Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung - The Shepherd’s Dream
“There is no better way to listen to our music than lying down with your eyes closed”. That is accordeon player Roel Van Camp talking about ‘The Shepherd’s Dream’, the latest recording by DAAU. With five expansive instrumental tracks on its sixth full length album the band from Antwerp, Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung in full, takes the listener on a trip to pastures new.
‘The Shepherd’s Dream’ is DAAU’s first recording without violinist and co-founder Buni Lenski, who recently moved to Paris. “We decided not to replace the violin, since it was an extension of Buni’s personality”, cello player Simon Lenski explains. “It was a unique ingredient of our musical chemistry, so it definitely took us a while to come up with a new identity and sound. But the band is more about the stories we want to tell than about any specific instrument we use.”
DAAU was conceived around 1992 and since that moment onwards its music has basically been defined by what it is not. Classical? Rock? Folk? It is none of those things, yet it is all of those at the same time. The sextet that recorded ‘Domestic Wildlife’ in 2006 has now been reduced to a four piece. Double bass player Hannes d’Hoine is the new kid on the block: he only joined the band three years ago.
“After the pretty boisterous music on our previous album we were longing for a more subdued and intimate sound, with no drums nor electronics”, Simon Lenski says.. “Usually our approach is based on intuition, and this time we all felt the need to go back to basics.. It felt good to be in a room again, just the four of us, and to let our instruments do the talking. Our music has become more organic, probably because we have grown a little older and more mature. Some might say our wild days are over. Hence the new songs emanate a pastoral atmosphere. The way in which we express ourselves is more suggestive than ever.”
“Everything we do is still based on personal emotion”, clarinet player Han Stubbe claims. “But it goes without saying we are no longer the same people as when we started out. In the early days our approach was fairly chaotic, so quite a few of our records are lacking in coherence. On ‘The Shepherd’s Dream’ things have become much clearer and more defined. We have found a new kind of energy.”
In view of the new album the members of DAAU decided to all move in a common direction, which is a first for the group. Gradually it has slid away from fixed musical structures, consciously opting for free-form experiments based on a minimalist approach. “We are no longer tempted to layer note upon note”, Stubbe offers. “Initially, we were shocked by how quiet we sounded. It struck us as quite an extreme evolution. We did not back down though. Instead we decided to take it as far as we could. It was our way of making a statement.”
The five tracks on ‘The Shepherd’s Dream’ all came about during long improvisation sessions. DAAU just played without any preconceptions and recorded everything so they would be able to reconstruct the best bits afterwards. The idea was to treat the improvisations as real compositions and keep some of the spontaneity and freshness with which they were originally played. Afterwards however, the musicians spent a lot of time honing down the pieces, paying attention to the minutest details.
DAAU’s current acoustic sound was influenced by two other projects the band members were recently involved with. Stéphane Grégoire, founder of the French label Ici d’Ailleurs, asked them to participate in ‘The Dark Age of Love’, a tribute to British cult band Coil that was released under the moniker This Immortal Coil. On the album DAAU collaborated with the likes of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Yann Tiersen and Matt Elliott aka Third Eye Foundation.
“We were hardly familiar with Coil’s music to begin with”, Simon Lenski admits. “Their music is in a more electronic, even industrial vein and their songs are far removed from our own musical universe. Still it was a challenge to try and reinterpret or reinvent them with our own instruments. Doing this made us aware of our ability to cover other people’s work, so it dawned on us that we might as well try something similar with our own, initially improvised material. Recently we also wrote a soundtrack to ‘Archipels Nitrate’, a documentary about the ‘Cinematek’ in Brussels by film director Claudio Pazienza. That project made us realize that if you combine moving pictures with music, you do not want the latter to be too obtrusive. It also taught us to be more subtle and imaginative as musicians.”
According to Roel Van Camp ‘The Shepherd’s Dream’ in more than one way refers to DAAU’s untitled debut album, which came out in 1995. “Our current musical approach is very similar. What is different, of course, is that in the last fifteen years we have become more experienced and skillful players. We have also learned to listen more carefully to each other’s parts.”
But as far as Han Stubbe is concerned, there is also a huge difference between then and now. “Our early pieces were based on a swift succession of disparate ideas. This time, each track concurred with one particular idea which we then approached from various angles.”
‘The Shepherd’s Dream’ stands midway between dreaming and waking, between reality and utopia. Or to put it shortly: exit anarchy, enter poetry.
How It All Began
For those who have only just discovered DAAU’s music with ‘The Shepherd’s Dream’, let’s take you on a trip down memory lane. The band came about in the early nineties as a part of the fertile Antwerp scene which has also generated the likes of dEUS and Zita Swoon. Brothers Simon and Buni Lenski (on cello and violin respectively), Han Stubbe (on clarinet) and Roel Van Camp (on accordeon), all classically trained, were still in their teens by then, but with their predominantly acoustic music they immediately stumbled upon a sound of their own. They played their instruments with a rock attitude and a gypsy spirit, and from the word go improvisation became essential for their method of composing. Their band name, Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung, was taken from ‘Steppenwolf’, a novel by Herman Hesse, first published in 1927.
The four piece made its debut in 1995 with an untitled album on the tiny Jack & Johnny label, but pretty soon was offered an international record deal by Sony Classical. This company would later re-release the first cd in a different packaging. The tongue twisting bandname got abbreviated to DAAU and on its second album, ‘We Need New Animals’ (‘97), recorded with the assistance of Michael Brook, the group showed a different face altogether. It introduced hyperkinetic electro beats and the voices of Angélique Willkie (previously of Zap Mama) and An Pierlé. This experimental approach was not exactly what Sony Classical had in mind, which explains why DAAU eventually moved to Columbia.
On ‘Life Transmission’ (2001), Lenski brother number three, piano player Adrian, joined the ranks and the group started flirting with dub, funk, distortion and programming. For ‘Mary Go Round’ DAAU even brought in singer Ya Kid K of Technotronic fame. On other tracks some of the band members had a go at singing themselves. With the concerts of that period in mind, the line-up was temporarily invigorated by drummer Janek Kowalski.
Following the release of ‘Ghost Tracks’, a collection of rarities, the group more or less went back to its acoustic roots with ‘Tub Gurnard Goodness’ (‘04). On the cd it also made some stylistic excursions to reggae and came up with a remarkable cover of Radiohead’s ‘2 2=5’. ‘Domestic Wildlife’ (‘06) was to show a more energetic and exuberant nature: through the addition of drummer Geert Budts and double bass player Fré Madou the band grew into a full-fledged sextet and now juggled with real rock grooves and jazzy colourings. Shortly after finishing the recording, Madou was replaced by Hannes d’Hoine. Buni Lenski would eventually make his way to the exit too, as he was about to move from Antwerp to Paris.
In order to guarantee their artistic independence, in the early noughties the members of DAAU decided to start a small record label of their own, called Radical Duke Entertainment. It was to become an outlet for albums by bands such as Dez Mona, Wild Ox Moan and the Belgian-Icelandic Mogil.
From the very start DAAU took pride in its reputation for being an exciting live band. The musicians toured extensively in Europe, made quite an impression at prominent festivals in France, Switzerland, Hungary and Scandinavia and even gigged in Russia and Taiwan. Between the acts, all members of DAAU moonlighted in other bands: Roel Van Camp was (and still is) part of Dez Mona, Simon Lenski made an experimental cello record with Bo Wiget (‘Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde’) and entered into an alliance with the ladies of vocal trio Laïs (‘LaïsLenski’). Together with Han Stubbe he was also involved with Prima Donkey and Donkey Diesel.
In its current line-up as a four piece DAAU played a significant role on ‘The Dark Age of Love’, a tribute album by This Immortal Coil, and in ‘Archipels Nitrate’, a film by Claudio Pazienza.
In the course of its career DAAU worked intensively with French electrodub band Ez3kiel and Danish folk noir duo Murder. A show with the latter at the Danish Spot festival in 2008 made a huge impression on journalist David Fricke of American music mag Rolling Stone, who called it one of the weekend’s highlights.
In 2010 DAAU is to write the beginning of a new chapter with ‘The Shepherd’s Dream’, a bucolic album that demonstates in the most convincing manner that, creatively, the band is still alive and kicking.