Kurt Dahlke

DAF and Der Plan legend Kurt Dahlke – aka Pyrolator – reflects on how he ended up performing at an Argentinian “future discotheque”

Photo: Pyrolator

In the late 1970s, German society was perceived to be breaking down. The German Autumn left citizens scared they’d be blown up by terrorists, ‘Zoo Station’, Christiane F’s memoir, caused concern that the youth were all becoming heroin addicts, and in 1978, three accidents at nuclear facilities created a collective fear of death by radiation. Out of this angst and paranoia came Pyrolator, a new kind of protest singer who didn’t actually sing.

“Yes, ‘Inland’, my first solo album was a silent protest,” says Kurt Dahlke, the man behind the metaphorical mask. “Because the singer-songwriter protest generation failed, in a way.

Over the last four-and-a-bit decades, the Düsseldorf musician has been a facilitator as well as a creator. In 1978, he was a founding member of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF), but left the following year to form Der Plan. In 1980, with Der Plan bandmates Frank Fenstermacher and Moritz Reichelt, he created the Ata Tak label, which was pivotal in the Neue Deutsche Welle movement, releasing works by Die Tödliche Doris, Andreas Dorau and DAF, among others.

“For me, Chrislo Haas was the true inventor of the sound of DAF as he brought all the sequencers and the body music,” says Dahlke. “I’m glad I left because that wasn’t my sound.”

The 64-year-old has never been afraid of EBM, though the music he’s made with Der Plan, A Certain Frank and as Pyrolator has tended to drift more into dreamlike and esoteric territory.

This brings us neatly to Ficción Disco (Fiction Disco), a 10-day event like no other held in Buenos Aires in 1991, which Dahlke helped to create with the Goethe-Institut, the worldwide German cultural association which has commissioned him on several occasions for workshops and concerts.

The foundations of the Ficción Disco can be traced back to South Korea in 1988, when the Goethe-Institut set up the Kunstdisco (art disco) to run in tandem with the Olympic Games in Seoul. As well as dancing, there were 22 food stalls, where patrons could try different German nibbles with chopsticks. Naturally, the German media had a field day.

“In Korea, it was great,” remembers Dahlke. “But the press wrote quite negatively, saying things like, ‘Why is Germany financing a discotheque?’.”

Undeterred, the Goethe-Institut decided that Dionysian dancing in Argentina was a fine way to spread the German language, though things would have to be done slightly differently this time if they were to stem the vituperation of the poisonous press. So in 1991, the organisation pitched up in Buenos Aires for its next soft power move. What transpired was way more ludicrous than what had taken place in Seoul.

Six musicians (three German, three South American) plus some artists and authors, were given creative carte blanche to produce pieces on a theme titled “The Future Of The Discotheque”. As well as Pyrolator, the team included obscure electronic composer Hans Werner Freiherr Von Brachwitz and popular Argentine singer Daniel Melero. The artists were encouraged to speculate on what a disco might look like in 30 years, and the only limit would be their imagination. Sadly, much of what was created has all but vanished.

“If you search for Ficción Disco on the internet now, very little comes up, except for maybe on Discogs,” says Dahlke, referring to his seven-inch of ‘Ficción Disco’ from 1992. It featured ‘Fragmente Der Undeutlichkeit’ on one side, a symphonic pop track with the words of the playwright Botho Strauss, and ‘Narziss’ on the flip, with a text by French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry recited over a squelchy techno groove.

“My idea at that time was to get people dancing to avant-garde music and literature,” says Dahlke.

For the Ficción Disco itself, there was phantasmagorical madness in the form of crucifixion poses and writhing bodies, presented by Argentine performance group La Organización Negra. Sounds like quite the spectacle.

“There were 20 naked men onstage but everything was totally dark,” explains Dahlke. “Then the light flashed for five seconds, and they formed a kind of ancient painting where you saw these naked bodies performing. It was really impressive!”

Elsewhere, political demonstrations were held involving the ironic burning of books, and performers swam in giant aquariums.

“Democracy had only been restored in the country for about eight years,” says Dahlke.

Sound artist Michael Fahres, meanwhile, played music featuring field recordings of Lola Kiepja, a shaman from one of Patagonia’s lost tribes, and upstairs were incongruous booths where attendees could consult a medium and a cross-dressing lawyer.

“The medium was about 75,” remembers Dahlke. “When we asked her what the discotheque would look like in 30 years, it turned out she didn’t know what a discotheque was!”

These arty and bizarre antics attracted a full house every night, meaning it wasn’t always easy to get a drink, even during the quieter moments.

“In front of the bar was a labyrinth made out of glass, so you had to find your way through it to get served,” recalls Dahlke. “If you were drunk, you couldn’t do that anymore.”

Thirty years on from Ficción Disco, the future of the discotheque is not as it was envisaged. Covid-19 has taken a severe toll on the nighttime industry and the disco is in existential jeopardy. Maybe if nightclubs were more like Ficción Discos, then more of us would be tempted out – and we could learn to speak German to boot. Just as soon as we made it back from the bar, natürlich.

Pyrolator’s ‘Niemandsland’ album is out on Bureau B

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