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Can was an experimental rock band formed in West Germanymarker in 1968. One of the first "krautrock" groups, they rejected American influences and incorporated strong minimalist and world music elements into their often psychedelic music.

Can constructed their music largely through free improvisation and editing, which bassist Holger Czukay referred to as "instant compositions". They had only occasional commercial success, with singles such as "Spoon" and "I Want More" reaching national singles charts. However, through albums such as Tago Mago (1971) and Ege Bamyasi (1972), the band exerted a considerable influence on avant-garde, experimental, underground, ambient, new wave and electronic music.


Early years: 1968–1970

Can formed in Cologne in 1968, comprising bass guitarist Holger Czukay, keyboard player Irmin Schmidt, guitarist Michael Karoli, and drummer Jaki Liebezeit, along with original member David Johnson. Johnson, an American composer, flutist, and electronic musician, left at the end of 1968 after the band had begun taking a more rock-oriented direction. Czukay's and Schmidt's musical orientations up until that point had been exclusively avant-garde classical, while Liebezeit had played in jazz groups before joining Can. They used the names Inner Space and The Can before finally settling on CAN. Liebezeit subsequently suggested the backronym "communism, anarchism, nihilism" for the band's name.

In the autumn of 1968, the band enlisted the creative, highly rhythmic, but unstable and often confrontational American Malcolm Mooney, a New York based sculptor, with whom they recorded the material for an album, Prepared to Meet Thy Pnoom. This first album contained earlier versions of two titles from the subsequent Monster Movie album, "Father Cannot Yell" and "Outside My Door". Unable to find a recording company willing to release the album, the group continued their studio work until they had material for what became their debut album Monster Movie, released in 1969. Other material recorded around the same time was released in 1981 as Delay 1968. Mooney's bizarre ranting vocals emphasized the sheer strangeness and hypnotic quality of the music, which was influenced particularly by garage rock, funk and psychedelic rock. Repetition was stressed on bass and drums, particularly on the epic "Yoo Doo Right" which had been edited down from a twenty-hour improvisation to take up a mere single side of vinyl. Liebezeit's ("loves time" in German) tight but multifarious drumming was the driving force behind the band.

Mooney returned to America soon afterwards on the advice of a psychiatrist, having been told that getting away from the chaotic music of Can would be better for his mental health. In the liner notes of Monster Movie it says Mooney suffered a nervous breakdown ("caught in a Can groove") shouting "upstairs, downstairs" repeatedly. He was replaced by the more understated Kenji "Damo" Suzuki, a young Japanese traveller found busking outside a Munich cafe by Czukay and Liebezeit. Though he only knew a handful of guitar chords and improvised the majority of his lyrics (as opposed to committing them to paper), Suzuki was asked to perform with the band that same night. The band's first record with Suzuki was Soundtracks, released in 1970, a compilation of music made for films that also contained two earlier tracks recorded with Mooney. Suzuki's lyrics were usually in English, though sometimes in Japanese (for example, in "Oh Yeah" and "Doko E").

Classic years: 1971–1973

The next few years saw Can release their most acclaimed works. While their earlier recordings tended to be loosely based on traditional song structures, on their mid-career albums the band reverted to an extremely fluid improvisational style. The double album Tago Mago (1971) is often seen as a groundbreaking, influential and deeply unconventional record, based on intensely rhythmic jazz-inspired drumming, improvised guitar and keyboard soloing (frequently intertwining each other), tape edits as composition, and Suzuki's idiosyncratic vocalisms.

Tago Mago was followed in 1972 by Ege Bamyasi, a more accessible but still avant-garde record which featured the catchy "Vitamin C" and the Top 40 German hit "Spoon". It was followed by Future Days in 1973; which represents an early example of ambient music and is perhaps the band's most critically successful record. Also included on this album was the pop song "Moonshake". Suzuki left soon after to marry his German wife and become a Jehovah's Witness. Vocals were taken over by Karoli and Schmidt; however, after the departure of Suzuki, fewer of their tracks featured vocals, as Can found themselves experimenting with the ambient music they had begun with Future Days.

Later years: 1974–1979

Soon Over Babaluma from 1974 continued in the ambient style of Future Days, yet it regained some of the abrasive edge of Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi. In 1975, Can signed to Virgin Records in the UK and EMI/Harvest in Germany. The later albums Landed (1975) and Flow Motion (1976) saw Can moving towards a somewhat more conventional style as their recording technology improved. Accordingly, the disco single "I Want More" from Flow Motion became their only hit record outside of Germany, Written by their live sound mixer Peter Gilmour, it reached No 26 in the UK charts in August 1976, which prompted an appearance on Top of the Pops. In 1977 Can were joined by former Traffic bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, both of whom provided vocals to Can's music, appearing on the albums Saw Delight (1977), Out of Reach (1978) and Can (1979). During this period Holger Czukay was pushed to the fringes of the group's activity; in fact he just made sounds using shortwave radios, Morse code keys, tape recorders and other sundry objects. He left Can in late 1977 and did not appear on the albums Out of Reach or Can, although he did do some production work on the latter album. Can went on hiatus shortly afterwards, but reunions have taken place on several occasions since.

After the split and reunion: 1980 onwards

Since the split, all the former members have been involved in musical projects, often as session musicians for other artists. In 1986 they briefly reformed, with original vocalist Mooney, to record Rite Time (released in 1989). There was a further reunion in 1991 to record a track for the Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World, and Can have since been the subject of numerous compilations, live albums and samples.

In 1999 the four core members of Can, Karoli, Liebezeit, Schmidt and Czukay, performed live at the same show, although playing separately with their current solo projects (Sofortkontakt, Club Off Chaos, Kumo and U-She respectively). Michael Karoli died on 17 November, 2001 after a long battle with cancer. In 2004, the band began a series of Super Audio CD remasters of its back catalog, which were finished in 2006.

Holger Czukay has recorded several ambient albums and collaborated with David Sylvian among others, Jaki Liebezeit has played extensively with bassists Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell, and in a drum ensemble called Drums of Chaos and in 2005 with the Artist Datenverarbeiter the online-album Givt. Michael Karoli recorded a reggae album with Polly Eltes before his passing, and Irmin Schmidt has begun working with the acclaimed drummer Martin Atkins, producing a remix for the industrial band The Damage Manual, and a cover of Banging the Door for a Public Image Ltd tribute album, both released on Atkins' label, Invisible Records. Karoli formed Sofortkontakt! for the Can reunion shows in 1999 with Mark Spybey, who had previously been associated with Dead Voices on Air, Zoviet France, Reformed Faction and Download. The band also featured Alexander Schoenert, Felix Guttierez of Jelly Planet and Mandjao Fati. Karoli also performed on numerous occasions with Damo Suzuki's Network. Damo Suzuki returned to music in 1983, and since then he has been playing live improvisational shows around the world with local musicians and members of touring bands at various points, sometimes issuing live albums. Malcolm Mooney recorded an album as singer for the band Tenth Planet in 1998. Rosko Gee has been the bassist in the live band on Harald Schmidt's TV show in Germany since 1995. Rebop Kwaku Baah died in 1983 following a brain haemorrhage.


Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt were both pupils of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and so Can inherited a strong grounding in his musical theory; the latter was trained as a classical pianist, while Michael Karoli was a pupil of Holger Czukay and brought the influence of gypsy music through his esoteric studies. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit had strong jazz leanings. The band's sound was originally intended to be based on the sound of ethnic music, so when the band decided to pick up the garage rock sound, original member David Johnson left. This world music trend was later exemplified on albums such as Ege Bamyasi (the name meaning "Aegean okra" in Turkish), Future Days and Saw Delight, and by incorporating new band members with different nationalities. A series of tracks on Can albums, known as "Ethnological Forgery Series", abbreviated to "E.F.S", demonstrated the band's ability to successfully recreate ethnic-sounding music.

The band's early rock influences include The Beatles and The Velvet Underground as well as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Frank Zappa. The band have admitted that the beginning of Can's "Father Cannot Yell" was inspired by the Velvet Underground's "European Son". Malcolm Mooney's voice has been compared to that of James Brown (an acknowledged hero of the band members) and their early style, rooted in psychedelic music, drew comparisons with Pink Floyd. Along with their peers in the krautrock scene, they were under the influence of the wider progressive rock movement taking place in England and elsewhere during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Czukay's extensive editing has occasionally been compared to the late-'60s music of trumpeter Miles Davis (such as In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew): Can and Davis both would record long groove-intensive improvisations, then edit the best bits together for their albums. Czukay and Teo Macero (Davis's producer and editor) both had roots in the musique concrète of the 1940s and '50s. Irmin Schmidt stated in a discussion with Michael Karoli in 1996 concerning the various citations of influences upon their music: "You know, it's funny that in spite of all the supposed influences on us that have been written about, the one overriding influence has never been mentioned: Michael von Biel".

Damo Suzuki was a very different singer than Mooney: his multilingual (he claimed to sing in "the language of the Stone Age") and often inscrutable vocal style added the missing ingredient to a set of playful pop songs. With Suzuki, the band made their most popular albums. The rhythm section's work on Tago Mago has been especially praised: one critic writes that much of the album is based on "long improvisations built around hypnotic rhythm patterns"; another writes that "Halleluhwah" finds them "pounding out a monster trance/funk beat". The band's post–Damo Suzuki period has been criticised for not being as groundbreaking and genre-defining as the earlier albums: although critics had praised Can's sound in the early 1970s as being ahead of its time, the band just used a two track recorder until the release of Landed in 1975. However, they do try out styles they hadn't done before: Landed sees them influenced by glam rock , Flow Motion by reggae, Saw Delight and Out of Reach by world music again, and the guitar of Carlos Santana.


Major artists working in the post-punk genre such as The Fall, Public Image Ltd., Siouxsie & the Banshees, Joy Division, Suicide and other acts like David Bowie, Talking Heads, The Stone Roses and Primal Scream have cited Can as an influence. Brian Eno made a short film in tribute to Can, while John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared at the Echo Awards ceremony, at which Can were awarded the most prestigious music award in Germany, to pay tribute to guitarist Michael Karoli.

John Lydon, formerly of the Sex Pistols, formed Public Image Limited patterned after Can's early 1970s five-member lineup. Lydon was mooted as a possible singer for the band, but initial conversations amounted to nothing, much to Can addict Jah Wobble's dismay (though he went on to many collaborations with the constituent members of Can himself). During their Kid A tour, Radiohead performed a cover of the song "Thief" from Delay 1968, and have claimed Can as an influence. Mark E. Smith of The Fall pays tribute to Damo Suzuki with the track "I Am Damo Suzuki" on the 1985 album This Nation's Saving Grace. The Jesus and Mary Chain used to cover "Mushroom" live in the mid-1980s. The Flaming Lips wrote their song "Take Meta Mars" off their album In a Priest Driven Ambulance after hearing "Mushroom" just once. The songs bear great resemblance.

At least four notable bands have named themselves in tribute to Can: The Mooney Suzuki for Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki; the indie rock band Spoon after the hit "Spoon"; the electronic band Egebamyasi, formed by Scottish musician Mr Egg in 1984, after Can's album Ege Bamyasi; Hunters & Collectors after a song on the Landed album; and Moonshake, named for a track on Future Days, and formed by ex-Wolfhounds frontman David Callahan. The Scottish writer Alan Warner, born in Obanmarker in 1964, has written two novels in tribute to two different Can members (Morvern Callar to Holger Czukay and The Man Who Walks to Michael Karoli respectively). The Sacrilege remix album features remixes of Can tracks by artists who were influenced by Can, including Sonic Youth and U.N.K.L.E. Their ethnomusicological tendencies pre-date the craze for world music in the 1980s. While not nearly as influential on electronic music as Kraftwerk, they were important early pioneers of ambient music, along with Tangerine Dream and the aforementioned band. Many groups working in the post-rock genre can look to Can as an influence as part of the larger krautrock scene, as can New prog bands such as The Mars Volta. Kanye West has sampled "Sing Swan Song" on his song "Drunk & Hot Girls" from his 2007 album Graduation. Nu-Krautrock pioneers Die Plankton cite Can as one of their main influences alongside Faust and Neu!. The U.K. band Loop was deeply influenced by Can for their repetitive polyrhythmic style, covering Can's "Mother Sky" on their Fade Out album.

In addition, Can also influenced "classical" avant-garde composers such as Bernhard Lang and Karlheinz Essl.

Improvisation, recording and live shows

Much of Can's music was based on free improvisation and then edited into a palatable format for the studio albums. For example, when preparing a soundtrack, only Irmin Schmidt would view the film and then give the rest of the band a general description of the scenes they would be scoring. This assisted in the improvised soundtrack being successful both inside and outside the film's context. Also, the epic track "Cutaway" from Unlimited Edition demonstrates how tape editing and extensive jamming could be used to create a sound collage that doesn't gel perfectly, and that the flashes of genius in the improvisation needed to be cut from long, unconsolidated recordings.

Can's live shows often melded spontaneous improvisation of this kind with songs appearing on their albums. The track "Colchester Finale", appearing on the Can Live album, incorporates portions of "Halleluhwah" into a composition lasting over half an hour. Early concerts found Mooney and Suzuki often able to shock audiences with their unusual vocal styles, as different as they were from one another; Suzuki's debut performance with Can in 1970 nearly frightened an audience to the point of rioting due to his odd style of vocalizing. The actor David Niven was amongst the crowd who remained to hear what Can and Damo would do next. After the departure of Suzuki, the music grew in intensity without a vocal centre. The band maintained their ability to collectively improvise with or without central themes for hours at a time (their longest performance was in Berlin, and lasted over six hours), resulting in a large archive of performances.

Can made attempts to find a new vocalist after the departure of Damo Suzuki, although no one quite fit the position. In 1975, folk singer Tim Hardin took the lead vocal spot and played guitar with Can for one song, at two gigs, performing his own "The Lady Came From Baltimore". Malaysianmarker Thaiga Raj Raja Ratnam played four dates with the band between January and March 1976, all of which were recorded, and did considerable studio work with them. Another vocalist, Englishman Michael Cousins, toured with Can in March (France) and April (Germany) 1976. Audiences in France disapproved of his presence and literally spat at him while on stage. There are eight recordings of Cousins performing with the band.

Band members


  • Holger Czukay – bass guitar, sound engineer, electronics (1968–1977, 1986–1991)
  • Michael Karoli – guitar, vocals, violin (1968–1979, 1986–1991)
  • Jaki Liebezeit – drums, percussion (1968–1979, 1986–1991)
  • Irmin Schmidt – keyboards, vocals (1968–1979, 1986–1991)

Other members

Additional collaborators

  • David C. Johnson – reeds, winds, electronics and tape manipulation (1968–69)
  • Manni Löhe – vocals, percussion and flute (1968)
  • Duncan Fallowell – lyrics (1974)
  • Peter Gilmour – lyrics (later 1970s)
  • René Tinner – recording engineer (later 1970s)
  • Olaf Kübler of Amon Düül – tenor saxophone (1975)
  • Tim Hardin – vocals & guitar (November 1975)
  • Thaiga Raj Raja Ratnam – vocals (January-March 1976)
  • Michael Cousins – vocals (March-April 1976)



  1. Unterberger, Richie. " An Interview With Holger Czukay". Retrieved on 11 November, 2007.
  2. " CANNIBLISM 1". Retrieved on 11 November, 2007.
  3. " Can". Mute Liberation Technologies. Retrieved on 25 October, 2007.
  4. Can
  5. datenverarbeiter vs. jaki liebezeit - homepage
  6. An Interview with Holger Czukay by Richie Unterberger
  7. " Can".
  8. Grant, Steven. " Can". Retrieved on 11 November, 2007.
  9. allmusic ((( Tago Mago > Review )))
  10. Intuitive Music » Blog Archive » Can - Biography
  11. Radiohead At Ease
  12. Lollipop Issue 38
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  14. Interview with Holger Czukay


  • Pascal Bussy & Andy Hall. The Can Book. Tago Mago, 1986.
  • Pascal Bussy & Andy Hall. The Can Book. Saf Publishing, 1989.
  • Rock: The Rough Guide (second edition), Penguin, 1999.
  • Martin C. Strong's Great Rock Discography (fifth edition), MOJO Books, 2000.
  • The New Musical Express Book of Rock, Star Books, 1975, ISBN 0-352-300744.

External links

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