Following our premiere of Digitalism’s dreamy epic video for ‘Utopia’, taken from their new album Mirage, we had a chat with the duo about the journey to creating their latest release, which dropped on Friday. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since Digitalism broke through with their anthemic ‘Zdarlight’. Back with their third album, some five years on from sophomore record I Love You, Dude – the German duo have wisely resisted any vogues or trends. Instead, they present a record that takes their much-loved sound, and opens it up to new permutations and possibilities. Mirage sees Digitalism return in their most complete and coherent incarnation yet; with the album spanning euphoric radio-friendly electronic pop, and guttural dance floor bangers, with equal aplomb. Their songwriting craft has stepped up a notch too, with their vocal tracks delivered with more conviction than ever, and once again firmly positioning them as an act with big crossover potential. With a newly focused approach, the duo put together Mirage in the relatively short space of six months. “This time the production felt so natural and clear,” says Isi. “Our secret is our new light-heartedness.” Dashes of disco, French touch, prog rock, rave and hip-hop are thrown into an eclectic sound palette that colours the album. The two-part title track shows the evolution of their synth work in stunning fashion, beaming in inspiration from the greats like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, across a mesmerising twelve-and-a-half minute journey that makes for an impressive album centerpiece. Read our exclusive with them below to find out more about what the duo have been up to for the last couple of years, and their future plans and live gigs in store this summer.
KALTBLUT: You’re releasing a new album, Mirage, this May – tell us about your new music and how you’ve been leading up to it for so long as a group? Digitalism: We know that it’s been a while now since the last album. After I Love You, Dude we released DJ Kicks, an EP and a couple of singles – and have been touring like hell basically. So we only started working on the new album last year, and must have had such a good time making it that Mirage turned out to be extra long — almost too long to press on CD! The new record has a lot of music on it, 15 songs, some of which are pretty long, too…This time in the studio, and during the writing process, we decided to not censor our ideas at the very beginning, but to use all of them instead. So in some songs you can hear a dramatic change at some point. There’s always something surprising just around the corner, sometimes ignoring classical song structures. Some journalists already called the album a bit “prog rock” — which in hindsight makes sense in some way. We didn’t think about it when we made it. We just had so much freedom, after five years and with no deadlines and no direction. Mirage is very melodic and colourful, too. It’s a proper soundtrack-y ride to a movie that doesn’t exist.
KALTBLUT: How would you say it’s a departure from, or takes from your last album I Love You Dude? Digitalism: It felt like making a new first album, actually. Probably inspired by our other records… It’s a bit Idealism + I Love You, Dude combined, and enhanced. When we started writing Mirage, after a few years without a long player, we didn’t know what we would sound like. So in a way the album process was necessary for us to find ourselves and our identity again. But it fits perfectly in the sequence that we started with the other albums ten years ago. The new record to us feels a lot more confident and grown-up. Apart from that, it’s still built around the signature Digitalism core sound — which is a soundtrack-y indie-electronic ride. Fans of our other albums should be loving it.
KALTBLUT: You’ve remixed some classic tunes from Daft Punk to Depeche Mode, that have become hits in their own right – how did you come to these tracks and why did you choose to rework those particular ones? Digitalism: In the case of Daft Punk and Depeche Mode we got the request from the bands via their label (EMI back then). It was a big honour to get our hands on those tracks. Dave Gahan liked our remix so much that he asked us again for a remix for one of his own songs,“Kingdom”, a while later. Sometimes we do get requests, and sometimes we approach bands because we really like a particular song or the artists…it always depends. At the moment we’re focused on our own new material of course.
KALTBLUT: Your music blends a huge range of different genres to create a unique sound and style, tell us a bit more about the creative and musical process behind Mirage? Digitalism: As we said earlier, we did have complete freedom working on Mirage. There was no-one who told us to make an album, and even we didn’t know if we should make one and if so, when and how. Times have changed and people don’t care so much about albums anymore — it’s a playlist-and-singles world out there. But we always wanted to make another “big one”, so after the last US live tour we decided to sit down and start working on it. Because we didn’t know how it should sound like, we just started making song after song and then had a look at everything afterwards. It was great to go through this process, because it showed us who we really are these days. The writing and production went down pretty quick as well, because we had to commute back and forth between Hamburg and London (Jence’s residency for a while), and schedule studio time. We would both prepare ideas, and bring them with us in order to finish them off into full songs. The outcome was extensive…that’s why the new record is so long. Seems like there’s a lot of stuff that had to be said and done from our side, after a few years with only single track releases. We really enjoyed the album process.
KALTBLUT: How did the release of ‘Zdarlight’, followed by your international tours and London and Hamburg residencies, mark a turning point in your journey as artists? Digitalism: Coming from traineeships and university life (and working as record retailers) in Hamburg, it’s a big game changer of course. After we released ‘Idealistic’ in 2004 in a first edition, we got picked up by Kitsuné Records, and later Virgin/EMI in France, and that sent us around the globe. The amount of impressions and experience you collect is incredible. To deal with all this, you need an outlet — so in a way we’ve gone full circle. We use our music to express what we’re thinking and experiencing. Hopefully we can inspire some people out there.
KALTBLUT: Your tracks have been used for a range of different media from video games to advertisements – what do you think it is that makes your work so appealing and accessible to those who not so familiar with the world you create within? Digitalism: We’re very soundtrack-y. That’s probably why. It might be something that people can agree on, regardless of the genre or instruments you’ve used.
KALTBLUT: How have you seen the electronic music scene in Hamburg change while you’ve been working together? Digitalism: Hamburg has been big for House and Garage music since the 1990s, but that went down a long time ago. Then the scenes changed, new people joined, others left, new genres sprouted, and scenes split up. It was almost the same everywhere in the world. Clubs come and go, nothing is forever. But talking about producers and artists, since more than a decade, a lot of great and talented artists have emerged from here — including Solomun and the Diynamic crew, Tensnake or the Adana Twins etc. There’s a lot more people doing what we’re doing now than back then, we reckon. It’s good to see everything grow.
KALTBLUT: You’ve played a variety of huge festivals, from Coachella to SXSW – what has been your experience playing live – and where can we catch you this summer? Digitalism: It’s been great so far, we’re very thankful for all the experience that we’ve been able to collect. There’s been really good shows and ones where everything went wrong…But that’s just road life! Back then, we started as DJs, and after we got signed to Kitsuné and EMI France we got asked to play live. We didn’t know what to do really, but we always like a nice “jump in cold water” challenge. That was in 2005. Now we know how things work out there on stage, playing live or just DJing, in small sweaty low-ceiling clubs and in front of 30,000 people. You grow with errors, and some of the best shows are the ones where gear fails, or other weird things happen, and you have to make snap decisions. We took last year off touring live, we did some DJ gigs, so now we’re more than excited to return with live shows and a lot of new music to play. We did a few smaller shows in Germany, France, and the UK, and are going to the US and Australia for a few weeks before we come to Europe (and Germany especially with Hurricane/Southside/SMS/Melt!) to play festivals. Keep on checking our tour date section for the latest additions! Should be a great summer.
KALTBLUT: Tell us the inspiration behind the video for ‘Utopia’? Digitalism: Yoshi Sodeoka, who’s done the artwork for Mirage, did the video. He’s great with visual feedbacks, video, optical illusions etc., and after he sent us all this crazy artwork for the music on the album, we decided to ask him for a video too. Apart from the music as the main inspiration for the video, there’s a few keywords, concepts, and things that we wanted to be picked up for the animation. The video totally hits the nail. It’s a colorful vortex-y nature trip that sucks you in – it’s genius.
KALTBLUT: So after the album release what have you guys got planned for us next, and in what direction do you hope to head together? Digitalism: The only way is forward! First we’ll embark on this big live tour around Mirage, and for everything else — people should be on the alert for surprises. Mirage is available now via Magnetism. Purchase it here.
Tour 19.05. Baby’s All Right / New York, US 19.05. Music Hall of Williamsburg / New York, US 20.05. U Street Music Hall / Washington DC, US 21.05. Underground Arts / Pennsylvania, US 24.05. Double Door / Chicago, US 25.05. The Shelter / Detroit, US 26.05. The Garrison / Toronto, CAN 27.05. L’astral / Montreal, CAN 28.05. The Sinclair / Massachusetts, US 01.06. The Independent/ San Francisco, US 03.05. El Rey Theatre / Los Angeles, US 15.07. MELT! / Leipzig, DEU 12.08. Sonnemondsterne XX 2016 / Jena, DEU