The Older The More Wicked
what happens when young british musicians meet their german
idols? they are going to look old...
interview by christoph dallach.
sueddeutsche zeitung-magazin: finally you sit here
facing your heros, mr. albarn. what is so fascinating for you
being a brit popper when you see these old krautrockers?
damon albarn: oh man, this unimaginable feeling being
without any limits.
holger czukay: funny that you say that. years ago
a japanese advert agency called me up. they wanted to get my
music for a whisky campaign...
damon: japanese better shouldn't drink any alcohol.
they drink a bottle of beer and fall of the chair or undress
themselves naked. finally they fall asleep where they just are
and the next morning they pull their ties tight and head off
holger: the slogan was about "the right whisky
for real free people." they wanted the music because can
and also myself had the image being free and independent. that's
what can sell in japan.
sz-: and krautrock is in again these days.
irmin schmidt: maybe, but what does that have to do
with can? krautrock is a sort of label that british rock journalists
had brought into circulation in the seventies in order to get
german bands identified being german. some of them liked the
idea, not can though.
sz-: what is so bad about krautrock? holger: rock
is more and more becoming a synonym for stupidity. it stands
for repeating old grown traditions. insofar can never was a
rock group. we created our own myths. this kraut rock term following
us till today is nasty, wrong and comfortable.
damon: i know all that. every journalist wants to
talk with me about the situation of britpop, alas i don't have
any idea about what that is. britpop is one of those phenomenons
the poor guys have to suck out of their fingers every day. that's
the way how they let their fantasy flow about the rivalry between
oasis and blur which had threatening dimensions at times.
sz-: can was always celebrated abroad, especially
in england, japan and america. what is so german about can?
damon: difficult to say. for me germany has two faces:
herman hesse and kurt weill. i was a total hesse fanatic in
irmin: what does an english teen do when he is so
fond of hesse? i can't imagine at all why one can be such a
hesse fan. what do you like about him?
damon: space, man. hesse got space.
graham coxon: that's what hesse and can have in common:
cosmic freedom. hesse's "siddharta" is like a can
album. it lets the fantasy get into swing, your thoughts are
going their own ways and it is absolutely timeless.
sz-: does kurt weill also have space?
irmin: weill was also important for us. he stands
for german pop tradition. after 1945 germany had to start from
the very beginning by all means.
damon: after that the german culture got completely
americanized. coca cola and beatles imitations - everything
sounded like sauerkraut and sausages, nothing essential. for
me can had continued the german tradition which had temporarily
ended with weill. i don't want to compare your works, but the
fact that you both had created something original and german,
this is what you have in common.
irmin: before you get on with space...why don't you
make a photo that we also can understand that?
holger: i think i know what damon means. for us it
was no option to play american rock'n roll. no matter how good
we would eventually have become we would always have remained
second class. but we wanted to become a number one and therefore
we have created our own universe.
sz-: when can started you had been thirty years old,
had finished your studies and ready to go for a carreer in the
battlefield of classic music. blur started right after school.
how important are age and experience?
irmin: when we initiated can whe knew exactly what
we didn't want because we knew that all too good. that's the
best motivation to make up your mind changing your life.
damon: we were too young. the motivations for our
carreers were dictated to us when we made a mistake and signed
with a big record company. they set up our image and if you
didn't agree you got in trouble or kicked out of the door straight.
if i could start again from the beginning i would travel around
and found a band with thirty, as can did.
graham: the years between twenty and thirty are the
most difficult ones. this is the time where you have to decide
what you want to do with your life. otherwise you'll end up
as a loser. pretty complicated that all. and because your parents
can't help you, playing in a band becomes a comfortable way
to get over this time.
sz-: what kind of carreer were you dreaming of as
damon: as every child i wanted to become a beatle
once in my life.
graham: it is funny and sad when dreams become true.
when i was eight i also had my beatles dreams, wanted to play
in a band, to climb up the charts on number one position being
able to travel around and play in television. at the age of
twenty i had that all. from now on new dreams were needed and
that can be really painstaking.
irmin: they call it getting adult.
damon: hey, did we complain? since i am thirty i'm
doing fine as never before. i love red wine and i even listen
to jazz music.
irmin: you can do that also under thirty.
damon: sure, but you don't understand jazz. even can
records i begin better to understand.
irmin: you understand music best if you play it. at
its best every day as we did with can. when we haven't been
on tour we were together in the studio often more than sixteen
hours. we took our instruments and waited where we were gone
to be taken to.
sz-: thirty years after that blur have released now
an album which critics estimate as wild, modern and dared.
holger: very astonishing that. nothing is dared. one
can immediately hear that blur had a preconceived plan going
to a studio. can was just the opposite: out of nothingness into
chaos and out of chaos in order to crystalize a song by reduction.
do you think it is important that a musician should master his
damon: of course.
graham: it seems to be more exciting if one is not
holger: i can't play any instrument right and that's
why i play them all. dilletants are the professionals of the
future. by not pretentiously knowing they discover the new.
damon: we were attending art schools, have learnt
how to read notes, how to play piano and violin. in the past
everyone in england could go to such a school and find out about
being incompetent. since tony blair has changed that and students
have to pay for their studies everything is dead now. and some
of the greatest british bands came to existence by art students
like the rolling stones, the who or roxy music. these days only
people with money can allow themselves to establish a band.
irmin: that seems a bit over the top. the student
fares certainly are uncomfortable, nevertheless not a catastrophy.
one who is really motivated will make his way nevertheless.
sz-: when can recorded their first albums damon and
graham were just born. how did you find out about can?
damon: it was hipster music. of course everyone listened
to the beatles. but the cool boys listened to music only a few
people knew about, like graham.
graham: a friend lent me "canibalism" and
i got out of balance. never heard such a rhythm before, fascinating,
strange and sexy on top. as if this beat would flow through
your whole body. automatic voodoo.
irmin: automatic? how do you mean that? i hope in
the sense of breton who once said one should let things happen
in yourself. being a musician on stage sucking all the feelings
which are surrounding you and then going to explode and you
let yourself go. we never knew what we were going to play when
we picked up our instruments. we let ourselves go. you better
call our automation surrealistic. this automation should never
become machine like. it must be kept mental.
graham: mental? aha, that's what i meant.
damon: we also regard breton being superb. but if
automatic automation is supposed to be bad then kraftwerk also
must be bad?
irmin: no, that's not the way i judge, i'm only speaking
for can. with kraftwerk everything was designed and planned,
can was spontaneous. that has nothing to do with good or bad,
right or wrong. our studios in cologne and duesseldorf were
separated by fourty kilometers, our music by a universe.
holger: may i ask you guys: are you friends?
damon: i can asure you. since we left school we hang
holger: and on stage? are you still friends?
damon: what? of course.
graham: what do you mean?
holger: have you never tried to kill you on stage,
to destroy the other one?
damon: oh, that can happen. graham sometimes pretends
his guitar becoming a death bringing weapon. of course he doesn't
mean that seriously.
holger: and you as a singer have never attacked another
damon: god beware. i am glad if nothing happens to
holger: exciting music gets into existence by tention
and this can't be enough. our singers were constantly fighting
against all others in the band and everybody against the other.
that was necessary otherwise you wouldn't be heard any longer.
sz-: they say your drummer jaki liebezeit was trying
to kill you in the studio from time to time.
irmin: right. once he was hunting holger with an axe.
we were enjoyed.
damon: oh god...
holger: you are really another generation.
damon: hold on, you are even older than my father
holger: even worse that you count on the same idols
like your fathers. why are you fond of the beatles instead of
the sex pistols. why doesn't your generation have its own heros?
graham: i see the problem. since a long time i don't
dare to say that rubber soul is my favorite album of all time.
damon: the sex pistols were just a mediocre pub band.
holger: the sex pistols at least have tried to be
radical. john lydon who once wanted to become a can singer also
wanted to start at zero. you have to risk that in order to find
out about your own identity and not borrowing it from your fathers.
damon: but i don't mind being like my father.
sz-: is there anything new in blur?
holger: the records sound like yesterday. the instruments
are from yesterday. are you guys not interested in the new media
damon: internet? how horrible. i better wait until
i can't avoid it any longer.
holger: but that is the space you are always talking
of. this is one example of total freedom. i can record my music
at home and sell it over the internet. makes record companies
becoming more and more unnecessary.
graham: i don't feel comfortable with that. i better
stay being a traditionalist.
holger: a team i am working together with has developed
a chat system which transforms written words into music. if
someone in the internet wants to send me some information he
is sending me automatically some sounds.
holger: and there is this infra red camera system
for example which also turns movements into sound. something
like that can really fascinate me.
graham: what a nightmare! i really don't want to understand
sz-: will there be still blur when you are sixty,
same as can?
damon: i always will make music.
irmin: with sixty years you probably begin to understand
what space is.
sz - info: irmin schmidt, 61 plays keyboards and is
conductor. together with bass player holger czukay, 61 he founded
the avantgarde band can which ended its existence 1978. both
were studying with karlheinz stockhausen. fellow musicians like
david bowie, beck, brian eno, the beasty boys and last not least
blur admire can being coinventors of modern rock music. 1989,
singer and author damon albarn, 31, founded the band blur with
guitarist graham coxon, 30. 1995 the britpop group got world
famous, but lost the media battle against their rivals from
copyright by holger czukay, all rights reserved