DAF icon Gabi Delgado Wants to Drive You Off the Dance Floor

The frontman of electronic post-punk band Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft explains how disrupting the dance floor opens up new artistic possibilities.
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On July 11, the Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft visited Berlin on what might have been the band’s final tour. Frontman Gabi Delgado would like to continue D.A.F., which began in late 1970s and rose to prominence in the ’80s with machine-y electro punk hits like “Der Mussolini.” While the future of one of Germany’s most influential electronic music exports has yet to be decided, Delgado has churned out new tracks for his freshly revived solo project. 30 years separate his first solo album, Mistress, and its follow-up, 1, but since closing the gap he’s finished two more albums: X and 2, the latter of which came out today, August 14. We met with the outspoken veteran on a particularly hot July day in an apartment in Berlin’s Friedrichshain neighborhood to catch up.

Corporeality, sex and aggression have characterized your music from the start. Does anger also motivate you?

Anger is the worst advisor. There definitely are things that make me indignant. But it’s better to do something rather than give in to rage, because otherwise you’ll almost always do the wrong thing. Aggression, however, has always been a tool for me, a means. But if you don’t want aggression to lash back at you, then you also need to stay calm. Otherwise you’ll hurt yourself. You can only be truly aggressive when you’re numb and dispassionate. Aggression must be planned well if it’s meant to achieve something. Otherwise it’s just a storm in a teacup.

Does Robert Görl, your long-term bandmate in D.A.F., see it similarly?

I don’t know. Robert and I are very different people with very different outlooks—that’s why we split up so many times. We didn’t even totally agree on what exactly D.A.F. is or should be. There was only a short time when it was different, when we were perhaps even friends.

When was that?

When we lived in London and did everything together. Today we’re more of a working community that lives from its contradictions. We developed in very different directions. The good thing is that neither of us is addicted to harmony. We both tend to seek confrontation. That can have good results.

Who has actually influenced you the most in your career?

Conny Plank, far more than anyone else. He familiarized me with the essentials of production and explained how the business works. He was my teacher and master. I would almost go so far as to say that he’s the only person who has truly influenced me artistically.

Even more than your former bandmates, Chrislo Haas and Robert Görl?

That was on a different level. Chrislo Haas influenced me more than Robert, in his extreme, über-punk way. Chrislo was a natural-born provocateur, which I liked. Of course there are influences from people whom I never met in person: all those Dadaists and Constructivists. I could name many, from [Georges] Bataille to Gottfried Benn. But when it comes to people I’ve met and with whom I have worked, Conny Plank plays a special role.

We have a column in our print magazine called Style Icon, where artists present their main role models in terms of lifestyle, attitude, style or stance. For you, would that person be Conny Plank?

Let’s put it this way: I have only one autograph, and it’s from Diana Rigg. Emma Peel [the character Rigg played on the television show The Avengers] fascinated me immeasurably as a young boy. She was in Cologne once, I think at the premiere of a [James] Bond film in which she appeared, and afterwards she gave autographs. I thought her style was super, but even more so, the way she fought. It had some kind of gender-bender quality for me. This type of fighter identity in a female role was quite new to me at the time, and I was very impressed. Otherwise, there are not so many people who I would say have influenced me. My uncle, definitely. He was a well-educated man. He was a Jesuit and spoke many languages, which always really fascinated me.

While we’re on the topic of language, I wanted to ask about your move to Spain a few years ago. Can you imagine recording an album in Spanish, or do you feel more comfortable artistically in German?

My new album [2] has a lot of references to Germany. But I must say that it’s slowly fading. I always felt 100 percent Andalusian. I moved from Cordoba to Germany as a 9-year-old. I was pampered by my grandmother and two aunts. I was the only man in the house. We had a huge courtyard and cats and lemon trees. And then, suddenly, I found myself in a one-room apartment in Germany—and it was a downright antisocial apartment; one room with a piss-pot for four people. Because my father didn’t speak German, he initially worked cleaning machines. I saw snow and heard industrial sounds for the first time, and the smells were also very different. All of my senses were suddenly triggered quite differently. It was definitely a culture shock, perhaps even a trauma. Although Germany is currently fading for me as a country, there’s always that particular reference.

My first musical experience inside my head was when I first saw icicles. I heard some kind of trumpet sounds. That was my first self-generated inner life as a musician, and that’s why the German aspect has always been one of my motors. That culture shock might be the trigger for an important part of my art. My Spanish relatives often ask me to say something in German. But when I say, “I’d like a glass of water” they protest that it isn’t really German. Words such as “Kraftfahrzeug” [automobile] sound German to their ears—those hard and edgy words. It corresponds to the cliché that was created over decades by Hollywood war films. The German that Nazis speak in those films is a caricature. But I also have a soft spot for the sound of some German words; “reißwolf,” [shredder] for example.

And imperative speech?

The shortest grammatical form in German is the imperative. In everyday speech, the imperative is nowhere near as commonly used as it is in German. Go there! Do this! Do that! It’s not like that in Spanish or English. That’s a huge difference. I do believe that language programs you in some way. Take, for example, a sentence like “Don’t worry.” In Spanish, it’s “pre occupar.” Literally translated, it means “don’t occupy yourself” with something that doesn’t actually exist yet. In that sense, the word “worry” isn’t there. That’s quite a difference.

You’ve now released two new albums within a very short period of time. X is a free download and the other, 2, contains 32 tracks. Where did that burst of productivity come from?

Moving to Spain meant that I had to deal with other things: house hunting, construction, stuff like that. When I’m in good form, I’m usually very quick and productive. I have my studio at home and I work without any intentions. I love music, and when I’m not playing computer games or working in the garden, I’m in the studio. When I’m in the flow, I usually create two or three pieces per day. I’m not a person who polishes his tracks to death. I don’t want to artificially smear glossiness over something that isn’t glossy. I’m not in the advertising industry. If the beer doesn’t have enough foam, that’s how it is. I don’t have to put dishwashing detergent and machine oil in it so that it appears like it does. When I notice that it isn’t happening and the piece I’m working on isn’t ready after two hours, then I’d rather go and play with my cats. I don’t like to develop things.

You’re very active on Facebook and run several pages on very different topics. This urge to diversify has been apparent in your career at least since the beginnings of techno. Back then, you also ran three labels and released music under a number of different pseudonyms.

It’s natural to me; I’ve always had the urge to diversify. I don’t believe in big things. It’s not my aspiration, for example, that one of my Facebook channels gets 100,000 Likes. When I get around 2,000 Likes, I prefer to find someone who is very active and make them the administrator while I start the next group. I prefer segmentation rather than monstrous structures that are often artificially inflated. That’s more natural, healthy and genuine to me. I stick with Gilles Deleuze’s idea of ​​the rhizome: finding many tiny roots, rather than looking for the one big thing. That’s too old fashioned and imperialistic for me.

Was that also a lesson from the success you had with D.A.F. and discovering the challenges that an artist faces with growing popularity?

If something takes on a certain dynamic, then at a certain point you can no longer stop it. But you don’t need to support that yourself. We never did that with D.A.F.. The first split-up was clearly a result of that. We didn’t want to be roasted in the giant department store of German New Wave. It was too big and too stupid. When we came back, we knew that we would disappoint many fans of the early days, because we consciously decided not to sing in German and not to wear black leather. I also DJ, and it’s often the case that when the party is going great and the dance floor is packed, I think, “That guy over there has been dancing for too long, and so has that other guy,” so I play a record that I know the people won’t like. I drive them off the dance floor in order to get some fresh blood. I repeat that a few times during a set. The situation is different every time, of course, as are the people on the dance floor, but in my eyes, that’s healthy.

That probably means you’re not big on flowing, hypnotic sets.

The people should be able to celebrate and lose themselves, sure, but then there has to be a cut—just to experience something different, to reach other people. Enough dreaming! Wake up! Reality check! That’s important to me. I don’t want things to become a routine. Something fresh and surprising should always happen. When I’m DJing, sometimes I get sick of all those happy, joyful, good vibes. That kind of cut creates space for something new.

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