Nationalism Is Pure Nostalgia: DAF Interviewed

As DAF prepare to release a new album, Filip Kalinowski speaks to Robert Görl and Gabriel 'Gabi' Delgado-López about using synths for punk rock, and why Nazi nationalists are doomed

New music requires new sound and new instrumentation, thought the founders of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft in the late 70s. The concerts that followed in Düsseldorfs (in)famous Ratinger Hof were closed down by police and their records caused at least as much fuss. The ‘Der Mussolini’ single provoked a media-fuelled public debate on the limits of freedom of speech. On the other hand, the Korg MS-20 driven productions of the band convinced John Peel to call them the grandfathers of techno. A few years after the original line-up split up and most of the members focused on their solo projects, in 2007 D.A.F. reformed for a brief moment with Thoralf Dietrich (Jäger 90) on vocals. 2010 saw their second comeback with the originators Robert Görl and Gabriel ‘Gabi’ Delgado-López being the only ones responsible for the future of the brand.

Two years after the premiere of their new song ‘Du Bist DAF’ was released, the duo are now working on a new LP and playing live occasionally. Their most recent show at Avant Art Festival in Wrocław attracted die-hard fans and newcomers alike for a line-up that consisted of a Raster-Noton showcase, an F.M. Einheit solo performance, a Moritz Von Oswald Trio session and a Caspar Brötzmann Massaker gig.

The possibility of a brief chat with Robert and Gabi wasn’t a thing to miss. The two men speak talking with one voice, finishing each others’ sentences, laughing throughout.

A few months ago I went to Düsseldorf for just one day, but it gave me enough time to see this really well developed city where art and music goes hand in hand with the success of business and industry. Was it the same during the late 70s when You started D.A.F.?

Gabriel ‘Gabi’ Delgado-López: Yes. It was always the same. It’s a small but rich city. It’s also the capital of the state and all the money that is earned in the mines and steel factories of the Rhine-Ruhr region goes to Düsseldorf where the offices of those huge companies are located. At the same time it was always the city of art with a really famous art school where Joseph Beuys used to be the teacher, and the city of fashion with the industry which is important all over Germany and the so called Paris-Düsseldorf connection. So it’s a rich, wealthy place with a lot of cultural interests.

Sounds like a fertile ground for the growth of the punk scene.

Robert Görl: It was perfect. When the punk movement came true it was an ideal time to clash those who were rich, to confront them.

GDL: It was the same in Zurich which is also a really wealthy city. There was a big punk movement with a lot of riots and a lot of rage. There are always two reasons for the revolution: one is hunger and hopelessness, when more and more people have nothing to eat, and the other one is boredom, when more and more people say, ‘I’m really bored, nothing is going on, everything is always the same, I’m really pissed of.’ It’s always either the real desperation – no food, no house, no nothing, or just the opposite – too much food, too many houses, too much of everything.

So, D.A.F. songs were the sticks that you carved to put them into the guts of society…

GDL: Yes, it has developed from that point. It wasn’t just aimed at the German society. All of the Western European countries were really stuck politically and culturally. Nothing was going on, nothing was happening so the people were really fed up with this situation, people wanted something new.

RG: And we wanted to be the part of the movement that would change things. In our case we wanted to change the music, the songs, the message.

Why did You take the synthesisers and other electronic instruments as the means of your combat? Most of the British, American and also German punk bands used the classical instrumentation.

RG: …like all of those old bands.

GDL: We liked the punk energy, but we never understood why they were using the instruments of their fathers, the same old tools and same riffs. So we thought it’s good to combine this fresh, new vitality with the new style of music, not with rock & roll.

The new style of music required new instruments. How did you approach the synthesizers back than?

RG: At that time in Europe there were only rich guys with their huge synthesizers, the guys like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream. They always used their equipment in a really accurate manner and… we really disliked this kind of approach. We wanted to use it in a completely different way, the free way. With no rules, even no rules on how to treat a machine. We used them as we wanted to. Even if the machine goes kaput – it’s good, there’s a sound of this machine going kaput and this sound is music.

GDL: We didn’t want to be nice and follow the manual. Learning by doing was our kind of approach.

Electronic music kind of evicted the mistake from the process of production. How do You approach the element of fortune during the creative process?

GDL: In music, in life, in art, in culture – basically anywhere – there are no mistakes. You can do whatever You want. Most of the people always use technology in an accurate way, but the elites, they don’t even use mobile phones like everybody else. For example if you go to Bristol the people from the house scene are doing crazy things with the wifi network and their mobile phones as the means of creation. So I think the elites are still working on different, new things, but the masses they still follow their grandmothers. But it was always like that, there are people who experiment and people who consume.

What equipment do you use today?

GDL: The same good, old Korgs and OK, we’re computerizing them now but what’s more important is that – in the beginning of our history – we had a vision of music and this vision hasn’t really changed. As a matter of fact, what we saw back then is still…

RG: …going on…

GDL: …and there is still more to come. When we started looping stuff we did it on tapes, because nobody thought of building samplers or loop stations back than. We anticipated the development of electronic music and we found our style in it. We’re still using same Korgs and as we just started recording our new album, almost all of those sessions were mostly – like 95% of them – recorded on Korgs. Of course there are also other machines and they are all interesting but we simply like the Korg sound.

As you’re known not to answer the question about influences and always saying that you didn’t listen to anything back in the days, I’m curious what was the basis of this vision of music?

RG: Just thoughts, ideas and the necessity of changing something. We were really aware that if we wanted to change anything, we had to come up with something truly new, even if it was odd or strange. And we liked it more and more, we liked the strangeness in sounds.

GDL: When we started, we used to listen to the tracks that we had just made and if anything reminded us of anything else, of whatever – even if it was good – we threw it away. It’s the same approach that applies not only to music but also to film or art. There are always influences in the subconsciousness, but you can’t get away from them. In the moment that we saw them, we threw the piece away. If it was too much nouvelle vague or too much Devo… Away with it. Away with it!

"Away with it!" can also be applied to the message that D.A.F. manifested through the lyrics. As I’m sitting here with a band that was hugely involved in the politics, I can’t ignore the context of a nationalist march that we just saw on our way for the interview.

GDL: All those nationalist trends nowadays are just pure nostalgia. The world is global and nation states are losing more and more of their importance. In Germany one in every four people has a background that is fully or partially foreign; Turkish, Italian, many others. So the people are really racially mixed and it’s just a few nostalgic individuals who think they must fight for it because it’s disappearing. I don’t know, how many people are living in this city?

Around 600,000.

GDL: And on that march there were like 150 people. So it’s the relation. They are making a lot of noise but they are small in numbers and small in power. I think the right wing movements in the 60s, 70s and 80s were much more dangerous than nowadays. Nowadays there are just a bunch of freaks.

Do You think music somehow contributed to that change? Do You think it can have a direct influence on the system?

GDL: Music can change the culture it comes from so it can also change the way people feel, but I don’t see the direct influence of the music on political movements. You can change the spirit, the way people think in general over longer periods. However, if you make an anti-Nazi song, it’s ridiculous. If You sing "fuck the Nazis", do you think that the Nazis who hear it will say, "Oh, they are right, I won’t be a Nazi any longer? The ‘Fuck The Nazis’ song won’t stop the Nazis. At the same time – in a larger perspective – not saying direct things, but affecting the minds of the people, you can really influence society and by influencing society you can change the world.

At this moment I can think of one direct influence that music has on politics. In the recent elections in the US the hip-hop campaign for Barack Obama was quite huge and had an actual outcome in the number of votes cast. I’m not saying that Obama was elected because Jay-Z supported him, but they persuaded some people to vote.

GDL: We have to remember that the function of the political role is much more important than the person. An American president will always be an American president. It doesn’t matter if it’ll be Obama, Romney, Smith or whoever else. He has the function of being the American president so he is under all the pressure from all those pressure groups, the industry, the lobbyists, the other countries. He’s not alone. That’s an illusion of thinking that one person being in the system of a system of a system can change anything. Of course the people can get a new health care and some other little details, but – in the first place – he must do certain things because he’s not in charge. So Obama is now a black sheriff, which is good because when you’re watching cowboy films it’s not very often that the sheriff is black. Nevertheless he will always be "Der Sheriff".

We can expect more political content on your next album?

RG: There’s always politics in our music, but not the daily politics.

GCL: Not saying Angela Merkel…

RG: Fuck this, fuck that…

GDL: We dwell on the politics of life. Everything is political and at the same time nothing really is.

Do You think instrumental music can be politically engaged?

GDL: Yes, of course.

Dub music?

GDL: Yes! Dub reggae, heavy dancehall dub. I have a huge dub records collection. I’m a reggae expert, really.

Catch D.A.F. live on the continent soon:

November 30 D-Düsseldorf, Zakk (+ Goldkint)

December 01 D-Mannheim, Alte Seilerei (+ Deine Jugend)

March 09 ’13 CH-Pratteln, Z7 (+ Goldkint, Fiji)

March 23 ’13 D-Berlin, C-Halle (@ e-tropolis-Festival 2013)

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