Digitalism’s Jence Moelle Talks ‘Bunker’ Music and 70s Turkish Disco

After recently playing at XOYO, and with the release of their new EP, ‘5KY11GHT’, the electro duo Digitalism are back doing what they do best. The duo, consisting of Jence Moelle and Isi Tufekci have enjoyed international success since forming in Hamburg back in 2004. Jence Moelle talks to Demur about their music inspiration, producing records in a bunker and the evolution of the clubbing culture. 

How was it producing ‘5KY11GHT’, especially in an underground bunker, which is obviously really unusual but a really innovative way to produce a track?

The bunker wasn’t underground. It’s really ugly but it was never demolished after they built it for the war. It’s actually in quite a posh neighbourhood, so it’s surrounded by really nice houses, so it’s really silly actually. The air is better there, however, there are no windows. If they have a party the night before, there are loads of cigarettes and beer smells, which go right through everything. It’s actually heaven and hell for us. We have been in there since we started, but we were in a different bunker before this recording. So we moved, but it was just a cheap space and that’s why we went in there. I mean, I think it’s really good for creating things because you don’t get distracted, so you have to create stuff in order to fill the void basically. When you switch off the lights it’s just pitch black and it could be any time of the day or any time of the year or something. It could be a nuclear war outside, you wouldn’t know. So really it sparks the imagination. It sounds really cheesy but it’s really like that.

Do you think producing the record in the bunker impacted the sound of ‘5KY11GHT’?

Yes! I’d say it definitely impacts our sound overall. ‘5KY11GHT’ is part of that of course, but you can really hear the impact when you listen to our other tracks ‘Jet’ or ‘Highspeed Sunrise’. They are very cinematic, so that’s where the imagination kicks in. We always try to be inspired when we’re touring and we try to capture moments and just try to remember them, then we kind of replay them when we’re back in the studio with music. Maybe it’s a bit escapist or something. So, ‘Highspeed Sunrise’ is really cinematic and then ‘Jet’ brings back all this raw, DIY, garage, kind of feeling that’s always been in our music. I don’t know, it sounds a bit bunker!

What were you listening to in preparation for the new release and did any music specifically influence your sound in a strong way?

Yeah, we listen to loads of things and we’ve got a couple of playlists that we share. It’s like a big bin and we put everything in there that we like, and it really varies quite a lot. At the minute, it’s a lot of German New Wave stuff which brings us a bit back to Electroclash. We went through some really underground stuff and, well, wow, people must have been taking so much cocaine back then! It’s crazy! You can really tell. The music is really freaky but that’s really interesting. Then we are always watching new artists. We’re big fans of Kelly Lee Owens for example and Daphne. It’s everything, and Isi collects Turkish disco from the 70s, but you know, it’s all over the spectrum. Recently we started listening to Miami Vice soundtracks again. It’s all over the place really.

How much do you think the industry has changed since the start of your career?

Well, obviously a lot. I think things are changing daily now, so it’s accelerated. I think if you had to sum it up in one sentence, it’s probably the democratisation of the industry, so everyone can contribute. Nowadays my dad can make music on his phone, and if he wants to he can even publish it, you know! Everyone can do it! I mean, when we started, it was already a lot cheaper to produce. We started with second-hand PCs and stuff. But say, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, you needed 100,000 dollars or something to go to the studio and make music, but now everyone can do it and that’s great because now everyone can contribute. Of course, people have more control now and there’s no gatekeeper so it’s very much split up, so there’s micro-scenes now and it’s really hard to unite everyone because everyone’s got a different opinion and taste. When we started it wasn’t like that. It probably comes and goes in waves and cycles but when we, for example, dropped the first album, it was a moment where all the different genres and scenes were united. After that everything split up so, now if you play at the Berghain for example, you probably wouldn’t play at a different party. Back then that wouldn’t have been possible, so that’s a big change I think. It’s hard to get everyone in one pot, so to speak, but maybe that’s coming back because things come and go. Then, of course, the other big thing is that you don’t sell records anymore because people stream and that’s fair enough. You can always say ‘everything used to be better’, but no, it’s just different. You can always say that. They probably said that in the 1960s as well, but I don’t know, it’s just different. You just need to go with the flow.

Talking about recent changes, obviously, the closing of clubs and music venues seems to be on the rise. What do you think about this issue and how do you think it affects the DJ community?

Well, obviously we don’t like that fact. We think that clubs, not new designer clubs, but the ones that have been there for a while, which have a following, and a scene, they were the spots that created the culture and if you close all these down, then it’s all dying out. David Byrne from Talking Heads wrote a book about it, it’s called ‘How Music Works’ and one chapter talks about building a scene, and how in New York they all went to the same venue every night, either playing on stage or watching their friends playing on stage and they all developed a certain sound together to spread the word. All these things can’t happen if you close everything down. It’s tough. Of course there’s a lot of ‘ooh let’s make nice VIP apartments out of this club’ on the one hand, and on the other hand there’s also a lot of people that nowadays, because everything is so available, they think that they don’t need to go to a club anymore because they can watch a live stream. Back then you had to go to the club, stand next to the DJ and try to guess what record they were playing, otherwise, you’d never know. Now, of course, you get all the track lists and broadcasts and everything, which is really cool. You can properly geek out about everything. You don’t have to go there to discover this music.

You played at XOYO recently. How do you feel about playing in London, and how is it different compared to playing in other countries, particularly Germany?

I think, of course, countries have their differences but I think nowadays everything is so connected to the internet, and the community is more or less global now. For example, when we play in London (obviously London is a big tourist city as well…not in a bad way), we get loads of people coming over from Spain or France to watch us. People just travel around, and then I think despite slight regional differences, it’s about the kind of scene you’re playing in, so I think the kind of audience we had at XOYO would be at another gig in a different country as well because they listen to this kind of music. They all talk globally and exchange thoughts and everything so it’s a global thing now. It’s really cool of course, you miss some of the distinguishing specialities about certain places because everything is more similar but it’s still there in a way, and it’s nice that people are connecting.

Obviously, with you and Isi it’s a partnership. Do you two have different approaches when producing your music?

We usually say it’s a bit like a cameraman and director. As we’re electronic artists in the studio, we don’t sit down with two guitars and start singing stuff, so it’s usually one of us that creates stuff and then we sit there and see what we do with it afterwards. Then sometimes we combine ideas. For example, on the last album, when I was in London, and Isi was in Hamburg, we flew back and forth and we always brought ideas with us. Then we’d be like ‘ok this could be good, or maybe we can add this idea’. I thought about this yesterday actually. It’s a bit like drawing parts of paintings and then you fit stuff together afterwards somehow. We kind of do shifts. Sometimes Isi’s on, sometimes I am. It’s very ying and yang and sometimes it’s yang and ying.

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Listen to ‘5KY11GHT’, the new release by Digitalism below.

Check out Digitalism on tour: 
Mar 28 – Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall 
Mar 29 – Brooklyn, NY – Good Room 
Mar 30 – Philadelphia, PA – Coda 
Mar 31 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall 
Apr 05 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall 
Apr 06 – Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex 
Apr 07 – San Francisco, CA – Great Northern 
Apr 11 – Seattle, WA – Nectars Lounge
Apr 12 – Vancouver, BC – Fortune Sound
Apr 13 – Austin, TX – Kingdom
Apr 14 – Denver, CO – Vinyl

By Hollie Ismail