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Tête-à-Tête With Digitalism: Talking DJ Kicks, Records And Beverly Hills Step



Photo by Richie Carver

With the advent of “commercial” electronic music, the situation has led for gems like Digitalism to stand out even more so. Ironically, a few years back when they first began, they thought likewise of the music coming out then and decided to venture out to create their own sound.

With great honor, their mix is featured on the latest DJ Kicks (which boasts the likes of Maya Jane Coles and many great others) and their sound is quite the journey. The pleasant mélange of sounds come together quite nicely in this hour and eighteen minute set. Featuring six new tracks of their own and two exclusive remixes, their compilation for DJ Kicks is also an insight into their new live sets, which have received good feedback across the board. The musical education they bring forth moving seamlessly from electro, indie to techno, rock is electrifying to say the least and will shock away some of that stagnant boredom we've been experiencing musically lately. Rocking out, grooving—in the end it's all dancing and we love to do it with Digitalism.

From reading your other interviews, it seems like you guys have the case of music snobbism—and I don't mean that in a bad way since I have it too. Was there a specific person or moment that pushed you into producing besides the whole dissatisfaction with the records coming out?

İsmail Tüfekçi: No it was more that.

Jens Moelle: You know when we started, we were still pretty young and that's when you want to rebel against everything out there. We did get bored of all the releases that we saw every week in the record store where we met as well. If you work there for a few months and then a few years, you see a lot of stuff is repeating itself. You might listen to a record and know that you have fifty of those waiting at home; it's all the same. By that time also, until 2002, at least in Hamburg where we are from, House music was really big and then it just went down. People didn't want to DJ anymore and lost orientation. We just thought okay, we have to do something about this. We went a bit more left field with our DJ sets as well and included rock records and everything and thought let's add some stuff of our own. We started editing stuff and eventually ended up producing our own stuff.

Was your dissatisfaction just with the electronic music genre or rock and others as well?

J: No no, all the people that came to the store (it was for DJs—it was only house and techno vinyl and nothing else, just for DJs) bought the same stuff and sometimes when a famous DJ posted his playlist, they all bought the same records—that's so boring.

It's funny that it was like that because my friends from Detroit said they would go to the record store to find that new sound or track that nobody else had.

J: That's probably what pushed us more to do something.
I: To be creative.
J: When we started, we were the only ones who made that kind of sound.
I: At the beginning definitely.
J: Now it's everywhere.

Now because of your work, do you think the scene in Hamburg has changed since?

J: It did change but not because of us in the first place, because we kind of got exported. People didn't really know us in Germany in the first few years because we played everywhere all the time. It wasn't our choice, it just happened. We are not part of the scene, we were stand alone all the time, doing our own thing and not getting involved. We were probably part of this whole thing that came up in 2005 with Justice and everyone that went global, that backfired to Hamburg and there are a lot of new talented producers there now.

Now with the Internet people are putting out tracks every single day, how do you feel about that? The same thing continued?

J: Exactly the same thing.
I: The difference is that somebody in a record store selected already and said, “hey, try this” and you trust him because it's someone who helped you discover new things and was sort of your teacher. When you went to the record store, especially ours, it had a specialized sound. He already selected good stuff for you and the bad stuff was kept outside. So, those who entered the record store already knew they were getting quality stuff. Of course sometimes, you're missing some stuff because you can't smell it. These days a lot of people are putting out so much and you don't have a selector so you're checking the charts online so you say “ah yes, this is good” but you don't know the history, you don't know nothing. So there is the teacher missing that is selecting a little bit or can help you discover new things. Even when we started, we knew our sound—‘90s, but all of a sudden you discover bands from the ‘80s and different stuff—it's a learning process. You discover Gang of 4 and you're like wow and learn more and more.
J: The other thing is people discover a lot of stuff, but it is very random. Whereas what's important is social interaction, face-to-face going out, listening to stuff and talking about it and not just going on a blog and pulling stuff from there. There is no system behind it really.

But with the advent of the technology, more and more people are turning to that.

I: Right now we are in the 21st century. Everything changed like ten years ago—they didn't have any Internet or television programs. Everything got changed, modern—kids 12 and 13 have a phone now.

But you should still search for that connection...

J: Yea, you have to go with the flow, and not isolate yourself and hang out in front of a computer all day. This music problem has always been there that a lot of stuff is the same. There are always people who are in search of the next thing.
I: When we started to do our thing, for example, there was new excitement. Before that was house—really modern thing—people, big DJs like Carl Craig they still had a big name but it was real trendy back then, then something else became trendy and something else in a circle.

When someone wants to remix your work, do they ask you or do they just submit what they worked on?

J: There are lots of people who remix our stuff who put it on YouTube, that's good if they want to do it if it means they like our music. If it's about official remixes, we usually choose the remixers.

Based on their sound?

J: If they're interesting or if they're good friends. Sometimes you can help someone out if they're about to break out by letting him remix you. We opened up about that. At the beginning we wanted to do everything ourselves. But now, we've grown up a bit. It's more fun, involving more people.
I: Yes to see how people have potential and giving them a platform it's much more important these days to help them out as well, cause there is so much going on and it's an honor for them do something for us.

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Do you see yourselves collaborating more with other artists?

I: Next up with Rihanna.
J: No, we're not typically collaborators. We've done some stuff on the last album. First we wanted to make sure we bring our ideas, our music across and we've had two albums with that now. Now we feel free to do whatever we want—we don't have to prove a point anymore. I guess we can do more collaborations but I don't know what's going to happen.

You guys remixed the Skrillex song “Syndicate,” how did that come about?

I: EA Sports. There must be somebody sitting who is a fan of our music because it's the tenth or fifteenth track of ours that they put in their games. It's an honor reflecting, there must be someone who must really like our music. They said hey, “we have here something if you want to do it, let us know.” For us it was like, “hey, we like that kind of stuff because we like soundtracks...”
J: And that's a game classic as well. They sent us the original theme and it just sounds like an NES from '91 and making something out of it... We grew up with it.

Skrillex is now the craze...

I: We call it the Beverly Hill step.

Love it, I'm going to use it from now on. That gives a little insight but if you can elaborate.

J: I think our main problem with that kind of dubstep is that it resembles white metal music too much and we're not fans of that. Like headbanging and long hair...we really don't like Metallica...

So on a scale of one to ten how much do you dislike...just kidding.

J: The dub music out there that is more black influence is much more appealing to us—that vibe. Dubstep in general is really interesting, but the white metal kind of thing, we don't feel it.
I: I come from a time as well when broken beats that came out like Sonar Collective, like Restless was more creative...
J: It had more soul in it, not just sweaty...
I: This is the real stuff if you're talking about dub or broken beats and stuff, for us.

So DJ Kicks was a dream come true for us, when you got approached for that, where did you begin (I would jump for joy and freak out...)

I: Jence and me never freak out. We never were like YEAAA!!!! Even if it's really interesting.
J: We should start doing that; it's probably because we're German so it's like pretty modest.

No dancing in front of the mirror?

J: Not so much. We just thought okay, let's write down all the tracks that we remember from back then when we used to play on vinyl in clubs, label names, producer names. We took it from there and narrowed the list down and it's like a historic approach. Also, we wanted to make sure that different music genres that we reside in are on there as well. There had to be more indie stuff as well and German nu-rave music, techno from ten years ago. We didn't have to think a lot about it. We just wanted to present our deepest thoughts. The only theme behind that is our personalities or how we grew up as DJs.
I: If you listen to the DJ Kicks, it shows different genres, it shows us exactly if you look at our first and second albums, you have techno, house, nu-rave, banging stuff. This is what we like and what we want to present.

So from a technical aspect, how do you plan the transitions so smoothly from indie to the 4/4 beat, how do you go about it?

I: The nose and the brain are doing it. When we start to do the DJ Kicks, we had to select our tracks you're really trying something. You have your mixer, CDJs, you’re starting and you’re doing a rough mix and listening again and again. Even driving in the car checking to see what can be changed.
J: Yea that part is good. Or it needs to be changed. Or surrounded by other sequence.
I: It's normal. Like building album and finding the best flow. We are a bit old school, we are coming from the DJ school, we know how to build up a set as well which is important. A lot of people forget that—if they DJ they bang it all the time, but you need sometimes those short waves.

You mention in your other interviews how the music scenes have separated out nowadays, why do you think that happened?

J: It used to be more united, indie and dance. If you look at festival bills it's still mixed up, but dance is taking over and demanding more space and not as much space as indie. There is also not as much exciting indie stuff coming out. It used to be more interesting. Indie fans is a slightly different scene—more underground and hidden—because dance is taking over.

Are you trying to bring them back with the way you play?

J: Yes, it'd be boring if you do one thing (cause we move back and forth between indie and techno) and not consider both sides.

I heard the rumor that you're changing the setup for your live shows. Is there something about your set up now that you're not fond of?

I: You can always do things better. This time last year we played as a full band. In six months we did 90 shows and we said we were bored. When we spent a little time in LA, we created a new live show and new design, dancier and created new loops. We've tried it out in a few countries and the feedback is amazing.
J: Yea it's really nice, we've got the new music now that we can drop as well that's on the DJ Kicks. Gear wise, we went more future with new technology so we don't bring all those synthesizers that need lots of maintenance this year. For a change, we like it.

Do you see yourself going back to the band set up?

J: Maybe in two years we will be four people on stage. Just using computers to make music on stage is gonna be too boring in a couple of months and we need to freak out and smash some drums. It could happen.
I: the interesting point is that we show people our different face and we can play everything. We can play in a live band; Jence and I can play together, DJ. We want to show people our different face and it's time for that.
J: The fans never know what to expect but at the same time it's harder for us to maintain a certain profile because it's not really clear because we have so much stuff going on all the time, but it's just what we want to do.
I: I think it's much easier for us if we focus on one thing, but that's not us.
J: We're very proud of doing it this way. A friend of ours once said that the problem with his favorite band they do something different then he might not like it so much because he loves them for a certain thing and if they don't do it ahh shit but he doesn't want them to always do the same thing. I like it this way though.
I: Adventure.

For rising producers who want to do analogue, what are some recommendations?

I: Quite expensive these days.
J: Start out with a hardware mixing desk or a hardware mixer. 909 if they can afford it because it has built-in media, but it's $1800.

If there was a fire and your house was burning down, what's the one thing you would run out with?

I: A lot of things...
J: The Korg MS20 and the 808.
I: Yea but one thing...but there's two of us, so it's fine. I'll grab one of those.
J: There's no better low frequency drum than that...

The hardware takes time to warm up which changes the sound, how does that work for someone that isn't familiar with the gear?

J: It's because electricity that forces the oscillator to create the voltage and that is what creates the sound. That voltage when you plug in a stereo is translated to speakers so that's like plus or minus and that's the movement. If the synthesizer is still really cold from a transport or something then it depends on what type of metal they use and the threads and everything but it's just like a good espresso machine. The best ones are the ones they have by Italian highways because they have the most customers all day and they are running all the time and they have the perfect pressure and are well oiled. If you leave an espresso machine offline for a few days probably the first few espressos are going to be really bad.

Nice metaphor. Looks like I'm going to be using that and the Beverly Hill Step a lot! Thank you!

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