holger czukay




CAN, reformed briefly 1986.

"We were never a normal rock group. Can was an anarchist community." Irmin Schmidt

There is a significant lobby among rock fans - and probably an even stronger one among musicians - that Can were the greatest band ever. They were, beyond any shadow of doubt, the brightest star in the Krautrock galaxy, or as Julian Cope put it in Krautrocksampler, his book on the genre: 'every one of Can's members is a hero, a Wizard and a True-star.' Amazingly, a quarter of a century on, they still sound ludicrously contemporary, both on their original discs and on an ever-burgeoning array of sampled treatments by others.
Can started out with pretty serious music credentials. Holger Czukay (bass) and Irmin Schmidt (keyboards) had both studied under the avant-garde classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the onset of 1967 found the duo, both in their thirties, involved in teaching (and in Schmidt's case conducting) modern classical music. It was then that Michael Karoli (guitar), one of Czukay's pupils, played him "I Am The Walrus", closely followed by choice albums by Hendrix, Zappa and the Velvet Underground. Enlisting Jaki Liebezeit - a free jazz drummer, also in his thirties - a group was formed, initially called Inner Space.
True to the spirit of the May 1968 riots, the group's early live appearances were noisy and confrontational, and their relative lack of conventional technique on their chosen instruments allowed them to avoid the technical clichs of the era's progressive rock groups. Can were not interested in impressing audiences with virtuoso skills and never suggested in their playing that they were great artists slumming it in rock music. And, although they gradually achieved more form, they would always create their pieces out of collective improvisation, becoming, in Karoli's description, 'a geometry of people'.
By the time they were ready to record their first album they had teamed up with a an incredibly volatile black American artist called Malcolm Mooney, who had no musical background save the ability to scream and moan effectively. The first results of this collaboration were released as Monster Movie (1969), an album clearly influenced by The Velvet Underground but somehow rawer and more primal. All the early Can trademarks were in place: the unchanging two note bass-lines, the metronomic, almost machine-like drumming, the distortions of guitar and keyboards. On top of this, Mooney's ravaged howl relayed disturbing babble or, on the slow-burning, almost tribalistic "Yoo Doo Right", sections from an intimate letter he had received. Mooney's demented performances were part of Can's live appeal but it soon became clear that much of this dementia was real. Under a psychiatrist's advice Mooney returned to America, leaving Can without a vocalist again. Help was at hand when Czukay discovered one Damo Suzuki, a young Japanese traveller, busking outside a caf and asked him to join.
Suzuki's unique vocalizing - an amalgam of Japanese, German, English and words culled from the very fringes of language - was introduced on The Can Soundtracks (1970), an album (in part of film music) which witnessed the group perfecting its cyclical dancefloor groove. The real turning point, however, came at the end of the year when Can set up at Inner Space, a studio in a castle outside Cologne, under the guidance of one Conny Plank. The immediate result was a quite extraordinary double album, Tago Mago (1971). The sound here was less upfront and more controlled than before. The eighteen-minute locked groove of "Halleluwah" sounded like a shotgun-wedding of the James Brown band and The Velvets playing "Sister Ray", while "Aumgn" and "Peking O" took rock music out to the limits: forbidding yet fascinating, dense and abstract yet intensely physical.
If the next album, Ege Bamyasi (1972), sounded rather humbled and subdued after its devastating predecessor, then 1973's Future Days saw Can breaking away into entirely new territories. The overall sound is glacial and undulating, achieving a kind of blissful melancholia under which occasional, barely perceptible squalls of violence or euphoria make themselves felt. In 1973 Damo Suzuki left Can to become a Jehovah's Witness. His departure did not seem to affect the band as much as Malcolm Mooney's and the following year they produced their final masterpiece, Soon Over Babaluma, with Karoli and Schmidt taking over the vocal duties. Its jagged but lush pulsations anticipate much of the club music of the last decade and, in the drifting vapour trails of "Quantum Physics", some of today's more eventful ambient music (Aphex Twin, for example).
Can's growing cult following brought them a contract with Virgin in 1975 which meant more money (one hopes) and better recording facilities. It also seemed to mark the end of Can as a 'geometry of people'. They could never truly become a normal rock group but they seemed to be getting close. Landed (1975) and Flow Motion (1976) were great collections of off-kilter pop songs - Flow's "I Want More" gave the band their only UK chart entry - but they lacked the sense of wonderment that characterized the 1969-74 releases. For that, though, fans could turn to two wonderful compilations of early rarities, issued as Limited Edition (1974) and Unlimited Edition (1976).
By 1976, Holger Czukay had begun to occupy an increasingly marginal position in the group. He was credited only as 'sound editor' on the proto-world-music release Saw Delight (1977), and it was probably his lack of input coupled with the presence of two rather workmanlike session musicians -Reebop Kwaku Bah (ex-Traffic, bass) and Rosko Gee (percussion) - which gave that album a somewhat turgid feel. The group's final, Czukay-less LP, Can (aka Inner Space; 1978), with its genuinely funny demolition of the "Can-Can", had an appealingly throwaway quality to it - almost a shrug of the shoulders at the realization that the group could never flourish within a major record company's conventional rock format. Post-Can, Holger Czukay has produced some of the greatest, wittiest world music fusions, and collaborated with Jah Wobble (with Jaki Liebezeit), David Sylvian, and U2's The Edge; Irmin Schmidt returned to film work (Can fans should seek out his Soundtracks anthology); while both singers have occasionally stepped out fronting their own bands.
However, there was to be an encouraging group postscript, when in 1986 the core members of Can staged a one-off reunion in the studio together with a more sedate Malcolm Mooney. Apparently, Mooney had found, down the back of a sofa, an air ticket the band had sent him in the US a decade before, and was prompted to renew contact. The most you can normally expect from reunions and comebacks is that if you grin and bear it the whole thing won't be too painful. However, when the resultant album, Rite Time, was eventually released in 1989 it proved to be their finest since 1975.

The Cataloge Page will be updated end of march 1997.


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