The Older The More Wicked

Holger & Blur

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 to office. 

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 my youth. 

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? 

damon: sure. 

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 a child? 

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 instrument? 

damon: of course.

graham: it seems to be more exciting if one is not that perfect. 

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 around together. 

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? 

graham: what? 

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 band member? 

damon: god beware. i am glad if nothing happens to me. 

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 is. 

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 for example? 

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. 

damon: aha. 

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 that. 

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 oasis.


copyright by holger czukay, all rights reserved