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Can do their bit for German music

01:00 Thu 06th Jun 2002 |

Maccy asks: 'Who are Can ' - which brings us to something of an oxymoron, for Can were one of the most influential German bands of the last 40 years, and central to a movement that came to be known as 'Krautrock'.

Holgar Czukay

Can were formed in Cologne in 1968 by Holger Czukay (bass) and Irmin Schmidt (keyboards), both students of Karlheinz Stockhausen (see separate article) and themselves music teachers, who were fired by the possibilities of the (then) new sounds of Jimi Hendrix and the Velvet Underground.

Teenager Michael Karoli (guitar), Jaki Liebezeit (drums) were co-opted to the group. American flautist David Johnson was quickly replaced by Malcolm Mooney, an sculptor who decided he could sing.

This being the late 60's, they started by playing 'happenings' rather than gigs, and recording film soundtracks rather than more conventional albums. They also hired a castle called Schloss Norvenich where they could 'get it together in the country'.

So far, so hippy.
The music wasn't. All those hours with Karlheinz informed their sound - brutal, repetitive and noisy! Record companies were wary but the group ploughed their furrow regardless. But they promptly lost their singer, with Mooney suffering psychiatric problems. He was replaced by Kenji 'Damo' Suzuki, a Japanese busker with a unique voice who quickly became the focus of the band on stage.

Was anybody listening
German kids wanted a sound they could call their own. And on the international underground the group's uncompromising direction was an appealing alternative to some of the dippier hippy sounds. Can were also prolific - three albums in 1968, a couple more then the breakthrough 'hit' LP Tago Mago in 1971, which is probably a good place to start if you're going to start buying and listening to their music. (Monster Movie, Soon Over Babaluma and Ege Bamyasi Okraschoten are also generally well thought of. Or go for a compilation).

Can even had a Number 1 hit in Germany that year with Spoon, the theme to a popular TV show. But they were never going to give the Osmonds a run for their money.

All good things come to an end
Illness, religious calling and in-fighting led to the band's gradual demise, with Holger Czukay leaving because he wanted to be a little freakier than his erstwhile colleagues. He was one of the first musicians to use samples.

And since then

Occasional reunions, guest spots, film scores and solo outings keep the band members in the spotlight -- Julian Cope, John Lydon and Jah Wobble are all big fans -- and today they are warmly remembered by original fans and indie kids alike. Czukay has the highest profile. Original guitarist Michael Karoli sadly died of cancer in 2001.

And the rest of the Krautrock movement
Well there was Amon Duul, Amon Duul II (very original music, very unoriginal name), Cluster, Nektar, Neu!, Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream - all have their supporters. But the most successful, and certainly the most influential of all the German bands that emerged out of the sixties were Kraftwerk. And there's more than enough to say about them to warrant an article of their own...

... which is more than can be said for German music in general.
Hopefully you're referring to pop and rock rather than the collective talents of Beethoven, Bach and co! Let's say German music doesn't travel well: the Scorpions, some of Boney M, Klaus Wunderlich, BlackBox. For a nation of 83 million, it's not a very long or thrilling list, is it Even Falco was Austrian...

The question of language is important: British record buyers in particular have a habit of ignoring music not sung in English. (Nena got to No.1 in the USA with Nuen und neunzig Luftballoons but it only hit in the UK in translation as Ninety-nine Red Balloons).

Einsterzende Neubauten, Nina Hagen and Ute Lemper made names for themselves in the late 70s. Udo Lindenberg didn't, even though he had a great name. Rammstein are making a clenched fist of it as we speak at the forefront of the pantomime fringe of heavy metal.

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