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Over the Wall – # 13

October 13, 2009

In honour of an upcoming trip to Germany, one of the most influential and important German groups of the era is up this week.

Edition #13 – All Against All: DAF

In terms of steps and significant events in the development of electronic music, DAF cannot be ignored. And in terms of synth duos in the early eighties, DAF’s contribution not only to their era, but to the future as well, remains important. Furthermore, they were an important part of the German expression of the post-punk happening, one of the best and most revered of the so-called NDW (Neue Deutsche Welle) groups.

Emerging out of the German avant-garde at the end of the seventies, DAF –Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (German-American Friendship) – were one of a number of European avant-tendency groups who found new avenues in the wake of punk. The thing about Germany was that it had a legacy of quite freaky avant music already in place by the time punk happened, so when the avant + punk approach began to spread in the post-punk period, it was already hip. DAF came about in 1978, as a punk-infused noise combo, releasing two records, Ein Produkt der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Freundschaft (A Product of DAF), in 1979, and Die Kleinen und die Bösen (The Little and the Evil), in 1980. On par with some of the most abrasive records of the time, these two LPs showcase the early phase of DAF, after which time the two core members, Robert Görl and Gabriel Delgado-Lopez, continued on as a duo and came up with the sound DAF was to become known for. Those first two LPs are often overlooked now, overshadowed, really, by the three major-label LPs that DAF did as a duo, but they remain intriguing, explorative statements.

Görl and Delgado-Lopez were a drummer and vocalist, respectively, and finding themselves reduced to a duo in 1980, they decided to take the synth component of what they had been doing and build a new sound for themselves around it. At the time, the synthesizer was still sort of a new thing for pop groups, and synth pop (as it would soon be) was still forming, as its pioneers figured out their sounds. DAF’s approach was simple: a synth and sequencer with live drumming and vocals. The resulting sound owed to inspiration (the band’s aim to be an electronic punk outfit) and also necessity and limitation on account of the technology. Sequencers available at the time could only produce a few bars, so DAF tunes were minimal and repetitive, with relentless robotic melodies, Görl’s simple drum patterns, and Delgado-Lopez’s restless, resonant vocals. In the end, it all came out quite sexually charged, and it remains an interesting mix of human and machine. It was a sound that nobody else had done at the time, and its debut, on the 1981 LP Alles ist Gut (Everything’s Good) got the duo a lot of attention. They produced two more LPs by 1982 – Gold und Liebe (Gold and Love) also in 1981, and Für Immer (Forever) in 1982 – garnering much attention in Europe. Getting tired with the limitations of what they were doing, however, the group decided to pack it up in 1983, and apart from a brief reunion in 1985 which yielded a pure synth pop record (1st Step to Heaven) unlike anything they’d done before, they remained inactive (though pursuing solo careers) for nearly twenty years.

In 2003, though, they re-emerged with a new record, Fünfzehn Neue DAF Lieder (Fifteen New DAF Songs). Times had changed of course, since their last efforts, and technology had come a long way. They remained as politically and sexually provocative as ever, but musically they were no longer the same primitive man-machine fusion, going rather with a slicker techno sound. In some ways, it’s an example of a phenomenon that occurs often in electronic music: a pioneering outfit returns sounding a lot like all the groups they inspired. Since then DAF have been active in some form off and on, but they’re one of those groups that’s just remained sort of eternal. The compelling sound they crafted in the early eighties tapped into something that numerous groups have played with since, and helped gave rise to a number of sub-genres of electronic music.

DAF remain an influence on genres and artists that followed them (the EBM sound, and the synthier sides of goth and industrial), and also an important NDW group. Although that scene found its biggest international success in other, more commercial artists, DAF were one of the most innovative and ultimately influential groups of the whole NDW lot.

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