The 2007 debut from German electro maestros Digitalism, the aptly named Idealism, expertly straddled the line between accessibility and credibility, and purposefully blurred the distinction between rock and dance. Though songs range from killer dancefloor anthems like “Zdarlight” and “Idealistic” to more conventional indie vocal tracks like “Pogo” and “I Want I Want” and a reworking of the Cure’s “Fire in Cairo,” the album always maintains an organic cohesiveness. On the album, Jens (“Jence”) Moelle and Ismail (“Isi”) Tuefekci act as tour guides, whisking you off on a high-energy journey through faraway galaxies, foreign lands, other dimensions — and eventually back to the dance floor. Here, they provide some insight into the concepts behind the album as well as their views on today’s indie-electro scene.
Idealism has been really well-received, especially in comparison to the many other full-length records released by electronic artists in the past few years. Were you at all surprised by that?
Moelle: It’s hard to always be really happy with your own work, because you are never satisfied — you always want to change little bits of everything — but we were really happy with it. We didn’t think about any reception. We knew that there were some strong tracks on it, because they’d already been released, like “Zdarlight,” but we were just happy to have it done.
Tuefekci: We realized it was our little baby that was growing up and up and up.
What’s the most important thing you’d like people to get out of your music?
Moelle: We want to make people dream, to take the album seriously . . . to dance to the music, of course, but that’s not the main purpose. It’s quite abstract, but quite personal. There are some deep lyrics on it, so it’s a bit serious, but you can always dance to the album as a secondary purpose.
When you started working on Idealism, did you set off wanting to create something cohesive that told a story or did you have a few different pieces that you later wove together?
Moelle: There was kind of a concept the whole time, but we didn’t really think about it until we were finishing the album. With “Zdarlight” and “Jupiter Room,” the songs we had released so far, there was a certain theme, but we didn’t really think about what the main concept behind them was. The album is a bit melancholic — it’s about stuff that’s exciting but that isn’t there, so you have to move, which makes you travel, discover things, dream of escapes, and it makes you excited and sad at the same time.
Though your music obviously picks up elements of both, is your first love dance music or rock music?
Moelle: It’s kind of equal. We started doing music coming from the electronic [side], but we always listened to rock stuff as well. Actually, Digitalism kind of moves a bit more toward the indie or rock side than other artists now, like Justice and MSTRKRFT, who stay more electronic.
There are a lot of people who put you, Klaxons, Erol Alkan, Soulwax, Simian Mobile Disco, Justice, and others in the same “indie dance” category, even though none of you really sound alike. Are you getting tired of being lumped together, or is being part of a “movement” something you appreciate?
Moelle: It’s a good thing that there are so many other bands around that you always meet because they play the same stage or at the same festivals. They’re all nice guys, but we always try to stand alone. There’s “new rave” or the “French scene,” then there’s Digitalism. That’s what we try to do, at least.
Where do you see dance music heading in the next two to five years?
Moelle: Well, experience says that it’s going to be very relaxed, nice music again in a few years, because there’s always a contrary action to what’s going on. This is why all the house stuff died and electroclash came. Then everything became very minimal, and now it’s like screaming loud.
How does what’s happening musically in the U.S. compare with the scenes you’re seeing around the world?
Tuefekci: It’s coming up and changing. The first time we played at the CMJ festival, there was a totally positive surprise from the crowd because they had been waiting for that. I think this year it’s going to be really huge. I’m not surprised anymore to see the reaction on the dance floors here in America — you can compare with Europe or all over the world. We just played in Boston and it was awesome. At the end of the show — it never happened before actually — there were people screaming for twenty or thirty minutes for an encore. For a city like Boston, it was really great.
What annoys you the most about the state of music today?
Moelle: It can be a bit annoying that everyone can do music with so little money, which is good, but at the same time you have some band being copied a thousand times and everyone sounds the same, everyone exchanges, and it’s just like one sound that everyone produces. It’s very creative, of course — we want everyone to make music — but . . .
With Digitalism keeping you so busy, do you still find time for deejaying?
Tuefekci: Of course — it’s an important part of producing, for getting deeper into the music. When you’re deejaying, it’s interesting to play stuff from other people as well as your own stuff. When you play live, you play only your stuff. You love it, of course, but when you receive a track from a friend and you play it and see the [positive] reaction, that’s something cool, as well.
Moelle: You don’t need to soundcheck, get there five hours in advance, set up everything — you just play your records. We can’t take vinyl with us anymore . . . we don’t like Serato but we adopted using CDs.
Tuefekci: The most important thing when we’re deejaying is to have the freedom to say, “Okay, right now I want to play this and this and this. . . . ”
Compared to your own tracks, your remixes seem to me to have a much harder, almost grinding edge. Is this a conscious decision? Tuefekci: When we do a remix, we don’t think about what we do, we just do it. We have some visuals in our heads, but it’s important to do it completely different. You can say when we make a remix, it’s a Digitalism track. Of course, there are some hard remixes and some soft remixes.
Moelle: We always think about the remix being for the clubs. You can do interesting abstract new versions of a song, but if it’s about remixes that appear on vinyl, it’s mainly for the clubs.
What’s coming up for you in 2008?
Moelle: We’re thinking about a new album — it could happen next year. Lots of touring again, coming back to the U.S., a U.K. tour, Japan . . . [See the duo’s MySpace page for U.S. spring tour dates and several new remixes; the Japan-only Moshi Moshi EP is out now. -Ed.]