Digitalism on EDM in America: "Las Vegas Is Getting Bigger Than Ibiza, It's Supercool"
Before David Guetta had everyone singing "Sexy Bitch" and Swedish House Mafia soothed with "Don't You Worry Child," there was Digitalism. Circa 2006 and '07, this German duo of Jens "Jence" Moelle and İsmail "Isi" Tüfekçi rode a wave of progressive dance music that took over indie dance nights across America.
Digitalism was the perfect blend of indie rock and electronic sounds, capturing dance floors with cuts like "Pogo" and "Zdarlight." That led to appearances at music festivals and venues across the globe, including Ultra Music Festival.
This Saturday, Digitalism returns to Miami for a live show at Bardot. So we here at Crossfade spoke with Jence about why go on tour without a new album worth of material, how they are influenced by indie rock, and the pressures to keep innovating.
Crossfade: Normally, artists tour when they have a new release, but Digitalism hasn't dropped anything since last year's DJ-Kicks mix. So why are you touring now?
Jense: I don't know. [laughs] We have two new records coming out. We released the "Zdarlight" remixes and we have the Bloc Party remix coming up. And we also had the Rapture remix that got released. But I think the main reason we are doing this tour is because we haven't played a show in the States yet. The last time we were in the States, we had a different show with a drummer and us -- it was completely different.
In Europe, we've started this new live show and we really wanted to take that to the States as well, because we are probably going to change the live show again after this tour. It's also a great to go back to small venues again. We've done it a lot in the States already and it's a bit like touching base with everyone again. We've DJed a lot in the States over the past, oh, I don't know, half year or something. It was good to do this for a change.
Last time you were in Miami, it was at Grand Central for a DJ set, but this time you'll be at Bardot playing live, correct?
Yeah, this time it's live. I've been to Bardot during WMC and it's a pretty small venue, but we got a stage into the venue, so it's going to be pretty funky, I guess. [laughs]
We've seen a lot of acts there. Bardot has a way of making shows seem like the band is just playing for you.
Yeah, it's almost like a living room atmosphere. It will be pretty special.
Do you enjoy DJing or the live performance more? Or do they each give you something other doesn't?
They compliment each other. When we DJ, we can more easily try out new stuff, play our friends' tracks, and our current favorites. And we don't need a sound check and all that. It's a bit easier to DJ. But we really like playing live as well. At the beginning, around 2005, we absolutely hated it. We didn't know how to do it, because we came from a DJ and studio producer background. Then we grew into it. We like it so much that our last studio album, I Love You Dude, was heavily influenced by all these live shows. That's why it was so much more fun than the first album.
It's two different worlds, but we get bored easily as well. So after a couple of months of DJing only, it's good to back to playing a live show.
Funny that you say you hated the live aspect, because back when I heard Idealism, even though it was rooted in electronic music, it sounded like it had a lot of live instrumentation and melody. It's kind of what set Digitalism apart around that time, that you kind of sounded like a band, even though there were just two of you. Is that what you're always working toward?
The thing is we've always had these musical ideas, but we were only two guys with computers when we started. We had to make it sound like we wanted it to, almost like a band or something, but there were only two of us so we had to improvise. We had a really, really slow PC with bits and pieces from friends with limited computing power. It forced us to be creative. I think it's better than when you splice and put together and press one button and the song is done -- you know, with automation and presets and stuff.
We come from club music, but we've always been into a lot of different music. Pretty obviously we're into indie and rock. But at the end, it's going to be electronic because that's how we produce, and we can't play guitars and stuff, so we have to program them.
That's surprising that you can't play guitar. You can hear so much of it in your music. Have you learned how to play any instruments for your live shows?
We play a bit of keyboard, but not like a pro. Most of the stuff is programmed. We can play well enough to jam out in the studio. But afterward, we need to go over the details and correct a lot of stuff. [laughs]
Idealism was such a monumental record when it was released -- it's still one of the best electronic music albums out there. It took you three years to follow up with I Love You Dude, and it's been a while since that release. Do you always feel the pressure to keep innovating?
We felt the pressure between the first and second albums because we hadn't released one in so long, but we weren't really concerned about the sound. In fact, it's hard to describe the sound on the second album. It's just something we really wanted to do. It was almost like the '80s but from the future -- like the 2080s. But we don't really think about the sound we come up with. It's more like if we like it, then it's fine for us. That's why some of our stuff might sound like 2001 again, but we like it so for us it's fine. What other people think about it is like a second step.
But it was difficult to make the second album. We did not want to repeat ourselves because that'd be boring as well. We just sort of found that sound for the second album. Some people called it the electronic Strokes or something.
Then last year, we went back to our roots with the DJ-Kicks mix. The exclusive tracks we made for it, they are completely back to the club. It's always good to do something different.
Are you working on a third album?
We're working on new stuff at the moment. But so far, it's random stuff. It will come, but not like next month or something.
From when you started doing electronic music to where you are now, are you amazed about how popular electronic music has become in America?
Yeah, of course. It's shocked me what has happened with electronic music in America. When we started, festivals and promoters in the U.S. would import electronic acts from Europe to play, and now it's the other way around. Now all these American DJs and producers are playing all over the world. Las Vegas is getting bigger than Ibiza. It's supercool to see that. There's a new pool of people that have recently discovered electronic music. Some don't even know us, because by the time we released our last album, they weren't into electronic music yet. It's really exciting.
It was unexpected, but all of us can thank people like David Guetta and those types, because they opened the doors for us. So respect to them, whether you like their music or not.
Digitalism. With Sean Drake and Will Buck. Thursday, May 11. Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $30 plus fees via showclix.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-576-7750 or visit bardotmiami.com.
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