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Digitalism Interview

Digitalism Sound LED presents
Comprised of Jence and Isi, German duo Digitalism formed when two Hamburg natives bonded over their mutual love of vinyl over a decade ago. While indulging fans around the globe with both live and DJ sets over the years, Digitalism has also managed to release two defining albums (Idealism & I Love You Dude), with another EP fresh off the press. The pair has remixed esteemed artists such as Depeche Mode, The Presets, and Cut Copy, released on labels such as OWSLA and Toolroom Records, and even arranged their own compilation for the famed DJ Kicks series last year.
If you’re due for some Digitalism action yourself, you can get down with Jence and Isi at Sound Nightclub on September 5th, and then once more at Voyeur in San Diego on September 12th. Read on to find out what role California played in their production, why they spend time in a WWII bunker, and their collaboration experience with The M Machine and Steve Duda while making Lift.
LED: You both met in a record shop, began DJing on vinyl, and referenced your vinyl roots for last year’s DJ Kicks compilation- so naturally, you must have an affinity for the wax. Do you still find yourself buying vinyl today? Any particularly special record shops in your hometown of Hamburg?
DIGITALISM: We still buy vinyl sometimes, but not really for DJing. We travel so much that we just cannot carry all that stuff with us. But buying vinyl is a great antidote to the extinction of ‘libraries’ you have at home… Back then, you could tell a lot about a person by checking out his or her shelves full of books, 12″s and CDs. Nowadays everything is just data on a tiny iPod or something. If we love an album for instance, we do buy it on vinyl to add it to our collection. Also; years ago vinyl was a good source for underground music that you couldn’t find anywhere else, but that’s changed too, because making a vinyl release costs so much (compared to just a digital release), that only bigger projects get that treatment.
Sometimes we still buy 12″s in the shop that we used to work at in Hamburg, but they’ve moved and turned into more like a mail-order thing now.
LED: Can you describe Digitalism’s very first live set? How has it evolved over the years?
Our first live set was a lot of fun. We took the train down to Strasbourg in France to play a festival. We’d rehearsed for weeks but still didn’t really have a clue of what to do. We brought a friend with us to play guitar, and had some samplers, a tambourine and a synth with us. It was rather embarrassing, but we felt like super grown up after we finished the show. We were almost dying before we went on stage, and killed a whole jumbo-sized fridge full of booze.
DIGITALISM: Since then, we kept on developing the show, added more instruments, more crew and more production to it. We never really came back to the same place with the same show. It is a very seasonal thing for us. Also, over the years we wrote more music, so instead of only five songs at that Strasbourg gig in 2005 we now have tons to choose from when we play. All this playing-live has turned us from DJs and  studio producers into something like a 2-man electronic band. You could tell the influence of that on our second album, which was more song-based than the first one.
The last live tour here in the US was again very stripped down and rock’n’roll on the other hand. We wanted to try this out, playing live shows without any fancy production and just very minimal gear that we could take on planes with us. It turned out well! At the end, it’s all about the music and the performance we found out. You can bring tons of fancy lights and stage props with you, but if the basics aren’t right, it’s just a waste of money.
LED: You guys are known for your energetic performances. Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
DIGITALISM: We call it our daily workout. We sit on tour buses and planes a lot, so once we get on stage it’s our time to go wild. There’s a lot of energy that we have to get rid of. Before the show we might have a cheeky glass of straight liquor, but that’s all. One time when we played in Osaka and we had to kill 3 hours in the backstage before the show, we started shooting action movies on our phones with added special FX and all the crew. It got a bit out of hand.
LED: There have been some major changes in electronic music within the States over the past several years. Has the scene in Germany changed much, or has it stayed close to its house and techno roots?
DIGITALISM: It’s pretty much stayed true to its roots! Of course new sounds are coming over from the States, but people are very protective of their underground scenes in Germany and Europe in general.
LED: Some of the Digitalism tracks on the DJ Kicks compilation were produced while in California. What does California mean to you?
DIGITALISM: It’s become something like a second home-base for us over the last years. We have a lot of friends here, and we always try to come over to avoid the grim, grey European winter. The weather is always great, and there’s always someone visiting while you’re here too… It’s a great place.
LED: Is your primary studio still located in a WWII bunker? Does the isolated atmosphere feed into the creative process?
DIGITALISM: Yeah we still have the bunker studio. It’s funny though, because this civilian bunker is right in a pretty bourgois neighbourhood in Hamburg. So you’ll have Paris-style boutiques next to it. It’s a good place to get creative because there’s no distractions. You cannot tell what season or time of the day it is. It’s very isolated indeed, which forces you to get creative really. There’s nothing in there but whatever you come up with or phantasise.
LED: Your 3-track EP, Lift, was just released exclusively on Beatport and will be available worldwide September 26th. Lift is being released on Kitsuné, the French label which first introduced Digitalism to listeners around the world. From what I understand, this is your first collaboration album. What was it like going from working in the studio solely as a duo to working with different producers?
DIGITALISM: It’ll be our 10th year anniversary next year, and yes, so far we’ve pretty much done everything within our own little bubble. We’ve learned everything DIY, and we did things our way, because we didn’t want to listen to anybody in the first place. Over the time we opened up though, and this year we wanted to try out writing and producing with other people. It was a learning process for us, too. How would you write music together in a studio, when everyone’s an electronic producer, and no-one plays any instruments really? No drums, no guitars, nothing. It was an interesting experience! We were lucky to meet and work with all these people — Steve Duda, The M Machine and Blood Diamonds. It brought more stuff to the table for sure. It’s good to mix DNA sometimes, you know.