Robert Görl

When Robert Görl embarked on the recording of ‘The Paris Tapes’ in 1987, it marked the end of a traumatic period in the DAF man’s life. This is his terrible tale…

In 1987, when Robert Görl recorded ‘The Paris Tapes’, he was still smarting from the second break-up of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft. The legendary electronic group he’d formed with Gabi Delgado-López had only reformed the year before to record ‘1st Step To Heaven’, their only English language LP.

“It was the shortest comeback ever,“ laughs Görl, wryly. “We had this comeback, we made this album, but by the end of the production we’d already split up. Gabi and I were having all these arguments. It was such a big let-down.”

Görl was so frustrated by the whole experience that he turned his back on music completely. On a whim, he left Munich for New York, seduced by an interest in acting and an opportunity to study Shakespeare at the Stella Adler Conservatory.

But this new career was to be short-lived too. On one of his occasional trips back from Germany he was interrogated at US immigration and given seven days to leave America because his visa status stated he was a tourist.

“It made me even more frustrated,” he says with a heavy sigh. “I had a really good feeling in New York. Everything was really good and then it broke again completely.”

After briefly consulting with a lawyer friend who concluded his case was futile, Görl left New York for Germany where, upon his arrival in Munich, he was immediately detained for not having completed his mandatory Wehrpflicht military service. While he was enjoying pop success in Germany, either with DAF or his 1984 solo record, failing to have done military service was excusable. Out of the public eye, and of an age where they could draft him, his time was running out.

“It was a bad situation, just one fuck up after another,” he says. “I had two weeks to decide: I could either go into the army, which I was completely against, or I could go to Berlin and avoid the army. Instead I decided to get out of Germany again, and I went to Paris.”

Hastily packing for a swift escape on the night train from Munich to Paris, he managed to grab the Ensoniq ESQ-1 synth that he’d recently bought.

“I wanted to start from the very beginning and just make music again,” he recalls. “I found out that there were quite a few cheap hotels on the outskirts at Levallois-Perret in the Paris suburbs. I checked into one with just the ESQ-1 and a bag of clothes. It was a very melancholic time, a very lonely time and that’s how I made ‘The Paris Tapes’.”

Görl found the ESQ-1 a liberating piece of equipment.

“It was very mobile, and it could do everything,” he says. “You could play with all eight channels, layering each instrument on top of one another, or erase tracks completely. You could create polyphonic things, and because it was like a studio, you could like record everything. It was the perfect synth for me.”

Given the circumstances in which the 10 tracks that comprise ‘The Paris Tapes’ were recorded in 1987, there’s inevitably a personal, slightly fragile naivety to how they sound, veering from introspection to profound sadness and back again. This was Görl working through his turbulent emotions and frustrations, and these hissy cassette recordings were never intended to see the light of day.

After he’d regained some perspective, he played the tapes to friends in London who encouraged him to record the pieces properly, ultimately connecting him to producer Dee Long of the Canadian prog rock group Klaatu.

“I suddenly ended up with my three cassettes in AIR Studios on Oxford Street,” he says, still sounding slightly surprised. “They wanted to make a big production of my songs, with different keyboards in a real pop style.

The plan was to prepare the new direction in a studio in the countryside with Dee, and then we would bring that back to AIR.”

Before production of those London demos began, Görl decided to head back to Germany to spend a few days with his brother at his house near Nuremberg in January 1989. That trip would prove to be the death of properly recording ‘The Paris Tapes’, and it was very nearly the death of their composer.

“On my way back to Munich, I had a big car crash,” he says. “Everything was over. It was the sort of crash that people normally die in. I was driving at 100kph and I hit a tree, 99 per cent of people would be dead from that kind of accident. I survived, but I was in rehab for almost half a year.”

Making a full recovery, he once again abandoned music and spent three years holed up in monasteries across Asia exploring a new-found interest in Buddhism.

Görl would eventually return to Germany and fall in with the emerging 1990s techno scene, as well as reforming DAF as an on/off project with Delgado-López. All the while, ‘The Paris Tapes’ languished in a suitcase in his brother’s barn.

“I was lucky that he had kept those things,” laughs Görl of the recordings that were released for the first time on Record Store Day. “My old Korg SQ-10 sequencer and my MS-20 synthesiser were also at my brother’s, in their original boxes. The 1987 cassettes, my Korgs – everything had stayed in fine condition.”

Though they were never really intended to be heard with all their rough edges, over the course of the last decade and a half, Görl began listening to the tapes again and the idea of doing something with his Paris musings began to form.

“I was like, ‘Robert, just bring out those sketches, those demos, those parts, just bring them out’. I didn’t want to touch them again, like I tried to do in London in 1988 so that’s what I’ve done.”

‘The Paris Tapes’ are out on Grönland

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