Spring 2006 A4, 40 pages
original (last 8 copies)
Example article extract
This article is a revised and adapted, expanded version of the Can feature from "The Crack In The Cosmic Egg" CD-ROM guide to Krautrock, written due to popular demand, and because of the new Can CD remasters - which are really nice!
One of the most celebrated and influential of all Krautrock bands, Can dared to bring the avant-garde to the masses and succeeded. It was no accident, as Can had all the credentials to come up with a winning formula, with backgrounds in serious avant-garde (studying with Stockhausen) and in jazz. Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt had known each other from their contemporary studies, though it was Holger meeting multi-instrumental talent Michael Karoli that set the formation of the band in motion. Being connected with the arts certainly had its advantages. Completing the stable quartet nucleus of the band was drummer Jaki Liebezeit, who had been cooking up a storm on the 1960's jazz scene with the likes of Manfred Schoof and others.
The Inner Space
A matter of days after getting a band together, then named "The Inner Space", they played their first concert at the Schloss Norvenich, near Cologne in June 1968. A tape of some of this was much later released as PREHISTORIC FUTURE, with a wild rock sound comparable to Amon Düül, though much more avant-garde and free-form. In these early days, before Can became Can proper, they were already gaining interest from underground film makers, and a couple of soundtrack singles were released that are historically of interest, although best thought of outside the history of Can.
The only official Inner Space document from the era was the single "Agilok & Blubbo" a theme and song for a German TV thriller series. It found them in a jazzy relaxed Can style on the A side, more pop oriented on the B Side featuring Rosy Rosy on vocals. Composition credits go to: Irmin, Mischa and Karoli. Inner Space apparently can also be seen performing in a club scene in the film "Kama Sutra" playing a psychedelic groove that shows that Can's live style of the mid-1970's had already been invented in 1968! The almost mythical single I'd often seen quoted as "Kama Sutra 1 & 2" also coupled an instrumental Kama Sutra (a sedate number notable for Karoli's guitar), with a (rather mediocre) song I'm Hiding My Nightingale sung by one Margareta Juvan. On the record and cover no mention is given of the group or musicians except for the composition credited to "Irmin". These records are in fact so obscure that they don't get a mention in the Can book!
David Johnson, an American jazz winds player, who had moved to Europe to work in the avant-garde, was a member of the band at this time, and featured on some of the early Can sessions, he also acted as their engineer for a while. He can be found working with Stockhausen on the notorious HYMNEN, and stayed in Germany working with Johannes Fritsch and others at the Feedback Studios in Cologne.
Although the four piece nucleus of: Irmin Schmidt (keyboards), Holger Czukay (bass), Michael Karoli (guitar), Jaki Liebezeit (drums), was constant throughout most Can history, they also sought the aid of others as a lead vocalist to give them a more international appeal. According to Michael Karoli (who later took up the role of singer) this was mainly because none of them could write or talk good English in those early days, and they needed someone that could ad-lib and come up with the songs to accompany Can's largely improvised jams. The first such singer was the black American Malcolm Mooney, who was more of a poet, with a strong but slightly "rusty" voice. Thus The Can proper were born, moving to a more straight ahead rock, that many compare to the Velvet Underground.
Due to his fascination with electronics (as further evidenced on the Technical Space Composers Crew album) and his ability to handle the recording equipment, Holger Czukay also became the bands recording engineer. Can's debut album MONSTER MOVIE and the later anthology of early recordings DELAY 1968 documented a music with 1960's punk energy, pacey rhythms and the manic vocals of Mooney. These recordings are a definitive first step to the unique Can sound. Side 1 of MONSTER MOVIE contained three contrasting tracks, two of them being raucous and almost proto-punk sandwiching a light ballad in between. Side 2 featured just the one track, the 20 minute You Doo Right which is often classed as amongst the finest tracks in Can history. It's a track that actually just follows a single theme throughout, continually moving and changing, rarely losing the metronomic beat of Jaki's patent nimble drums. Those wanting more of this phase of Can should check-out DELAY 1968 which aptly has an even more raw 1960's feel and gives even space to Malcolm Mooney's vocal talents.
But, this phase of Can was short-lived, as Malcolm Mooney was forced to leave the band due to ill health. And, as good as these early works were they only hinted a little at what was to come.
Turning slightly Japanese
The next lead vocalist to front Can was an unlikely choice, a Japanese busker, one Kenji "Damo" Suzuki. His penchant for vocal experimentation led Can in a very different direction. The transition period was documented by the surprisingly varied and creative SOUNDTRACKS, featuring music to a number of underground films, some light breezy songs, powerful instrumentals, and notably the lengthy mantric Mother Sky followed by the totally out of character Malcolm Mooney farewell She Brings The Rain.
Next was the greatest of all Can albums, the monumental double opus TAGO MAGO, which, although starting on safe ground, draws the listener in with a succession of even greater weirdness and invention. Side 1's trilogy of Paperhouse, Mushroom and Oh Yeah are often quoted as the most definitive Can, and I won't argue with that. Side 2's Halleluwah is a wonderful vehicle for Jaki's drums, played in a manner that only he seemed to know how, a churning relentless opus entwined with song elements and solos, and totally hypnotic with it. On LP 2 it all goes weird, with Aumgn starting as a very free-form abstract work, with bowed and scraping instruments, wonderful echoed wordless vocals from Irmin, joined by sliding electronic tones, with Jaki's manic drums eventually taking over in an extraordinary freak-out that hearkens back to? Actually, the only things that really hinted at this before were the An Electric Storm In Hell by White Noise and some of the most experimental Pink Floyd. I guess few people can believe Peking O. when they first hear it. Damo lets out some of the most agonising vocal sounds amidst a plethora of electronic and percussive effects. Weird and radical innovation, that still sounds bizarre 20 odd years on! That's the brilliance of Can. After this, the mellow Bring Me Coffee Or Tea brings us softly back to earth.
In contrast (in fact in contrast with each other) the other two albums to feature Damo were, on the whole, less extreme: EGE BAMYASI with a collection of mostly shorter accessible songs, though still odd and uniquely Can, unexpectedly breaking-out with the wild avant-garde 10 minute Soup on the second side, and FUTURE DAYS which is often quoted as Can's most well-balanced and successful album, with its dreamy cosmic otherworldly atmosphere, understated songs and strong melodic content. This is the era that brought Can international success, with many tours in Britain and the continent. They also recorded sessions for the BBC's "John Peel Show" and "In Concert" programmes.