t’s not surprising that the French touch is cool again (disco never really goes away); the big question on everyone’s mind is: why now? Since the height of French filter house in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, young clubbers have moved on to both microhouse and rock-based forms of dance music. Yet all the sudden, a bunch of young duos on the Ed Banger and Kitsune record labels have sprung up, all vying for the title of “the next Daft Punk.” Digitalism, one of the front-runners, have a unique spin on the story: unlike Parisian Ed Banger faves like Justice and SebastiAn, Ismail Tuefekci and Jens Moelle hail from the clubs of Germany. Nevertheless, with Idealism they’ve moved away from German dance music and jumped in the middle of the dirty electro-infused French touch that surfaced on MP3 blogs late last year (and which is now being dubbed “blog house”).
This writer has objected elsewhere to the term “blog house,” so from this point on the style will be referred to a more descriptive term: Electro touch. One notable characteristic of this Electro touch style, as is the case with most revivals, is its purveyors’ curious predilection towards girth. It’s like going big is the only way to add a new spin on a thoroughly explored genre; thus, the huge, distorted electro synth lines and beats endemic to the Electro touch. Check out the last, oh, six or so tracks of Idealism for a school in Big/Bigger/Biggest French House. On “The Pulse” and “Home Zone,” the delicate sound of filtered synths and baroque arpeggios does battle with big beats, ear-splitting minor-key melodies, and maybe-ironic “BIGGEST PARTY EVER” declarations.
This lack of contrast works pretty well in an anonymous-club-filler sort of way, although most DJs probably wouldn’t end their set bumping the hubris of “WE’VE GOT THE BIGGEST PARTY EVER.” But even so, expectations are nicely reversed every couple tracks when Digitalism turns to embrace rock guitars and live drums. Adopting an upbeat dance-punk personality on roughly a quarter of Idealism, the duo skims dangerously close to the Klaxons’ nu-rave territory (a scene which, by the bye, is likely to enjoy a shorter life span than even the Electro touch). When tracks like these succeed (“Pogo” is the best example), it’s often due to Tuefekci and Moelle’s unexpected embrace of the lo-fi. Mired in a scene that preaches the elegant chaos of party noise, Digitalism seems to work best when they jettison a few of the robotic qualities of their style and play up the untucked-shirttail rock. For a more electro-friendly example, listen to the little messy guitar snippets in the Cure sample in “Digitalism in Cairo.” Most of what they’re doing has been done to death, but, y’know, credit where it’s due.
But this is essentially a successful beginner’s application of the Wall of Sound, and it’s indicative of the greater problem of Idealism. If indeed Digitalism is participating in the “next big Daft Punk” contest, they’ve got to get it out of their head that they’re only going to win it when playing as faux-big and faux-menacing as possible. The duo seems to have missed out on the big difficulty of playing the Ed Bangeresque “punks in the club”: you have to balance your instinct to not give a fuck with the desire to entertain a room. Dipping from two different contemporaneous styles, Idealism has some fun with memorable new electro (“The Pulse,” “Home Zone,” “Idealistic”) and nu-rave cuts (“I Want I Want,” “Pogo”). But these guys can’t possibly think fans will believe this fifteen-track behemoth, mostly lacking in subtlety and invention, is the big party they half-seriously claim it to be, over and over and over again.