in our studio and not with headphones at an airport gate, but with our touring schedule we had to adapt of course. Some of our last remixes were done on tour (we did one for Stimming for instance, and it was recorded with our live setup during a soundcheck in Washington), and many of the new tracks for the DJ-Kicks that's gonna be out this summer were made in California this year. Touring is very inspiring for us, we just need a quiet minute to sit down and channel it into music. It can be tough sometimes, but all the fun and excitement that you encounter just wipe out any exhaustion usually.

P: Where did the inspiration come for your set production in your live shows?

D: Over the years, we've had many different live show productions, it was a natural grower. Last year e.g. we played about 90 shows with a live drummer, and it was all about the performance, not so much about everything around it like visuals etc. This year we prepared a new show that takes us back to just the two of us on stage, and it's more back to techno and simplycism. We like iconic things, like our song titles are normally very strong images, and we try to translate that onto stage visually. We're also into things that are mystical and enigmatic.

P: Do you prefer playing live shows or do you appreciate the intimacy of DJ sets more?

D: We love our new live show, but coming from a DJ background it's equally important for us to play DJ-sets. For us it means we can test new stuff out and play our favorite tracks. You know, we get bored very easily, so it's good for us to switch back and forth between these two things.

P: What tour stop are you looking forward to most?

D: Well, this upcoming US tour is a great one and pretty special for us, and then we just have to wait and see - sometimes the most 'normal' places turn out to be the craziest, and looking back to it that's what makes a great tour stop. At the minute anything in the sun is very much appreciated.

P: Tell us a little about your DJ-Kicks mix, was being included in the series a dream come true?

D: Yeah definitely. We used to sell those compilations in the record store back then, and many landed in our collections! It's crazy that now after ten years we're friends with many of the people who did a DJ-Kicks, and we can deliver our own. So it was a bit like being called to get the knighthood or something. For us, it also means that a big cycle is closing. This DJ-Kicks represents us, our DJ-background, and the way we started with Digitalism: There's always lots of new material that we bring with us to the gigs to play, and on this compilation there's a lot of new Digitalism music. It's a new step for us doing this compilation, and reminds us of the old days at the same time.

P: Is there anything else that our readers should know about Digitalism?

D: We like Sharks.