The scene of the Düsseldorf old town local the Ratinger Hof produced numerous bands who set the style for future generations. Hard beats and war-like chanting distinguished songs such as Waste Your Youth (Verschwende deine Jugend) and Mussolini (Der Mussolini), which the German-American Friendship or DAF (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) used to make hedonism and provocation part of the program and turn themselves into legends.
Gabriel Delgado-López, nickname Gabi, was born in April 1958 in Córdoba in Spain. Together with his family, he emigrated to Germany in 1966. His father, an intellectual, needed to escape the Franco regime. Delgado spent a large part of his youth on the Rhine. As the singer of DAF, the migrant became an influential avant-garde artist, inspired by all aspects of the German punk, pop, and art scene. And his revolutionary style which he developed on the streets of Düsseldorf was celebrated worldwide.
Delgado lived in Wuppertal to begin with. Düsseldorf was close and offered tantalizing adventure. Spurred on by a new London phenomenon called punk, young rebels also gathered in the Rhine metropolis to revolt with art and provocation. He became an author of the influential fanzine The Ostrich and orbited around the first bands formed in Düsseldorf.
The center of punk in the US was the legendary CBGB in New York. The German equivalent could be found at the heart of the Düsseldorf old town: the Ratinger Hof. It wasn't just students from the nearby academy of art who met here, but also members of the most innovative music scene in Germany.
Influenced by British and American bands who showed how electronic music could also be used in punk, the Hof became the breeding ground for the electronic music that was still regarded as avant-garde in Germany at that time—the ideal place for anyone who wanted to create a new sound. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the music world was keeping its eye on Düsseldorf, which was considered the music capital of Germany and the birthplace of new and innovative music. In the Ratinger Hof ran by Carmen Knoebel and Ingrid Kohlhöfer, countless bands and galleries got off the ground late into the night.
Delgado and the drummer Robert Görl also spent many inspiring nights at the Ratinger Hof. Görl, a graduate of the Leopold Mozart Conservatory in Augsburg and Graz University, was one of DAF's song writer. Early members of the band also included Kurt Dahlke, Wolfgang Spelmans, Michael Kemner, and Chrislo Haas.
When they attended a concert of British band Wire together on November 9, 1978 at the Ratinger Hof, it was a radical experience for the young musicians: "The band Wire played their music so straight and tight that I knew I also wanted to go in that direction," recalls Kurt Dahlke in an interview for the book No Time to Breathe. Music from Düsseldorf (Keine Atempause. Musik aus Düsseldorf) about the evening of the concert.
The visit to another concert at the Ratinger Hof also becomes a key experience for Kurt Dahlke in particular: keyboardist Allen Ravenstine uses the VCS3 experimental synthesizer live on stage in Düsseldorf with his band Pere Ubu on December 15, 1978. The use of electronic instruments is now also pursued more consistently by DAF.
In 1978, the band self-published their first record which stayed true to their punk attitudes: Do It Yourself. Musically, it is a blend of punk and krautrock. A Product of the German-American Friendship (Ein Produkt der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Freundschaft) was released on Dahlke's own label Warning Records, which was later renamed to Ata Tak. Especially in the United Kingdom, the self-produced record—22 instrumental tracks—was a respectable achievement.
When DAF decided to visit the United Kingdom in 1979, also in search of international success, Dahlke left the band and was replaced by Chrislo Haas on synthesizer. During that same year, the new line-up published singles Kebab Dreams (Kebab-Träume) and Reality and Me (Ich und die Wirklichkeit) under the MUTE label. DAF shrank to just a quartet.
The second record The Little Ones and The Bad Guys (Die Kleinen und die Bösen) was recorded by producer Konrad "Conny" Plank among others. The LP was published under the label Mute Records by producer Daniel Miller in London. The young punks in DAF were in the avant-garde of electronic music. Plank, who oversaw Kraftwerk's album Autobahn and NEU!'s debut album, refined DAF's sound, which still most recently consisted of drums, electronic sounds, and singing. He polished their charged, revolutionary sound, a measure needed for mass appeal.
No Melodies (Keine Melodien) was Berlin band Jeans Team's very appropriately titled tribute to DAF.
Slogans and machines: after their most recent tour together, DAF were still only made up of Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl. LPs All Is Well (Alles ist gut), Gold and Love (Gold und Liebe), and Forever (Für immer) which they published as a duo from 1981 to 1982 were a commercial and artistic breakthrough for the band. The prominent German lyrics and machine-inspired sounds presented a completely new form of music. English newspaper The Guardian later wrote: "DAF were ultra-intense electro-punks intent on tearing up the rulebook (and they had the muscles to do it)."
DAF wanted to make music that truly sounded completely new. "We wanted to separate ourselves from everything pop music currently represented," said Gabi Delgado retrospectively in German music magazine Musikexpress on DAF's plans. Everything had to be different. The primal power of punk blew open the doors. Now was the start of post-punk—and DAF used this opportunity. DAF's visual style and lyrics were also bold provocations. One of the most legendary DAF song lyrics were Dance of Mussolini (Tanz den Mussolini). "It was a calculated provocation, but not a political message," explained Delgado in daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.
Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) was the name of this new music produced in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, and Düsseldorf in the early 1980s, which had its creative origins in punk and new wave. Delgado and Görl wanted something new, something harder, something more radical. Electronic music promised freedom through new ideas. And there was a tradition of it in Düsseldorf, where bands such as Kraftwerk and NEU! revolutionized pop music at the start of the 1970s. It impressed Delgado, but for him the sound was too decent. "He wanted beats that sounded like thundering punches," wrote German news magazine Der Spiegel.
With harsh electronic sounds, DAF changed German pop forever. In particular, the three albums All Is Well, Gold and Love, and Forever, which DAF published at the start of the 1980s, are now considered global classics of modern electronic music. That sort of thing had never been heard before—an early form of electronic body music. They served as a blueprint for bands like Depeche Mode or later Rammstein.
In 1981, DAF were featured on the cover of English magazine New Musical Express, with a German song lyric as the headline: Sex Underwater (Sex unter Wasser). DAF's esthetic already included everything that electro club Berghain in Berlin claimed for itself much later. Gabi Delgado later stated in German music magazine Spex: "80 percent of music played in clubs is now produced following the DAF formula. There are no verses, no refrain. What we created in music was, how should I put it, the transition from the steam engine to the combustion engine."
DAF became pioneers of electropunk, electronic body music, and eventually also techno. English newspaper The Guardian described their significance for electronic music retrospectively: "They were hailed by John Peel as 'the godfathers of techno' and cited as crucial to the development of Detroit techno and Chicago house. And listening to El Que, with its rubbery looped pulse courtesy of the Korg-DS10, is like hearing acid house six years ahead of schedule."
DAF's career was however short-lived. The duo disbanded as early as 1982. After the earlier successful days of DAF, Delgado went on to be a DJ and producer in the emerging techno scene, and together with Westbam they organized the first German house parties. After numerous departures and reunions, DAF celebrated their 30-year band anniversary in 2008 with an extensive anniversary tour.
In 2018, DAF performed twice as the opening act for Depeche Mode at the Berlin Waldbühne. Further concerts followed. In March 2020, Gabi Delgado died unexpectedly at the age of 61. Shortly before his death, he happily noted: "Germans have since found their own sound and with it a musical identity. Luckily it has nothing to do with rock."
Curated by Sven-André Dreyer and Dr. Michael Wenzel, editorial assistance Thorsten Schaar (Visit Düsseldorf). Participating institutions: Cultural Office of the State Capital Düsseldorf, City Archive Düsseldorf, Heinrich Heine Institute, City Museum Düsseldorf, Tonhalle Düsseldorf gGmbH