628 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA, 94117
Doors 8:30 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Welcome to: XOYO
It’s mid-January 2016, and we’re in a brief hiatus before the promotional frenzy for Digitalism’s third album, Mirage, kicks off in earnest. Jens “Jence” Moelle and İsmail “Isi” Tüfekçi are playing some records at London’s XOYO club, where they maintain a residency. They find the capital inspiring. Jence has succumbed to the city’s charms and pretty much lives here now, so tonight’s set is very much a home game. Professionals that they are, Jence and Isi skip the teasing and hit London with some new songs from Mirage. “Utopia” turns out to be a suitably predictive title, and it’s a song they call themselves call “the bomb in our repertoire.” It immediately puts you in mind of Digitalism hits like “Zdarlight”– the long breakdown, the nagging melody, and their penchant for an engaging melancholic deepness. It does stellar business with the crowd. “Tell you what,” they seem to say, “let’s just play it again right away?”
In defiance of efficiency
DJing of course, Isi and Jence confide a few hours earlier, makes for a pleasant break from the studio routine. The crowd is a joyous reminder of the true motivation. Indeed, it was on their 2015 USA tour that they suddenly recognized that their fans urgently needed an infusion of some new Digitalism material. Their blood pumping, inspiration flowing, in a pure “reaction of defiance” they headed straight for the studio, Isi remembers. “From this point on things went quickly,” Jence adds. “We produced from February till August, and one more week in November to finish the last two tracks – and then the album was done.”
What brings this new spirit of efficiency to the house of Digitalism? You’d think being
in two cities, London and Hamburg, would slow you down... “In the early days, we would often sit in the studio for months working on a single track.” Now the approach is totally different. Jence explains, “When I spotted two free days in my calendar, I used one for preparations in London and worked on the second one in Hamburg with Isi, who also came in with his already thought-through ideas. Instead of long periods of thinking which often led in the past to nothing, we worked this time in short eruptions and cut the process radically down to its essence.”
Let ́s talk inspiration and ambition
Asked where their inspiration for Mirage came from, they answer, “deprivation and travel,” and start to throw a two voiced monologue on me. “Stimulants are the feeling of being outsiders, comforting yourself, but also the ecstasy that comes from epic trips around the globe. Usually, the best ideas just come to us when there’s not much going on immediately around us. When you’re forced to imagine things, that’s when inspiration is best. You know, when you switch off the light in our bunker studio, it’s really dark, and there’s nothing - until you start creating things in your head - and then as music.”
But Digitalism wouldn ́t have done Mirage if it wasn’t for all their history. It all started with a series of club hits: “Idealistic,” “Zdarlight,” and “Pogo” - tracks that would become the charming pillars of their 2007 debut album Ideallism. Never ones to sit still, Isi and Jence continued writing, working on the follow-up. And so there they were, the second album
I Love You, Dude done and dusted, touring it out on the huge stages, backed-up by a live band and drummer. What had started as a bedroom dream that got sharpened in record shops and behind nightclub decks, finally tipped up at the most popular hotspots of the
festival and club circuits. From Coachella to Melt!, the boys were on a roll – and still are.
Digitalism keep on touring and making music, and they appreciate it even more than ten years ago.
Mirage is their third album, and it feels like they take us back to where it all started with
Idealism–“but updated and catapulted into 2016,” as they point out. “Although the concept of ‘ an album’ is probably outdated, this record seems to be the counter-reaction to the single tracks and small EPs that we’ve released between 2011 and now.”
“Our fans will cry when we play!“
"This time the production felt so natural and clear,” Isi shares. “Our secret is our new
light-heartedness”...which led to an album of scale, which is evident in the epic
measure of fifteen songs and album duration and somehow in the material itself too.
Take “Power Station,” for example. It begins playfully enough, but ends with the vehement intensity of classic UK rave music.
Two songs that seem to regenerate mid-way are the eponymous “Mirage (Part One)” and
“Mirage (Part Two).” It’s cosmic music sure, but then, for the patient ones, come the beats. But these aren’t brutal eruptions; no hands-in-the-air moments here (like, for example, in a track like ‘Open Waters’, which ends literally with hands in the air). No, instead they generate this maddeningly slow burn out; implosion is the new explosion. You know what your musicians want from you. Isi’s clear, “our fans will cry when we play ‘ Mirage (Part One)!” Indeed, a track so intense, no eyes will stay dry.
Did I mention that Digitalism run a pretty democratic sound system too? Check out “Ism,” the secret title track of the album. “We called up Snoop Dogg, but he had no time...,”
deadpans Isi. But the true story is a better story anyway. “When touring the USA in 2014 with the full band outfit, our bus driver Tony Wilson casually mentioned that he was a really good rapper. On the last day of the tour we were all in such a happy mood that we somehow persuaded him to rap.”’ ...So check out “Ism.” The rap part is ace (and locally sourced) but also it’s only half of the surprise ride, the rest being the shredded electro-hip hop sounds that make up the other side of the story.
You might find yourself giving it up for “No Cash” or just lose your shit to a track like “Destination Breakdown,” whose synths are all prog rock shimmers and was composed together with Los Angeles indie pop outfit Youngblood Hawke, with whom Digitalism wrote their smash “Wolves” two years ago. You like variety, and that’ s why there are so many flavors to Digitalism in 2016. “We had this certain punk attitude in mind, to avoid the 200% ironed-out sound on this one,” Isi proclaims.
And then there is “Go-Time,” the main single of the album. Again, a song that came easy to them. They started of, as usual, with a loop that they “embedded into a new project and got this huge stadium indie thing as a result,” as Jence comments. One could feel the freestyle approach of the production, and one is humbled by the positive feeling of this strong song. It is all about “unity, and a bit of tongue-in-cheek.”
Hanging with ‘Blink’ and ‘Battlecry’
If the process was fast, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few battles along the way. They both admit that “Blink,” the last song on the album, involved a bit of a dance before it found its feet. Based on an instrumental Digitalism originally wrote in 2012 in Los Angeles, they knew it had more potential, but how?
Or as Isi says: “This one was open!”
There’s significance to how much effort and care went into this track. “Blink,” when finally finished, plays an important role within the concept of Mirage and, together with “Arena” forms the frame of the album.
‘Battlecry’ was the other song at which they really had to throw everything. Originally written in 2014 in Los Angeles, it was on the West Coast that they finally tamed it, with the help of singer Anthony Rossomando (founding member of Dirty Pretty Things, touring and member of Klaxons and Libertines, and songwriting collaborator with D ́angelo and Mark Ronson, amongst others). The song is based on an energetic disco loop, and from this massive hook comes its very life force. Talking about it, Jence starts getting noticeably excited: “I see knights with swords on a mountain in Palm Springs! Looking down on the windy prairie, they see some woman coming up. If this song would be a poster, one would hang it on the wall. It has this certain rock opera spirit a bit like Sparks. ”Isi looks amused, but is a little drier in his summary: “I have to say it makes me think of ‘Song 2’ by Blur. ”Woo-hoo, indeed.
Talk to me: Digitalism
They talk about this record in images, pictures.“We are very visual in the way we work,” Isi notes. Jence adds, “the music is our medium to transform the images we have in front of our eyes into our art. We are no Lou Reeds when it comes to songwriting skills. When it comes to vocals, we use them to fill the melodies we have in mind with words.”
It’s a paradox given that they make the most outgoing music, but ask Jence about it, and he’ll describe himself as a bit of an introvert. Music is his main outlet for communication. Isi only has compliments for his partner: “When I leave him alone for a few minutes, I always find he’s had a great idea when I return. ”So Digitalism use their music to take us to futuristic places – which is partly a comment on their globetrotting lifestyle, Jence adds. The varying moods are obvious. In “Arena,” the gladiators are getting ready for the fight; in “Shangri La,” we fly in slow motion over a landscape like in a BBC Planet Earth episode; in “Indigo Skies,” two lovers spend a romantic summer night under a coral-reef-with-blue sky; in “Open Waters” and “Destination Breakdown,” the protagonist does battle with the surveillance society; and in “Power Station,” we enter a Tim Burton-esque scenario –full of bizarre-o make up, tall hats, and brains with steam escaping.
Looking back to look ahead
We are coming to the end of my chat with Jence and Isi. I want to know what they consider to be the key message of the album.
“First of all it’s probably a snapshot of our thoughts, like a brain scan. It’s a soundtrack to our own world, but so vaguely put again that other people can identify with it, or come up with their own analyses. It’s meant to be something fantastic, something beautiful, yet fragile. Maybe a parallel universe that you step into, and you get stuck there. Or you get back into normality, had a hell of a ride, and count the days until you can visit it again. It’s meant to stimulate your imagination.”
Well said. So: tune in and create your own fantasy world with the help of the Digitalism.