Our favourite Hamburg duo back live on stage with new album ‘I Love You, Dude’
A new October single ‘Circles’ coming from the new summer album, ‘I Love You, Dude’– it’s claimed you are ‘dragging the indie kids back to your electronic party” – talk us through the long player, what are the highlights for you – working with Julian Casablancas must have been an honour…
“The new record is our second one, which is usually a tough one, it’s always jinxed somehow. We didn’t really know how to approach this, so what we did was just what we did for the first album too: We started making tools and ideas for our DJ-Sets, so we could drop them without people knowing what it was. After a while we had some favourite “candidates” and just went for them – eventually turned them into complete songs. What we found out was: The music that we came up with was much more song-based than before, which is probably due to all the heavy live touring we did over the last few years. It sounds a bit like we turned into a band from being producers only. Yes, the sonics are more electronic than on the first one. The rouch garage-appeal is less on “I Love You, Dude”, and during the recording process, we found ourselves in a cloud of sound that we called “21st century ‘80s”. Lots of songs don’t have the usual club pace around 130 bpm anymore, there’s fast ones like “Circles” or “2 Hearts”, and really slow ones like “Just Gazin” or “Miami Showdown”. Still we kept our cinematic approach, which is what we love. The whole thing has been influenced by 1980s computer games, Bladerunner, Science-Videos and a lot of 1990s stuff, that we grew up in. Currently we love the combination of organic thick groovy basslines paired with ice-cold synth-lines. To learn more about songwriting, we sent out a few instrumental ideas to friends and other bands to see what they’d come up with, and one of those was Julian Casablancas, who we found perfect for “Forrest Gump”. By that time he was working on his solo-album and it was very electronic and experimental, so we gave it a shot. Turned out he loved it and wrote some guitar lines that we included. It was a great honour. The album starts with slow “Stratosphere”, which – just like “Blitz” which we call a classic Digitalism track – was already released the year before on a Kitsuné 12”. We found it the perfect intro to this ride. “2 Hearts” reflects our recent songwriting, we spent quite some time writing the perfect melodies on this one. Which is the key to make a round-up proper song. “Circles” is our current favourite, there’s a lot of great remixes coming up with this new single, and it reflects the mentioned influences perfectly. It’s about someone who could have done better but thinks he’d give it another go and thus ends up in an eternal loop. Originally we wanted to write about 1990s cassette tapes on this one. Haha. We always end up with something totally different than intended. “Forrest Gump” was the collab with Julian Casablancas, who by the way does not sing on this one, as stated by some sources. “Reeperbahn” is a dedication to our local red-light district in Hamburg, world-famous. This is where we started DJing when we were 18 and where all the venues are that gave birth to everything, even the Beatles back in the 1960s. It’s like Sin City, like Last Vegas, you hate it and you love it. “Antibiotics” was a track we had ready real soon, it’s one of the oldest songs on the album. We came up with the title while Isi was on antibiotics and we were listening to the vocal line “you will be disqualified”, like an immune-system kicking out bacteria. “Just Gazin’” is the only real feature we’ve ever done. Our friend Cäthe from Hamburg is singing on it, she’s got an amazing Mama-Cass-Elliot-type voice. It’s a bit different to other songs but it’s very soundtracky, so we couldn’t resist putting it on the album. “Miami Showdown” is a slow bass monster, also one of our favourites on the album, it sounds like a gangster chase in Miami harbour. “Encore” is the oldest song, it was originally the start of our encore in the live shows in 2008. A perfect outro we thought.”
It took you six years to bring us ‘Idealism’ in 2007 – how long did this baby take to deliver – you are well known for being inpatient boys…
“We stopped touring live in 2009 and only did some DJ-gigs, to give us some new mindspace. We then really started mid-2010 with the whole writing process, so it only took us about 9 months to finish the new album. But you know, you always have to add the time you spend doing nothing before that aswell, so maybe about two years?”
How would you describe your style in 2011?
“21st century ‘80s. A bit more grown-up than during the “Idealism” era.”
As producers, do you still go into the studio with absolutely no idea on what you are about to create track wise, or has your style changed over the years?
“That’s still the case. We always try to make something from scratch, so our production processes are different everytime. Sometimes we think we know what we want to do but then again we end up with something completely different. It’s good to go with the flow instead of trying to hold on to something that doesn’t work just out of principle.”
The cinematic vibe you have with your tracks is often a feature on instrumental acts. With your own work, how do you decide which songs will be instrumental and which will have vocals?
“It always depends, but then we guess in the end it’s a gut-decision… Sometimes we have a song or a sketch that already sounds “complete”, and then there’s ideas that we really want to complete with another melodic layer, which would be vocals, and also to give it more meaning. Through lyrics you can of course express more than through instruments only. It’s like, some songs are complete without it, others scream for it. We try to keep that cinematic vibe throughout all our music though, that’s the stuff that really excites us.”
What are the big 10 tunes rocking your dancefloors right now?
01. Hey Today – 83
02. Surkin – Ultra light
03. Digitalism – Circles / Digitalism Rmx
04. Light Year – New OG
05. Justice – Canon
06. Mr Oizo – Ska
07. Harvard Bass – Dance With me
08. Stimming – Funkworm / Digitalism Rmx
09. Noir & Haze – Around / Stimming Rmx
10. Who made Who – Inside / Digitalism Rmx
How difficult was it for two DJs to begin to learn how to songwrite? It’s not as if you two could sit down at a piano or pick up a guitar and start simply writing…
“We have a little background with instruments from when we were young, Jens went to music school for a year or two to learn keyboards, so that’s kind of our thing, anything with keys. Over the years we absorbed so much music that we know what we want chord-wise, and so we try to play or program it into our system. For the songwriting, we developed a technique that allows us to act exactly like those people who sit down with an acoustic and start jamming: Because we always come up with the music first and then usually start writing lyrics, we put the music aside, sit down with a keyboard and think about the right chord changes and riffs and all that, then add the music pieces we have accordingly, step by step. This way we can still dash forward with our music first, but also fit it to something we come up with after that.”
Mixmag once hailed you as “the most exciting dance music duo to have come along in a decade.” Have you lived up to the hype?
“We don’t know? We’re excited, that’s what counts for us. We don’t live for anyone’s hype, we want to make music.”
What was the best live performance for you in 2012?
“Talking about our own, there’s a couple of favourites, including one we played in Sydney at Parklife Festival, a New York one, Melt! Festival, … Regarding other bands, we loved Gesaffelstein live when we were touring with him through North America, Arcade Fire were magical headlining Hurrican Festival in Germany, and it was great to see The Streets a couple of times, they’ll stop their tour soon. But there’s lots of great ones out there.”
What is each other’s forte in the studio?
“Jens is “camera man”, Isi is “director”. One of us comes up with material, the other one overlooks the processing of it. It’s very complementary, like ying-and-yang.”
So we come back to yours after a club, what are the Back To Mine tunes you spin us to chill?
“No time to chill, at the moment the top of the pile there’s stuff like 2liveCrew and 2002 electroclash vinyls at Jens’ and Turkish underground disco from the 1970’s at Isi’s.”
You grew up in Hamburg, met through the record store where Jence was working, what was your home city like to grow up for dance music fans?
“Hamburg was very important for the Dance scene back in the ‘90s! It was famous for House and Garage, we had a legendary club here called “Front” where Boris Dlugosch (produced lots of stuff including Moloko) started Acid House on the continent many years ago, and we had a brilliant radio station having a show on every Friday where they’d drop the biggest club hits straight from vinyl, which was really old-school house music back then. We taped everything onto audio cassettes and that was when we got into dance music in the early ‘90s. The record store was also quite famous, even Boys Noize started his musical career there, and for its birthdays, the owner got big names like Roger Sanchez, Dimitri From Paris etc to DJ cause they were all his mates. Even Masters At Work know it! By the time House went down a bit end of last century, it got a bit more quiet here, but that was exactly when we started making music ourselves.”
What did your parents think of your career choice?
“They were laughing about it first but now they take it seriously. You always tend to buy things that you don’t use anymore after a few months, but we still have our first turntables, they’re a symbol for what we do, and we still use them.”
Was working in a World War 2 Bunker influential on your early music?
“Absolutely, and it still is. The bunker is a very claustrophobic thing, you don’t know what’s going on outside, what time of the day or what season it is. It’s very eternal and time stands still in there. You’re very isolated from the outside, and that makes you very creative, because you start imagining things.”
Which bands would you say were your influences?
“Any C64 soundtrack, Vangelis, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, 90’s Daft Punk, early Simple Minds, New Order…we love the edgy stuff from the ‘80s where nothing was really tight. Even Wu-Tang Clan is an influence, that’s probably our cheeky side. And there’s lots more..”
What one record would you never sell?
“Our first 12” whitelabel, it’s something we’re really proud of. Once you’re music has been pressed onto vinyl, it’s there forever.”
You have just got back from a tour down under, what was that like this time around – how has the scene developed in Australia?
“It was pretty cold because it just got spring there, but it was really nice. Different though to our first visits in 2006 and 2008, because the old scene has moved on and made space for the next generation. Probably one that we all from back then have influenced. It’s great to see that there’s lots of space for each kind of sound at the minute, and it’s not too narrowed down to a certain sound. We watched Lykke Li play amazing music that gives you the chills, and we saw people going nuts to Dubstep. It’s all there, we love the mix.”
What has been your summer anthem?
“Our song “2 Hearts”, because that’s the one thing that we nearly played every night, so it’s what accompanied us through the summer.”
What have you got for the Digitalism massive planned for us all in 2012?
“Our “I Love You, Dude” tour is gonna continue and as of everything else: wait and see – there’s a lot of stuff cooking.”
‘Circles’ is out on November 7th on V2/Cooperative Music
UK tour dates…
1st NOV, MANCHESTER, Club Academy
2nd NOV, BIRMINGHAM, HMV Institute
3rd NOV, BRISTOL, O2 Academy 2
4th NOV, LEEDS, Metropolitan
5th NOV, LONDON, HMV Forum
Ticket from www.ticketmaster.co.uk / www.livenation.co.uk/digitalism