THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 061
Hello friends. Thanks for taking some time to look this over.
This time around, an interview with Robert Görl, an early voice in industrial/EBM via his work with D.A.F., and reviews of three new films.
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RIP Greg Tate, Robbie Shakespeare, and Mike Nesmith.
Robert Görl & D.A.F.
Throughout the hour-long conversation I had with Robert Görl, the German artist who, off-and-on for 40+ years, served as one half of darkwave group Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.), he kept steering his answers back to his relationship with musical partner Gabriel Delgado-López. Fast friends when they met in 1978 at the storied punk club Ratinger Hof, the pair spent the next four decades in either joyful concord or furious aggravation with one another. When things were going well, D.A.F. produced seamy, thrilling music that took the electronic pop of their fellow countrymen Kraftwerk into much darker and indelicate places. Their early ’80s run, which included the Conny Plank-produced Für Immer and Alles Ist Gut, opened the gate for future industrial and EBM acts to follow them into the dungeon. Acrimony over a more commercial turn to their music in 1986 kept the pair apart for some time, but they would soon reconnect and rekindle their creative fires. In turn, D.A.F. would perform live frequently around Europe and eventually produced the 2003 album Fünfzehn Neue DAF Lieder. To hear Görl tell it, his bond with Delgado-López was even stronger in recent years as they began plotting out a new album, but was snapped abruptly when Delgado-López, known to most as Gabi, died suddenly in March 2020.
Görl sifted through his time with Gabi, not only through the process of mourning, but also in the construction of Nur Noch Einer, the final D.A.F. album released last month through Grönland Records. The bulk of the music on the record was first conceived in the early ’80s when the two men were sharing a flat in London. With a contract from Virgin Records and album sales supporting them, the pair had nothing but time to burn and used it to continually churn out ideas and sketches for songs. The ones that didn't get used were socked away in Görl's personal archives. Recently, in the process of digitizing these tapes, Görl started picking out the best bits and presented them to Gabi as the raw material for their next project. It gives the album a beautifully vintage feel. Even as Görl overlays his very modern sound drums over the top, the throb of the synth sequences call back to the days when early EBM recordings cut through European dance clubs and American import record shops with a sinister and sexually-charged allure.
As the story goes, you were planning on recording a new D.A.F. album with Gabi before his passing…
Quite a while before. We were very far in the planning already. I played Gabi my sequences and we had decided on using sequences that I had made in the very early ’80s. There was a time I lived with Gabi in London and we would play all night there. It was a time when I played every night on my synths, my KORGs. Gabi would do stuff in his room. Some of them ended up in recordings that we did with Conny Plank. I recorded all those things, all those nights. It was just cassette recordings. I had a lot of these recordings still, so when Gabi and I met up in Spain. We were really happy about what things we were going to use for the new album. Then suddenly, a short time later, he left the planet.
Did you feel like you had an obligation to finish this project after his death?
The last album we did—Fünfzehn Neue DAF Lieder—was 18 years ago. It took us a long time to make another recording. I thought, “I cannot let this stay in the drawer.” I got really excited about it. It would be too much of a waste not to finish it. And Gabi would have done the same if it was the other way around. I decided I would do it alone and I would do it for him. It’s more or less saying goodbye to an old world, and for me, a new start.
Thinking back on the time when you and Gabi were sharing a flat in London and working on the sounds that you used for Nur Noch Einer, it seems like your friendship was really strong. And it got that way again over the past 20 years or so when you started collaborating and touring again.
In the last years of his life and in the beginning, we had a great time. We were really friends in the early ’80s before we had disagreements and were quarreling. But in London, it was a great time. You can hear it in the music. It’s happy, powerful music. When we played gigs in the last 15 years, when we would play all of our classics, we were really good friends again.
I assumed you and Gabi had a really good relationship thinking about the history of D.A.F. In the earliest days of the project, it was a five-piece band at one point. Then eventually it was just the two of you. I figured there must have been something in that relationship that kept the music going all that while.
Looking at the history of the band, there were five, then four, then three, then two. But at the very beginning, the formation of the band was when I met Gabi in Ratinger Hof in Düsseldorf. We were always hanging out. I had just come back from studying music in Austria, and I spent a summer in London, and I was in Düsseldorf to form a band. We met and we did the first rehearsal. The lady that ran Ratinger Hof gave us the key to the basement. We just checked each other out. Gabi came with a gimmick toy like a Stylophone. There was a really cheap drum kit down there—I played drums. We just had fun. When we came out, Gabi and I knew we would do it. We would make music and everyone would take it. We were very self-assured that we would be the next thing.
But then I told Gabi I thought we should bring some other musicians in. I knew some other musicians in Düsseldorf and I introduced them to Gabi, and Gabi did not like them too much. We went out to the countryside and I rehearsed with them. I had all these formal ideas that I would take all these sessions and make edits of them to make [1979’s Ein Produkt der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Freundschaft]. So this first album was without Gabi. This changed quickly. I knew I wanted to go in a more electronic direction. Gabi came back. We were a five-piece but this only lasted maybe a little bit more than one year. Then we were finally a duo. Which is what we really wanted.
What do you think you miss most about Gabi?
The friendship. Like I said, the last 15 years were good times. We laughed again and were being playful like in the beginning. We were always laughing and making jokes about everything. Everything was really easy and the only thing that mattered was the music. This is what I miss most with him. He was a good chap. [laughs]
Recycling music from your past is not a new practice for you. I was thinking about The Paris Tapes compilation from a couple of years ago, which was material you made while living in France. Does this mean you have a big archive to pull from?
That’s the truth. I am happy that even a little bit of this is coming out. There is a lot in my archive that will never reach the ears of even my friends. I have hundreds of cassettes. A lot of those are digitized already. But most of them, more than 80% of the archive, will never be released. So I’m happy that Nur Noch Einer and The Paris Tapes are out of my archives.
I wanted to ask a little about your younger days, as I read that in the ’80s you lived here in the U.S. trying to make a career as an actor.
There was a point in 1986, we made this first English language D.A.F. album 1st Step To Heaven. They were really different songs and we were wearing very Oriental clothes at the time. We planned this and produced this and were having fun because we knew some of our fans would say, “What is this shit? Those dark leather guys, these really tough guys, are coming with these Oriental clothes.” We made this to provoke and see how people would react. It was good. We had a great time doing this but suddenly the record label came around when we were about finished with the album. They had ideas about how we should do things differently. “This song is good but could you do this a little bit more in this direction?” This went on for a few days and I realized that Gabi took sides with the record company guy. Suddenly we were quarreling again and had different ideas. Then the album came out and we didn’t exist anymore.
I had put all of my thoughts and energy and hope into this. I was so fucked up I thought I must do something completely different, I must go somewhere. I had this idea to go to America and started acting. I went to the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York. But this plan did not work. I was there about half a year and I went back twice to Germany just to, I think, get some money. The second time, I was stopped by the Border Patrol in New York. They said, “You know what you’re doing is completely illegal.” I was not allowed to go to school in America with just a tourist visa. They told me to go to where I was staying and watch my post. A week later, an official letter from the government arrived that said I had to leave the United States in a week or I will be taken by force. That was the end of my acting career in New York. [laughs] It’s not just that they kicked me out, I was not allowed back into the U.S. for 10 years.
After that, you spent a number of years in Asia studying Buddhism. What drew you to that practice?
I was in Germany in ’88 for Christmas and New Year’s and went to visit my brother in the countryside. On the way back to Munich, I had a very bad car crash. It was winter in January. On the Bundesstraße, you can drive very fast. I had a speed of about 100 km and there was a slight curve and there was mirror ice on the street. My car just went out like a rocket. I hit a tree with 100 km of power. 99% of the time, that would have killed me. It was a long time in the hospital. It took months to be released. During that time, I had a lot of Buddha visions. It really surprised me. So I thought if I ever leave here, I need to go to Asia and check this out. I was there for three years in many monasteries, and was very, very close to becoming a monk. I had Buddha in my heart but I still wanted to wander. I decided to go back to Germany. I was aware I would not lose this.
Red Rocket (2021, dir. Sean Baker)
One uniquely American attribute that filmmaker Sean Baker understands more than most is that so many folks living on the fringes tend to believe they are one step away from fame and fortune. Mikey, the fast-talking, distressingly charming protagonist of Baker's phenomenal new film Red Rocket (played by former MTV VJ Simon Rex), proved that out, escaping the small Texas oil town where he was born and landing in porn stardom thanks to his (ahem) attribute and his suggestible wife, Lexi. That was 20 years before the start of the film. As Red Rocket opens, Mikey is back in Texas, $22 in his pocket and the clothes on his back, and begging to be let back into Lexi's life and home. And he is soon plotting his triumphant return to the good life, saving up money from his job selling weed and grooming a 17-year-old redhead who calls herself Strawberry to be his next big porn princess. While this film doesn't pack the same emotional punch as Baker's previous triumphs Tangerine and The Florida Project, where it succeeds is in its brutal reality. For as much as Rex puts on an actual performance, everyone else in the film—a mix of professional actors and everyday citizens—acts entirely naturally, reacting to each bit of patter from Mikey and every awkward moment with a naturalness that feels ingrained. It's easy to feel for these people and bristle at how easily Mikey manipulates them. And it becomes heartbreaking to watch as the snap decisions they make come back to hurt them in small or large ways. Baker empathizes with these characters as much as he seems to empathize with the real people and the real locations he uses for his films. Though he's using them for the benefit of a high profile, award-baiting drama, he doesn't play their lives for laughs or pity. He feels for everyone, even Mikey. (out now in L.A. and New York; opens nationwide Dec 25)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021, dir. Joel Coen)
Joel Coen's Shakespeare adaptation is a blend. The brash acting style of American thespians (Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand) meshes with the controlled work of U.K. performers (Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell). The angular, shadowy design of German impressionist cinema dovetailing with the stark, stillness of Japanese film. CGI folded into sets that look borrowed from the Metropolitan Opera. Shakespeare's tumbling poetry swimming on the tongues of everyone onscreen. The beauty of Tragedy is how well these elements work together. It manages to feel modern without sacrificing the language or costuming or location. That comes down to the sharp performances by everyone onscreen. With only Denzel pushing close to the edge of histrionics as Macbeth slips further into a miasma of paranoia, jealousy, and rage, the rest of the ensemble lets the dialogue soar even as they hold their tone to a steely fury or, in the case of Lady Macbeth, slow unravel. It culminates in bravura sequences like the visually arresting "Double, double toil and trouble..." scene where the cauldron is replaced by a hallucinatory flooding of Macbeth's bedroom, and a final 20 minutes that feel breathless and electrifying. (limited theatrical release begins Dec 25)
Drive My Car (2021, dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
Yūsuke Kafuku saves his emotions for the stage. He is a celebrated actor and theater director known for his post-modern takes on famous plays like Waiting For Godot and throws his all into his performances. At home and interacting with the world, he holds everything within, barely able to react when he walks in on his wife cheating on him or when he finds her dead of an aneurysm. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s masterful film Drive My Car follows Yūsuke to Hiroshima where, two years after his wife’s passing, he is set to direct a production of Uncle Vanya. The movie is a slow burning work that splays languorously over its three-hour running time but never loses momentum or focus as we watch Yūsuke’s shell become cracked through the relationships he builds with the cast of his play and the surprising friendship that grows between he and the young woman hired to drive him. Ryusuke, using the source material of Haruki Murakami’s short story collection Men Without Women as his guide, builds the plot as steadily as a fine piece of theater, guiding us toward a climactic and brilliant final act with an assured hand and subtle visual flair. (now showing in NYC and L.A.; opening around the U.S. through Dec and Jan)
That's it for now, good people. Thanks for reading today. Back again soon with more. Do no harm. Take no shit.
Artwork for this edition is taken from The same space three times, an exhibition opening at Goodman Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa on Dec 18.