Now, three years since their debut single, Digitalism have moved on from the insular world of making records by themselves for themselves to a major label with a full-length debut, ‘Idealism’. The results of their consumer revolt have ended up both popular in the nu-rave scene and among the ranks of the French house revivalists, with a chance to storm American shores within their sights. Not bad for two guys from the very un-dance rock town of Hamburg. So how did they get here from there?
Mölle and Tuefekci didn’t get hooked on electronic music in the clubs - they started too young for that. Their devotion began alone in their bedrooms in their early teens, tuning into local radio station OK Radio’s Dance Charts show for the singles rocking the dance floors that week. Especially of interest was the French house scene and its rug-burn repetition, which had them excitedly tuning in each week to hear the next banger. But as house became more commercial and glossy in the late '90s, Mölle began to lose interest. “It had lost all of its rawness,” Jens laments. The day job at the store led to gigs at one of Hamburg’s few nightclubs, and later collaborations on homecooked remixes and edits for their DJ sets. An early fan prodded them into choosing a name for their project: Digitalism, in homage to the Africanism producer collective. It stuck.
Digitalism's approach to production techniques has remained the same since they started. Without the funds to get the latest computers and software, Mölle (who does all the engineering) instead drew on his computer know-how to cannibalize antiquated hardware and assemble a Frankencomputer. But with its limited processing power and propensity for stubbornness, the duo had to work around its drawbacks. “We were forced to become very creative in achieving what we wanted – in how to get a certain result,” Mölle attests.
Digitalism apply the same “from scratch” method to their songwriting, too: They've all but given up developing hardened song concepts outside the studio. “It always turns out better to go into the studio with nothing,” Mölle says, “Instead of compiling our favorite sounds, our favorite kick drums and stuff, we always start from zero.” This back to basics approach extends to their practice space, too: They still share the same WWII bunker with local bands that they always have. It’s a “start from nothing” approach that gives Digitalism a different aesthetic from track to track, but rough-edged programming and penchant for Factory Records song structures (New Order guitar flourishes, Happy Mondays rhythms) are two constants throughout.
It wasn’t until Daft Punk’s colossally influential ‘Human After All’ album that the world came calling, taking note of Digitalism’s already in-progress block rockin’ beat revival, largely thanks to their whiplashed remix of ‘Technologic’. At that point, labels such as the tres cool Kitsuné Music and mega-sized Virgin Records turned their eyes towards Northern Germany. Kitsuné would go on to release their next two singles, the rambunctious space stomper ‘Jupiter Room’ and two editions of their signature hit, ‘Zdarlight”. Now, Virgin and Kitsune are splitting the duties of releasing Digitalism’s latest baby, their debut album, ‘Idealism’, due out June 11th. Some of the material will be familiar to longtime fans (three earlier singles find a new home between album tracks), but the long player also finds the pair capable of presenting a coherent, electro rock vision over eleven tracks. Yet it did take six years to getting around to finishing – is that one of the drawbacks to doing everything yourself? “Well, It was hard for us to concentrate on just doing the album instead of anything else," Mölle explains.
For a duo that started out as a reaction to the lack of a scene, it’s ironic that they're now being embraced by two, and are unwilling to take membership cards from either. What do you think of nu-rave? “We really like the culture around it, but we don’t think it is new music,” says Jens. “Our message – ideals, idealism – and our mood are very euphoric and positive. And nu-rave is very positive.” Mölle is less kind when speaking of the legions of Justice clones who’ve materialized in the last year, dismissing them as “just noise.” “We don’t like focusing on things,” Mölle explains, “That’s also why we don’t like listening to only one kind of music genre, or being tagged as one genre or getting involved too much in one scene.” Instead, Digitalism seems more comfortable being associated with their hometown of Hamburg, which can’t be pegged with a cute, punning name because there’s barely any dance rock scene to speak of. It’s a state of affairs that suits Mölle just fine: “We’re very much the outsiders in that way.”
Production-wise, Digitalism prefer to keep their distance, too. The pair have been unusually protective of their work, which Mölle unjokingly calls their "gems". Wary that other artists' revisions would detract from the original, they've only allowed one of their tracks to be remixed: Erol Alkan's microscopic edit of 'Jupiter Room'. “It’s like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ part one,” Mölle explains. “Then there is part two, three, four. If they let it just be one movie, it would have been one whole thing. It became a series, so the first part becomes not as interesting.” It’s a philosophy that hasn’t stopped them re-jigging themselves though. The duo habitually release multiple versions of their own songs; case in point, their recent ‘Twelve Inches EP’ contains only three songs, but a total of nine different versions of those tunes appear on the record. So they’re not against remixes per se, just other people’s remixes then? “We don’t see the other versions as remixes,” Mölle objects. “They accompany the original, they provide additional aspects. They’re like satellites surrounding the original track. We were thinking of making an album just of ‘Zdarlight’, for example, because we had something like ten versions.”
Yet there are changes in the works. Success has brought some very un-Digitalism changes: they’ve even spent major label euros on sprucing up their gear, especially for their live show. “We actually have our synths on keyboard stands,” Mölle enthuses. It’s also meant they’ve had to extend a little trust outside the Digitalism DIY camp for the first time: “At some point, you can’t do everything on your own anymore, you have to outsource things. We've added a tour manager now. And two months ago we would have talked for two months with the graphics team at Kitsune about artwork; now we just give them ideas and rely and trust their output.” But international success has posed more welcome challenges, too, such as a taste of rock stardom on a recent tour of Japan. “We actually had to hide from the fans. It was crazy, but really cool,” Jens says. And they’ve almost accomplished their original goal, too – soon they’ll be able to pick up a copy of ‘Idealism’ almost anywhere in the world, turn to the clerk and say, “Now this is a record we would play.”