“I always say to Robert, ‘put a track in the set I don’t know, a track I’ve never heard before’, so when it comes on I have to improvise,” Delgado says. “I like that. I like to be surprised.”
Sung by Delgado in German, programmed on analog synthesisers by Gorl, and adorned with homoerotic imagery, the trio of albums DAF recorded in London in 1981 and 1982 – Alles Ist Gut, Gold und Liebe, and Fur immer – were crucial to the multiple branches of electronic music forming, including industrial and techno. Without DAF’s example, Nine Inch Nails and the Prodigy lose their respective potency and club culture is rerouted.
One of the few constants in the duo’s career is that they have never played in Australia. That’s finally rectified as part of Melbourne Music Week, which hosts a one-off gig by DAF at Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 17 November (true to Delgado’s word, it’s just their 10th show for 2019). It’s the kind of performance that aligns perfectly with Music Week’s ethos of celebrating the city’s varied music scene while cross-pollinating vital outside artists.
Running for 10 days from Thursday, November 14, this year marks the event’s 10 anniversary. That sequence is acknowledged with the return of Kubik, the programmable LED-filled custom music venue designed by Balestra Berlin that served as the Music Week hub in 2011 and will do so again – in the Alexandra Garden – this year.
The highlights at Kubik include a set on Friday, November 15, by renowned Melbourne DJ CC Disco! a former teenage tyro who has built a national profile, while the State Library is taken over on Friday, November 22, by the folk-rock/experimental triple bill of American singer-songwriter Steve Gunn, New Zealand’s Tiny Ruins and Melbourne’s own Grand Salvo. To further DAF’s contribution, they’ll also be in conversation with influential French DJ and producer and fellow Music Week performer Kittin at the National Gallery of Victoria on the afternoon of Saturday, November 16, where the subject will be influence.
“We’re always looking for this holy moment where something unexpected and new happens,” the 61-year-old Delgado says. “We don’t want to be part of any tradition – not even DAF tradition. Sometimes it works, but when it doesn’t we call it a day and then wait half a year before calling each other.”
Delgado refuses to stay fixed in place, whether physically or creatively. He currently lives a half hour’s drive north of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, but every 10 years or so he feels the need to relocate to experience new people, new food, and a new climate. Prior to Lisbon he was living in the hills above Cordoba in Spain, where he was born before his family relocated to Germany when he was 10 years old. Previous homes included Berlin in the 1990s, where he helped further the city’s influential club scene as a DJ and promoter.
“When you have success as a musician everyone expects you to continue doing what you do, even if you copy yourself. It’s difficult to say no,” he says. “I want to surprise myself over and over again. If I understand everything about a field of music I want to go on to the next thing. I’m always avant-garde, always, but it’s difficult to escape familiarity. You have to be strict on what you’re doing.”
DAF’s daring has sometimes made them difficult to decode. The martial thrust of the arrangements and the menacing urgency of Delgado’s vocals were intended to make the then West Germany acknowledge its totalitarian history, but simultaneously Delgado was evoking the elegant precision of how great flamenco artists moved their bodies while performing. Delgado and Gorl, a Buddhist for 30 years now, are deeply contrary in personality, but they have always agreed on how art outweighs other concerns.
“If I wanted to make money I’d do cocaine deals or invest in gold options, but it’s sad to be in art or music just to make money,” Delgado says. “I know really good musicians who work for advertising companies and that’s sad.”
Delgado makes music under a variety of identities, whether with Gorl as DAF or DJing a mix of Latin house and electro music in Miami as Leon Santos so as to keep two very different fanbases from colliding. The outlook of 1979 and 2019 are very different to Delgado, but he believes that distance is contracting and that DAF’s example is still relevant.
“Unlike the late 1970s and early 1980s, money is overestimated now. But the young kids now, the 15 and 16-year-olds, are different again. I think history will repeat itself,” he says. “A youth movement that wants to change, your weekend is always followed by a youth movement that wants to change the world.”
DAF play Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday, November 17, with support from Total Control and Dark Water. On Influence: DAF and Kittin in Conversation is at NGV International on Saturday, November 16, 3.30pm. For more details, and complete Melbourne Music Week listings, go to mmw.melbourne.vic.gov.au
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.