German electronic punks DAF (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) formed in late ’70s Dusseldorf, foreshadowing EBM and techno as they rebelled against kosmische. And, after four decades on and off, the duo of Gabriel “Gabi” Delgado-López and Robert Görl have finally hit Australia as the flagship act of Melbourne Music Week.
DAF may seem an obscure choice, but MMW – celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2019 – has long recognised Melbourne’s techno-geek (sub)culture. Besides, DAF’s show in the hallowed space of Melbourne Town Hall (which, notably, hosted Tangerine Dream in 2014) is packed. Curiously, while DAF are resolutely underground, they have a wide array of merch that would impress Drake’s marketing team.
Ironically, DAF’s supports are on the Triple R punk and avant-garde tip, rather than techno. Local COMPLETE, aka Brent Stegeman, launches the evening and appears in intervals. This time, the performance artist is joined by two other musicians. Stegeman’s approach exploits the Town Hall’s elevated platform and grand organ to dramatic effect, his music less ‘ambience’ than a post-apocalyptic drone. Stegeman is so bizarre as a live act as to be subversively parodic and utterly enthralling, coming across like the high priest of a dystopian pagan cult. Eventually he strips down to what is either underwear or bathers. Imagine Shriekback in Speedos at a rave.
Buzz Melbourne darkwave trio Dark Water play ultra-early. Next, is Total Control, who rarely tour, despite their international profile (they did materialise at last year’s Vivid LIVE). The post-punk quintet turn up with an ambitious ensemble configuration, not only utilising the organ, but also, incongruously, sax and violin. It’s multiple bands in one – though Total Control’s compelling frontman Dan Stewart anchors what could otherwise descend into a music college jam. Total Control bring a punk cacophony, but there are almost poppy moments, too.
DAF perform with Delgado-López as vocalist and the retiring Görl on drums, using playback for the electronic instrumentation. The Spanish-born Delgado-López, who delivers spoken word rather than singing, is an uncannily agile, energetic and mercurial lead, flying from side-to-side of the stage (and, unusually, wearing no monitor). The combo vacillate between visceral punk and the kind of electro made in concealed basements, circling Berlin techno. Live, DAF’s secret is the tension they generate out of minimalism and momentum. Still, at times, Delgado-López exudes a disco camp. Indeed, this is how any menace is quelled. DAF perform selectively from across their catalogue, even venturing back to their pre-electro second album, Die Kleinen Und Die Bösen, on Mute Records.
At the start, Delgado-López runs on stage, spraying water over the audience, phone cameras included – sly and punk AF. DAF open with the strident Verschwende Deine Jugend. The surprise is that they pull out Der Mussolini, the enduring anti-fascist bop their biggest hit, so soon in their set – it’s the third song. And, yes, it goes off with some lowkey pogoing upfront. Towards the end, DAF revisit their ’00s comeback, Der Sheriff (Anti-Amerikanisches Lied), a critique of US meddling in the Middle East. The banging Als Wär’s Das Letzte Mal, recently remixed by Boys Noize, is another crowd fave. Delgado-López avoids banter but regularly thanks the punters – and, pointedly, always in German (“danke schön”). DAF return for four encores – their concluding song Alles Ist Gut, the title-track from 1981’s breakthrough album on Richard Branson’s Virgin, in fact, brutally industrial. To that, we say “ja”.