Men at Work

A SINGER MOANS a tale of carnal lust. Minimalist beats and primitive synthesizers send the listener into hypnotic, sweat-drenched disco heaven. Could it be Donna Summer in her Giorgio "I Feel Love" Moroder period? An after-hours set at a New York gay club like Twilo or the Roxy? Try a husky Spanish man named Gabi Delgado Lopez in Dusseldorf circa 1981. The recent reissue of four albums by the pioneering German electro duo DAF (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) on the Mute label convincingly makes a case for the long-ignored group as a key link between Kraftwerk'scerebral electronic experimentation, disco's luscious hedonism, and diva techno's emphasis on hypnotic repetition as a conduit to seduction.

Arriving in an era when punk was denying its adherents the pleasures of the flesh and disco was dominated by female vocalists, DAF made dance music that mined the iconography of the sweaty, leather-clad homo-underground, while never feeling the need to explain anything (or worse, apologize). Their career was as brief as it was flamboyant: Singer Gabi Delgado Lopez and multi-instrumentalist Robert Görl released their three best albums within 18 months in 1981 and 1982. Serendipitously signing to the London-based avant-label Mute (an early home for DIY electronica), the band released its debut, Die Kleinen und die Bösen in 1980. More post-punk than pre-techno, its abrasive guitars and tortured vocals suggested the Fall more than any dance-pop of the era. ("De Panne" especially sounds like Mark E. Smith after studying German Berlitz tapes.)

DAF Funk: German disco innovators Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft
DAF Funk: German disco innovators Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft

The next release, 1981's Alles Ist Gut, on the other hand, is one of electronic music's classic recordings. Inspired perhaps by synth terrorists like Cabaret Voltaire, the band quit rock 'n' roll cold turkey, scaling down to a duo and replacing its guitars with Radio Shack discount synthesizers and drum machines. On its cover our heroes appear shirtless and drenched in sweat--as if they'd squeezed in the recording sessions between trips to the baths. (Even if you weren't versed in the mother tongue, it was fairly obvious what translated titles like "The Robber & the Prince" and "Red Lips" were getting at.)

Inside the album's alluring sleeves, Delgado Lopez and Görl plunged head-on into minimalist sex-funk. Taut come-ons melded with abrupt injunctions as Delgado Lopez alternately moaned his way through "Mein Herz Macht Bum" ("My Heart Goes Boom") and barked orders in "Alle Gegen Alle" ("Everyone Against Everyone"), while bare-bones synth arrangements hovered in the background. Transcending the language barrier, the wonderful "Der Mussolini" would become a huge European hit, propelling the band out of the underground.

Alles Ist Gut's follow-up, Gold und Liebe, didn't do nearly as well commercially. Dressed up as leathermen straight out of Cruising, Delgado Lopez and Görl continued to explore the relationship between electronics, repetition, and sexual release. DAF gave it another try with 1982's Für Immer(For Always), but the album's failure put an end to the band's career. Ironically, Für Immer featured some of DAF's best tracks. A rerecording of their first rock single, "Kebabträume," boiled the original down to a basic robo-rhythm and primordial synth line, while "If You Want to Be Beautiful You Must Suffer" facetiously augured (and mocked) the most extreme elements in gay body esthetics.

It has been argued that DAF paved the way for the "electronic body music" of industrial bands like Front 242. But these bands retained only the most obvious elements of DAF's music--namely their knack for rigid beats and taste for provocation--while neglecting its erotic charge and sly humor. DAF's main contribution is actually very simple: They were producers who played and sang their own homoerotic pop. Many gay dance-pop producers of the time used the hyperemotive vocal stylings of larger-than-life female divas to express their own feelings, but DAF didn't doll up its soul.

Today, in an era when disco's house and techno inheritors are just as happy to let divas take hold of the sexuality, hearing a man's man like Delgado Lopez is as revolutionary, and exciting, as it was 18 years ago.

 
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