TF Archives

Digitalism - Digital Love

Author: Tristan Burke
Monday, November 17, 2008

Kraftwerk peddled mannequin mystique. Daft Punk resplendent robotics.
Heirs apparent Justice a luminescent electronic sermon, conducted from within a Marshall amp pulpit. “Pop froth,” is what those Parisian Ed Bangers affectionately termed it: the gimmick, the in, the catalyst to worldwide hipster renown. Digitalism don’t have, or for that matter need one. Jens ‘Jence’ Moelle and Ismail ‘Isi’ Tuefekci, two modest pals from Hamburg who produced some of the finest electro to emerge from 2007, a scene-defining year that saw their debut LP Idealism compete with virgin offerings from Justice, Boys Noize and Simian Mobile Disco, let punk-infused distortion be their calling card.

“We were completely fed up with nice, neat, clean music,” Jens explains of Digitalism’s explosive, genre-straddling output, sounding impressively bright given he’s not long finished a solo spin in Brittany; a carte-blanche to “get a little nasty” apart from his partner Isi, who’s laid up with tour fever. Indeed, despite lacking the band background of acts like MSTRKRFT with its DFA 1979 connections, Digitalism now champion a sound that comes closer to bridging the indie-dance divide than any outfit since Soulwax, while being more irresistibly abrasive then even that of the Belgian brothers Dewaele. It’s a sonic progression that while not wildly surprising to the pair, was hardly a conscious choice. “Once we got involved in the business, toured the world and met so many people,” Jence begins, “our knowledge got expanded in such a huge way; we stumbled across lots of great indie and rock music, and it was so much fun playing live, singing and everything, that the evolution came naturally.

Meeting in Hamburg’s Underground Solution in 2000, a record store which from Jence’s nostalgic descriptions bears no small resemblance to High Fidelity’s Championship Vinyl, he and Isi were fortunate enough to encounter each other at that age which affords a certain measure of blind, unconditional trust. “Of course it was a bit of a grower, we didn’t meet and say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s DJ together, form a band or something. You’ve got the entire Smiths collection at home, too- Brilliant,’” Jence laughs. “But aside from Isi just being an amazingly nice guy, we also met at an age where you’re very open to meeting new people; you’re not really defined yet, and everything is really fresh.”

Any differences in the pair’s musical tastes only turned out to be a blessing, each equalising the musical preoccupations of the other. “We agree on the basics, but then we’re also different. [Isi] loves his funky, disco stuff, I’ll go all techy and dark, so it balances everything out,” Jence refines. “We kinda complete each other.”

Including audacious re-edits of crowd favourites like The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army in their fledgling DJ sets, Digitalism’s reputation grew emphatically beyond the confines of their home city. Combined with their crunchy epic original debut offering Idealistic – so good the publishers categorically dismissed releasing it, as intended, as a bootleg B-side but rather standalone – the chances of an imprint of Kitsuné’s absurdly cool standing taking interest was inevitable.

Counting themselves as label founder Gildas Loaec’s first album artist signing only added to the prestige. “They never used to, or wanted to, sign artists; only tracks, release them and that’s it,” Jence explains. [Signing us] was a novelty for them, but then they thought, ‘Ah, that’s interesting,’ so they’re a bit more into artist development now. But they’re still really small, ‘little Kitsuné’; it’s very chaotic. The office is the sign of a company where there’s absolutely no structure, but it’s cute, funny and there’s a real family vibe.”

The minute Erol Alkan and the other distinguished golden boys of electro’s upper echelon began rinsing Zdarlight – Digitalism’s second official 12 Inch – and their pulsating re-edit of The Cure’s Fire In Cairo – indie and club kids were equally smitten. When Idealism finally hit, it not only impressed as more of a fully-fledged concept album than the likes of Justice’s Cross; a journey through the sands of Egypt, to the interplanetary party in the Jupiter Room and back again, but also sounded more like a band recording than any dance album that year.

The calls for a live show were understandably fierce. The trouble being that as Digitalism were studio artists, there wasn’t one. “We didn’t know how to translate all that stuff to a live show. Our first live set was at this festival in Strasbourg three years ago; we just jumped into the cold water… it was really embarrassing.” Jence recalls. “We had one of the founding members of our studio as a guitarist, I was singing, and we were wearing white shirts and purple ties.  There were loads of people from record companies coming, the Kitsuné guys of course, we had a big entourage and emptied maybe five crates of beer before we went on. People really appreciated our efforts though; they stayed. We had fun, but after that going and seeing other bands play really put us down again.”

The ensuing time has seen Digitalism constantly change and refine their live set-up to the point where both Jence and Isi are happy – if too perfectionist to be altogether satisfied – with last year’s Brisbane Parklife performance proving the moment when everything truly clicked. “That was the first show with our current set-up, but we didn’t even have time to rehearse; so that was our rehearsal, in front of 20,000 people,” Jence remembers. “It was amazing.” Just don’t expect to see the touring exploits of Digitalism caught on film, a la Soulwax’s Part of the Weekend Never Dies; though content with where they’re at, Jence, a self-professed optimist, is also real enough to admit: “It’s pretty rough with us on tour.”

He may not be comfortable in front of a camera, but behind the mic Jence has grown into a confident frontman, bouncing around and belting out the lyrics to hits like Pogo in his characteristically scratchy-yet-adolescent voice. “It took me a long time to accept myself as a singer,” he reveals, recalling the leap to performing live vocals that an artist such as Tiga has still to make, “but you get such a huge buzz off it. At the beginning I just added some vocals to our productions because we were taking the DIY approach, but now I love it; so there’ll probably be more singing on the next album, it’s big fun.

Though material has yet to be written for Digitalism’s sophomore effort, once the final dates of this current tour are over it’s back to Hamburg and into the studio. “It’s definitely going to be more song-based, maybe even more adapted to a band aspect than before,” Jence predicts. “We always try to stand alone. There’s ‘nu rave’ or the ‘French scene,’ then there’s us.”

That’s Digitalism all over: rock n reverb; no gimmick required.

WHO: Digitalism
WHAT: Play Pyramid Rock Festival / Field Day / side-show at the Metro
WHEN: Tuesday 30 December / Thursday 1 January  / Friday 9