Blessed with a degree of Teutonic grimness which most of us can only dream about, DAF (Deutsche Amerikanischen Freundschaft) could be considered as the missing link between the experimentalism of ’70s Krautrock and ’80s electro.
Hailing from Dusseldorf, home of Kraftwerk and just up the autobahn from Can’s Cologne, DAF gained a measure of popularity and influence in the New York electro clubs before disappearing into thin air without once troubling the charts, or indeed breaking a smile.
This compilation pulls together 20 songs from a short but productive career, in which the pounding spacerock of Can and Neu! was distilled into its most basic elements, fed through elementary synthesisers and shot through with a blast of punk nihilism. The typical DAF track is insistent, endlessly looped, and wholly blank-faced; yet with enough sonic innovation and hidden quirks to influence a generation of electro artists.
Whilst DAF’s brutal, primitive, repetitive music is far closer to the snarling minimalism of Suicide than to the chart-friendly pop duos that popped up on DAF’s label Mute over the course of the ’80s, their influence is clearly there in those later, more accessible artists.
Labelmates Depeche Mode and Yazoo were evidently acolytes of their distilled electronica, if only in their statelier moments; and there are distinct echoes of their robotic posturing in the work of Gary Numan and the early Human League.
More recently, there are clear similarities between the DAF boys and the grinding theatrics and declamatory vocals of Rammstein; or the recent electro-minimalist revivalism of Black Devil Disco Club and autoKratz.
Listening to DAF is rather like watching the raw materials used by newer, more engaging bands being laid out before one’s eyes. Beyond the repetition, barked German words and claustrophobic mood there is little to seduce the casual listener.
Even a tentative translation of the lyrics reveals a dark and unfathomable character under the façade. The death disco of Der Mussolini surfs the thin line between hilarious and terrifying, with its Situationist mantra of “Get up / Shake your hips / Clap your hands / Dance the Mussolini / Dance the Adolf Hitler / Move your ass / And dance the Jesus Christ.”
Alle Gegen Alle (All Against All) plays a similar game: “Our gear is so black / Our boots so beautiful … The new evil dance / Everybody fights everybody.” Even DAF’s apparently less sinister moments carry a real sense of menace – lyrically, musically, or both. Sure, the punks used to wear swastika armbands and all, but it was easy to see that they were just nice middle class boys playing at being monsters. DAF, with all their blankness and austerity, don’t offer the listener such an easy ride.
Das Beste Von DAF: file under “important”, but make sure you have your affairs in order before attempting to listen.