30 August 2013
He’s prowling the stage like a cornered panther, but Gabi Delgado has the whole city of Göteborg in his
hands. They’re all here tonight – at least those who dress in black and remember with nostalgia the prototechno punk of DAF from the early 1980s. A blonde girl at the front looks unsteady, but her boyfriend props her up and solicitous security guards constantly check up on her. When the fencing in front of her shows the slightest wobble, the show is stopped for health and safety reasons. The pierced and leather-armoured descendents of Vikings calmly step aside for repairs and the show recommences. This is punk, Swedish-style.
Delgado is quickly back in stride, tearing open his shirt and dousing himself with bottled mineral water (more expensive than petrol, but still invoking the Cat People theme). He charges his way through a heaving set of electro gems, with just Görl’s nanosecond-perfect drumming and monophonic sequencer backing for company. The atmosphere crackles with energy – more primal and complex than the atavistic aggression of the bands who have borrowed their template over more than three decades. “DAF is punk!” goes a slogan from one song (Du Bist DAF), but that isn’t the whole story: as the crowd knows, DAF is sex. Boy meets boy, boy meets girl (or is that Görl?) – Blur can list the combinations, but DAF can put them together. Intention is written into the sequencer patterns, but Delgado’s lyrics are often about the details of romantic desire: a lover’s red lips (Rote Lippen) or the flexing of limbs (Muskel).
Politics have always followed DAF around. During the Cold War, they threw barbs at both East and West. Der Mussolini, their most controversial track, has sometimes confounded critics with its invitation to “Dance the Mussolini”, but it is a rebuke to absolutist (and totemic) systems. Set to a driving sequencer loop and made for the alternative dancefloor, the song pulls no punches in its punk critique. It says, “I don’t buy what you are selling” to the conservative older generation in Germany – whichever side of the barbed war and tank traps they lived on. Their capacity to annoy the establishment is reinforced by the adoption of Baader-Meinhof graphics in their promotional material, but one thinks that it would be just as annoying to earnest 1970s radicals to be co-opted for music merchandise.
DAF don’t go along to get along, and for only a brief moment in their musical careers have they retreated to the safety of commercial dance music. Having proven that they could do it better than most, they left cover to pursue their independent path again. The warmongering of a certain cowboy President was highlighted in Der Sheriff, one of a new crop of songs rooted in DAF’s minimalist aesthetic and one of the stand-out tracks of the evening. Against earlier hits, like Ich und die Wirklichkeit or Verschwende Deine Jugend, which were also aired in Göteborg, the newer material stands shoulder-to-shoulder. Should we say, like brothers from different mothers? That would be a cheeky reminder of their commercial adventures, but provocation was (and is) core to DAF’s ethos.
DAF’s stage show was a master-class for the musicians lined up in the front rows of the audience, many from Sweden’s leading alternative acts. It is sometimes said that the star that burns twice as bright shines half as long. That might be true, but DAF live is still a nightclub supernova.