Graded on a Curve:
Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft,
Alles Ist Gut

I’m not a dance guy. You can ask anyone. And they’ll tell you my dancing brings to mind a man in bare feet leaping about on hot coals while being attacked by a swarm of apoplectic hornets. But I do like me some good industrial/dance/noise music on occasion. So I recently checked out the defunct Düsseldorf band Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (“German American Friendship”), and boy, was I glad I did.

Not only did they release scads of great electropunk dance noise, but they actually wrote a song about dancing with Adolf Hitler! That’s right, they were Germans with an actual sense of humor! And not only that, but the brutal Thump! Thump! Thump! of their drums evoked the sound of 88-millimeter shells falling on Stalingrad. What’s more, vocalist Gabriel “Gabi” Delgado-López kinda sounded like what I imagine Josef Goebbels might have sounded like had he forgone the whole loser Nazi propaganda shtick and gone the club music route instead. In short, they made WWII rock!

D.A.F., as Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft are more popularly known, were formed as a five piece in 1978, but attrition soon whittled the band down to a duo consisting of vocalist Delgado-López and Robert Görl on drums, percussion, and electronic instruments. D.A.F. released seven LPs over the course of its career, and said LPs run the gamut from quite listenable to dead-raising cacophonies. My fave is 1981’s Alles Ist Gut (or “Everything’s Cool”). And not just because the “Deutsche Phono-Akademie,” whoever they are, awarded Alles Ist Gut the coveted “Schallplattenpreis” Award, whatever that is.

The first thing you should know about D.A.F. is that Delgado-López’s odd phrasing isn’t a figment of my imagination. Delgado himself told an interviewer, “The singing isn’t like rock ’n’ roll or pop singing. It’s sometimes like in a Hitler speech, not a Nazi thing, but it’s in the German character, that crack! crack! crack! way of speaking.” So now we not only have the Thump! Thump! Thump! of shells exploding all over the place, we have the Crack! Crack! Crack! of rifle fire as well. This isn’t dance music, people, it’s the soundtrack to a WWII dance movie called Herzlich Willkommen Aus Klub Blitzkrieg.

The next thing I want to stress is that D.A.F. was great. Their music is all over the place, from dance to noise to at least one song that sounds like a tap-dancing man on fire playing the kazoo while a garden gnome plinks at a set of back porch wind chimes, trying without great success to play “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Anyway, what I’m attempting to emphasize here is that while D.A.F. sometimes produced quite danceable records they also produced their fair share of mind-blowing, hair-raising affairs of the type that you could only dance to if you were Charles Manson. Sometimes their electropunk influences won out, while other times their Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave) influences won the day. And then there were those times when they just assaulted your ears with a good-old fashioned feral din, just like your Mom used to make. In short, they covered all the bases, and had a song to fit any mood, and best of all like I said before they had a sense of humor, which is virtually unheard of in the genres into which they uncomfortably fitted themselves.

A couple of things about Alles Ist Gut. The album was made using only three instruments. Görl played real drums, along with Korg MS-20 and ARP Odyssey analogue synthesizers, usually driven by a Korg SQ-10 analog sequencer. All of which means jack shit to me, but I thought all you gear heads might want to know. Oh, and Delgado-López sang in German, for reasons having to do with American cultural imperialism (“In the very first beginning,” he said, “one of our main [rules] was to refuse to imitate rock ‘n’ roll, to refuse to sing in English. We don’t do that. We have our own identity. Our identity is not American identity”).

Opener “Sato-Sato” features a static mid-tempo beat (with the occasional cymbal crash for flavoring), over which Delgado-López goes from speaking the lyrics to whispering “Sato-Sato.” It’s simple, no doubt about it, but also mesmerizing, as are most of their songs. Meanwhile, “Der Mussolini” is a big, whiplash dance track with a bouncy beat over which Delgado-López sings hilariously, “Dance the Mussolini, move your behind, clap your hands, and now the Adolf Hitler, and now the Jesus Christ,” and so on. Why “Der Mussolini” failed to start the biggest dance craze this side of the Lindy Hop is beyond me. What did Falco’s “Der Kommissar” (which was released at about the same time) have that “Der Mussolini” lacked? As for “Rote Lippen” (“Red Lips”), it features a slinky beat over which Delgado-López sounds alternately blasé and breathless, interrupting phrases with guttural vocalizations that I suspect he finds funny, or hope he finds funny, because I find them funny.

The breathlessness continues on the driving Autobahn sound of “Mein Herz Macht Bum,” or “My Heart Goes Boom.” The drums are spot on while the synthesizers vary in volume, going from a whisper to a scream, that is if synthesizers could scream. I’m totally hot for this track, what with Delgado-López’s breathless gasping, which at times makes you wonder: is he getting head, or does he need artificial respiration? As for “Der Räuber und Der Prinz” (“The Thief and the Prince”) I’m not crazy about it, or maybe I am; suffice it to say the melody is played by what sounds like a toy piano, accompanied by lots of weird percussion that sounds to me like iron skillets being struck with a hammer. In short, to me it sounds like a nursery rhyme as conjured up by a madman. Which when I put it that way, I guess I do like it, but not nearly as much as I like the great “Ich Und Die Wirklichkeit” (uh, “The Truth and I”?), which opens with some simple drum thump and a sorta Joy Division melody underpinned by a synthesizer that is as remorseless and unrelenting as death. Meanwhile Delgado-López repeats the same phrases over and over, urgency growing until he’s literally panting. Towards the very end the song switches gears, and a synthesizer plays a brief twilight phrase.

I also love “Als Wär’s Das Letze Mal” (“As If It Were the Last Time”), which boasts a catchy melody and metronomic drumming over which Delgado-López performs his trademark word and phrase repetition, which in its own weird way reminds me of Van Morrison, who often repeats words and phrases over and over until he sounds himself into a kind of trance. Unlike Van Morrison, however, Delgado-López shows all the signs of a man working himself to exhaustion, rather than transcendence. “Verlier Nicht Den Kopf” (“Don’t Lose Your Head”?) is a funky mid-tempo number with a synthesizer knocking out a big bass beat, while Delgado-López throws in phrases seemingly at random, adding an “uhn!” after some of them as punctuation. As for that bass sound, it kinda evokes memories of early PiL, sounding as it does both insistent and elastic at the same time.

“Alle Gegen Alle” (“All Against All”) is a punchy, fast-paced track on which Delgado-López throws in more words than usual, frequently repeating the title while somebody (plural, I’m assuming) throws in the occasional great “Hey!” or “Hey! Hey!” Meanwhile the synthesizers vary just enough to keep things interesting, while the drums go boom boom throughout. Last but not least, closer and title track “Alles Ist Gut” is a slow grind of a tune, with the synthesizers knocking out a lugubrious and repetitive melody behind which there lurks a deep, dark drone. Meanwhile Delgado-López repeats “Alles ist Gut” over and over, and I wish I knew if he was being sarcastic or not (I suspect he was) because alles ist nicht Gut, pal, not now and not in 1981 for that matter. For Christ’s sake the Berlin Wall was still standing, and my ex-wife was at school on the Eastern side of said wall throwing dud hand grenades in gym class, in anticipation of Tag X, or the day the nefarious U.S. and its allies finally invaded and destroyed that best of all possible worlds, the German Democratic Republic, where everything from housing to colored balloons came in a happy socialist grey, and where the cars (remember the Trabant?) were made of a chintzy reinforced cardboard and came with a medical kit filled with 1940 Wehrmacht bandages, which most drivers used not to bandage wounds (if you crashed in a Trabant you were dead meat) but to secure parts of the engine that threatened to fall off.

Anyway, if its German-American friendship D.A.F.—which broke up in 1982, then reunited to produce LPs in 1985 (this one in English) and 2003—was after, they have a friend for life in yours truly. They achieved some truly astounding songs within their self-imposed boundaries, and Delgado-López is a truly great vocalist. In the years since, they have received plaudits galore. The late John Peel dubbed them the “Grandfathers of Techno,” which I’m sure left them ambivalent, while none other than Adolf Hitler wrote them a letter from Hell, saying, “Gott in Himmel, Du bist der Scheiss!” Or as we say here in the U.S.A., you’re the shit!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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  • Martijn

    Alle Menschen werden dancing Brüder! Thanks, Michael H. Klein und der Vinyl Viertel. Dance, dance, dance.

  • Michael Little

    Du bist Wilkommen! Is that even close? God, these Germans have a different word for everything!

  • http://davemowsgrass.blogspot.com/ davemowsgrass

    Meine ohren bluten!

  • Michael Little

    Meine auch! (I’ll bet that’s not even close.)

  • Martijn

    All your German is good enough for me. Du bist Wilkommen is an anglicism… If there’s a German frase for ‘you’re welcome’ then I am not familiar with it. The Germans are more a visiting than an accomodating people to us. But alright, we can let all that rest. What matters is that the review rocked and that D.A.F. is a very cool addition to my music experiences. Proves that Germany isn’t just Wagner, Brahms, Schumann and Nina Hagen… Tschüß.

  • Michael Little

    Generally when I tried to say something in German in Germany, the Polizei got called.

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