Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft - Das Ist DAF

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2017-09-29

D.A.F. (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, "German American Friendship", primarily Gabi Delgago and Robert Görl over the course of its existence) are one of the original founders of the German industrial and electropunk scenes. Along with Einstürzende Neubauten, who came along just a couple years later, they set the stage for a lot of nascent genres, creating a space for all kinds of new sounds. They've re-released a cluster of four early albums in a boxed set, and it's pretty fascinating stuff when understood within the context of its time.

The band originally formed in Düsseldorf in 1978. Shortly thereafter, they picked up Kurt Dahlke, Michael Kemner, and Wolfgang Spelmans, but whittled back down to a twosome in 1980. The three most crucial releases in this set, Alles Ist Gut, Gold und Liebe, and Für Immer, all came into being shortly after this, as though the pair became inspired once freed from the confines of a traditional band. And these albums are where they established themselves as unique artists.

The first album in the boxed set, Die Keinen und die Bösen, leans much more towards punk, with a lot of noisy, rambling sound collages and fewer organized, melodic synths compared to the other albums in the set. The first eight tracks were recorded in the studio, while the remaining eleven were from a 1980 live performance at the Electric Ballroom in London. A few of the live songs venture into outright unlistenable territory (scream-filled 'Auf Wiedersehen' and 'Anzufassen Und Anzufassen'), but there's plenty of interesting and worthwhile stuff happening with the studio pieces, such as creepy sewer monster 'Kinderfunk' or the funny, funky 'De Panne'. The title track, a bare minute long, manages briefly to create a sense of space with its weird electro dribbles. And final track 'Y La Gracia' sounds like some got their hands on a sequencer and went a little crazy with it. Lots of the other live songs are either jangly punk, where you can almost see the band kicking their amplifiers around on a tiny stage, or repetitive, dissonant synth vignettes. The punk aesthetic clearly inspired the early music of fellow Germans KMFDM, before that group settled on its own sound.

Alles Ist Gut is where the duo start transitioning towards a more electronic sound, and contains some of their best know tracks. Their influence on later electronic body music (EBM) groups like Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb is obvious here in songs like 'Sato-Sato' and 'Mein Herz Macht Bum' with their warbling synthlines. And of course the classic 'Der Mussolini', based off a nicely rolling synth and Delgado's barked vocals about all the dancing dictators, was eventually covered by KMFDM decades later. Then there are songs like 'Der Räuber und der Prinz', with its high-pitched melody and grab bag percussion, that almost trace a line to some of Aphex Twin's quirkier work. 'Als wär's dat letzte Mal' has more pulsing synths and insistent beats, something that a lot of early post-industrial adopted as foundational components.

Gold und Liebe is where the band has clearly found their niche: carving out a new electronic landscape full of unsettled synthlines, marching beats, and an assortment of vocals ranging from chants and shouts to almost singing. Once again, their influence on those that came later is so obvious and pervasive it's almost comical. The opening synth of 'Ich Will', for example, was sampled by Ben Watkins (aka Juno Reactor) in his one-off project Psychoslaphead (the Presidential Mix, for those who are curious). And the general tenor here, high energy and edgy, particularly on tracks like 'Verschwender Deine Jugend' and 'Sex Unter Wasser', with their driving synth melodies, are a close match to a lot of the work of yet another German band, And One, who showed up a decade after DAF and seemingly bathed in their essence.

The fourth album included, Für Immer, sees the band trying their hand at synthpop, with a heavier emphasis on pleasant melodies and real singing by Delgado. It leads off with 'Im Dchungel der Liebe', a song that begins with off-kilter synths, but throws in a sweetly chiming melody that sounds like it's being played on a xylophone. The contrast is frankly weird, but indicative of DAF's willingness to combine disparate elements without concern. 'Verlieb Dich in Mich' is more energetic, and Delgago's vocals are light enough to make this sound like a German Depeche Mode track. This style continues right into the next track, 'Geheimnis', which brings by the xylophone to boot. But just as it seems the group has settled into a groove, they change things up. 'Prinzessin' boosts the creep factor, sounding like a cracked ballad written inside an insane asylum. 'Die Lippe' is also disturbing, but more coherent, with plodding drums and bass and a neat little chirping effect.

Finally, there's Reworx, a small set of remixes of some of the group's biggest hits. It leads with a brand new remix of 'Der Mussolini' by legendary producers Giorgio Moroder and Denis Naidanow. It slows the track down some and adds some new effects, putting a more straightforward electronic spin on the track, but it didn't blow me away. Similarly, the 'Westbam ML Remix' of 'Sato Sato' is almost dancefloor friendly, but ends up a bit too sparse. In fact, most of the mixes here feel mostly like cleaning up the sound and improving the production level without bringing much new to the table. 'Liebe Auf Den Ersten Blick (Görl & Hell Remix)' does add some interesting new textures and size to the song though, and 'Der Mussolini (Gabi Delgados Hysteric Disco Remix)' goes way dancier per the name. So overall this piece of the set has a couple moments but isn't fantastic.

It's possible to listen to these albums in 2017 and dismiss them as too primitive or unstructured. But keeping in mind these albums are from the early 1980s, the type of dissonant experimentation they were engaged in was absolutely revolutionary. And looking back so far, there's a weird sense that everything here is derivative, until you remember that everyone else derived from this, not the other way around. Along with UK contemporaries Throbbing Gristle and German cohorts Einstürzende Neubauten, DAF showed what was possible when a punk rocker got hold of a synthesizer. You'd be hard pressed to find a German electronic group from the last thirty years who wasn't influenced by them, and it's the history here, if nothing else, that makes this so fascinating. Seeing a band slide around from punk to synthpop and everywhere in between can be rather amusing as well, especially because it's a well known fact the pair have never taken themselves too seriously. If you want to understand the roots of industrial, synth-punk, and EBM, this is essential.

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