Still young when they left the burrow in 2004, German dance duo Digitalism emerged straight into a field of serious heavyweights. Formed in Hamburg, they share a country with Boys Noize and border with current genre giants Daft Punk and Justice in France, and Soulwax/2 Many DJs in Belgium. If the geography could be claustrophobic, the musical territory was even more confined, with each of the big brands sufficiently similar to allow then to regularly remix each other seamlessly into their sets.
It wouldn’t be true to say that Digitalism have struck out in a brave new direction; by the common consent, however, of an audience clamouring for live dance acts, their saturated, chopped riffs and chantable choruses are near enough to the best of the better-known for a respectable degree of popularity. Their album Idealism was more of an easily looped, easily sampled performance resource than a coherent collection of songs, but recognisable as danceable party music to its crowd.
As such it was good, and together with a basketful of solid-quality remixes from across the pop spectrum it meant that Digitalism’s headlining slot at Death Disco’s 6th birthday party at the Arches on the 22nd was set to be banging. The event saw a collection of capable DJs inciting delirium to the Arches’ full-capacity of 2700 which packed the main arch to festival front line standards in anticipation of Digitalism’s 2am appearance.
In response to the heaving frenzy in front of them Digitalism may have felt a little pressure to maintain the seamless pace of the previous acts; what they delivered was a powerful high-energy house set, which shot on but never shone.
Digitalism demonstrated with their album that they understand the need for gaps in modern dance beats like material by French contemporaries Justice and SebastiAn, tracks like ‘Home Zone’ are most compelling because of their slashed and slanted rhythm. However, in what appeared to be an effort to shear off any glitches and keep their crowd jumping, many of the holes were filled in.
Although undeniably energetic, the result was nevertheless a little tame. Breaks and drops kept up the dynamic, each one immaculately timed and faded but always diving to the same depth and surfacing in the same place. With transitions in speed, key, rhythm or tune so rare and seamlessly executed, new directions could rarely be felt to fully break through. Although this sustained the gleeful bouncing which Digitalism clearly aimed to achieve throughout the entire set, holding back from the drama meant that they never managed to become really exciting. It was Death Disco’s birthday party: understatement was just not called for.
A sizeable spectrum of sources was tapped for material, including isolated sections of Digitalism’s own tracks. The Arches’ huge sound system and its distinctive acoustics funnelled basslines through the large crowd like an analogue plough, while drum sounds were crisp and full. It needed showing off, but Digitalism were afflicted by a rather inappropriate show of modesty, and so although their selection of music was effective and professional, it didn’t have many recognisable chunks of their own songs in it.
The full chorus of ‘I Want I Want’ was eventually unleashed within the last half hour: people cheered, they jumped higher and they shouted along. More of these moments of drama would have made Digitalism seem less dependable, and more fun. As with their various European contemporaries, we expected more baiting with the big choruses, more jarring with the jolting, choppy beats, more cheering and more chance to recognise their tunes than their talents.