Let’s Get Digital

Digitalism’s Isi dishes on the record store days, touring as a band, commercial success and the truth about big labels

Meet Digitalism: Ismail “Isi” Tüfekci (left) with Jens “Jence” Moelle.

Meet Digitalism: Ismail “Isi” Tüfekci (left) with Jens “Jence” Moelle.

Ismail “Isi” Tüfekci and Jens “Jence” Moelle form the German house duo Digitalism. They’re signed to the influential French multi-label Kitsuné and have an impressively evolving body of original productions that bridges indie- and electro-house alongside official remixes for giants including Daft Punk, Depeche Mode and White Stripes. See Digitalism live September 14 at Body English and listen to their new EP, Lift, which dropped August 26 on Beatport.

Isi, you and Jence met 10 years ago when he was working at a record store and you were a frequent customer. What’s most memorable from those early days?

Actually, it was really exciting because this record store was popular for house music. Me and Jence got quite bored fast, so the most exciting thing was when we got Crydamoure and Roulé Records [labels founded by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, respectively, both of Daft Punk fame], all the French sounds. Then DFA Records came out with all of the indie stuff, and we just said, “Wow, that’s a really big moment.”

How do you feel about the end of the record store era?

I think the record companies missed out when Napster was online and when the first CD burner was out in the middle of the ’90s. Nobody was recognizing the huge impact of the digital world. Today the vinyl world still exists more than the CD world. There are still a few vinyl shops around the world that are really popular. You can find everything you want, doesn’t matter what kind of sounds or records, even records that you can’t find online. You get inspired there.

You guys record out of a World War II-era bunker in Hamburg, Germany. What’s unique and special about that setup?

The special thing about the studio is we don’t have any windows, so we don’t know what’s going on outside. You can go during the day or during the night, and you don’t have the time pressure—it’s totally timeless.

You jump between DJ sets as a duo and live shows as a band. How do you decide which is appropriate?

Everything was learning by doing. We are DJs and we can play as a full band, and I think both things are important. When we are going to the studio and have these short loops, we can go to the clubs to DJ and try it out. If you are playing live, that is a bit more difficult. When we are DJing we are playing our favorite tracks. If we are playing live we are playing our own songs, no other tracks from other people. But you need both things to get this vibe that makes it much, much more exciting than just to be playing live or just to be playing DJ. We’ll go back into the studio, then put out an album and then back to playing live.

You have tracks featured in ads for FIFA and BMW plus video games and TV shows. As a big FIFA fan yourself, what does it mean to have this (literally) commercial success?

Video games are like a new radio channel, and producers are creating music for the games. It’s an honor to be there, because these guys have really good taste. You’re getting another chance to get new listeners. It’s an honor that someone is picking up your tracks for advertising and you’re growing as a band, because you’re getting some attention you might never get. It’s also really good advertising for the band itself.

Your debut album was released by several different brands: Kitsuné, Toshiba, EMI, Astralwerks and Virgin. Describe the process for selecting record labels.

A lot of people think that it’s many different record labels, but in the end it’s not. Astralwerks is a part of EMI Music. You get some artists who like independent labels, so they go to Astralwerks but then have the same power as EMI. What we did was all the tracks were licensed from Kitsuné to EMI, because the major labels have this major power to reach more people, put you on the radio, or to place you in some certain places you would never get the chance to be. These days dance music is so big that these labels open up again with the same names. The labels are almost 20 years old and nobody knows about this.

Can you explain the story behind Kitsuné’s multi-format label?

When I started in distribution at the record store they had records with this amazing style artwork. Then we met [Kitsuné founders] Gildas and Masaya. They said they were not only doing music, they were also doing fashion. I said, “Wow that’s interesting; it’s a kind of lifestyle.” Lifestyle means fashion, music, art and magazines, and Kitsuné had these already. Fashion is a part of music, and music is a part of fashion, and art is the same. Without any art background you would never design something nice, and I think music helps to develop these things. It was interesting to see how Kitsuné grew fashion and music with the same label, everything with an artsy side.

You described your 2012 DJ Kicks compilation as a mix between garage, punk, indie and techno with a cinematic sense and a big bed of bass. Cool description. How does Lift sound?

Lift is back to the roots. It’s much more dancier compared to I Love You Dude. After DJ Kicks we still had this vibe to do dance-y stuff because this is where we came from. We said let’s do it again but not do it alone. So we searched for some people to see who we can reach when we are doing collaborations with other people. It’s a bit different than all the EDM stuff everyone is doing. This trance-y part, it’s going hard again, everybody is listening to this deep house. People are really excited to get something different than what everyone is playing at the minute.

Coming from Germany’s proud history of house and techno, what do you see happening with EDM here in the States and where do you think it’s going?

At this point we have to be careful in the dance scene because it’s growing so fast, especially in the states, and it will stay there for a couple of years of course because it’s so exciting and it’s so new for them. In Europe we are used to it already, having this kind of scene. Right now is the best time to put out music because you have space for so many different kinds of styles. If you listen to this EDM stuff, it is a door opener, and then you say, “I need something new.” New music is just new and different styles. We might be back in the ’90’s where we have this trance music in Germany and suddenly from the trance scene all these different styles came up like acid house, deep house, garage house and French house. So I think we are in this circle and then all of a sudden: electro clash.