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Godparents of current crop of "indie" avant-garde?

Paul W. Dickow (February 1996)

The current crop of independent rock groups with a particularly avant-garde inclination have been name dropping various seminal "difficult" rock groups as influences. With the music press hastily shuffling these groups into the ambiguous category "post-rock" for consumers' ease, people have been seeking out records by the influencing groups. Looking at articles from indie-world fanzines like Alternative press and the Wire from the last three years, one will discover a proliferation of Can references. In one sense the publicizing of these groups reveals important music to a larger audience; however, too much zeal in genrefying can render the impact of these groups as no more than a short lived trendy-indie-world-item.

Of course, fans of obscure progressive rock and psychedelic rock, as well as musicicans who create techno and its subsets, have been name dropping the seminal German band for years. Can formed out of a music scene not associated with experimentation (although around the late sixties, other groups in Germany experimented concurrently). The four original members--Jaki Liebezeit, Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt, and Michael Karoli fused contemporary experimental composition, free jazz, and the kinds of rockn'roll experimentation put forth by the Velvet Underground, the Beatles, and the Mothers of Invention. The addition of African-American vocalist Malcolm Mooney for the first several years of their existence lent a particularly American flavor to the blend.The album "Monster Movie," and the later reissued "Delay 1968" were recorded with Mooney; shortly after Mooney's departure, the group recruited expatriated Japanese street poet Damo Suzuki as the singer. The albums "Soundtracks," "Tago Mago," "Ege Bamyasi," and "Future Days" mark the period for which the group is known to have experimented most creatively with non-linear song-writing, noise elements, loopy and complex rhythms, as well as Suzuki's unique ambiguous language combinations. Following the departure of Suzuki, the group switched to a larger studio and concentrated on making less "difficult" music, drawing heavily from African pop and psychedelic rock as reference points.

Most groups who refer to Can as important influences refer in particular to the albums recorded with Damo Suzuki; few refer to the Malcolm Mooney albums, and many openly resent the post-suzuki "high fidelity" albums. For this there is no definite explanation; however, the fact that the Suzuki-period albums sounded more "dirty" or, to use a phrase tired by the music press, "lo-fi". In addition, these early albums sport alien, ambiguous vocals, loop-like rhythms, and cool analog keyboards (also tired out by music zine hype.) Such different sounds provide an alternative to the typically more accessible sounds of comparable American groups. Likewise, the humor of Can's contemporaries, Faust, would be too uncool for the indie-avant crowd, who currently favor a deadpan "look" and "feel". The popularity of Can in the music press has a down side in that groups at all different are compared to Can just for being "different" (whether they sound like them or not). People are going to find "coolness factor" in owning Can records.

The flip side to the researches and subsequent exposure of obscure groups by indie rockers is that Can records are going to become more widely available for the people who want to listen to them for music's sake and not for social standing. The music zine exposure has led to the reissuing of the entire Can discography by Mute Records. Now one can get the cd for 15 bucks at a decent independent record store instead of painstaking 25$ European Spoon Records imports.

This also means that other ground-breaking, previously obscure groups' material will become available. Both ReR Megacorp and Virgin Records have made attempts at reissuing Faust records; Neu! and pre-Capitol Kraftwerk are available on Germanophon as import reissues. While it may take a while (until the next indie-zine trend) this could all lead to the more rapid reissuing of releases from other seminal groups: Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and early Industrial innovators; the Godz, the Fugs, and pre-punk groups.

To make a long story short, don't put too much faith in buying a record from a group touted as "post-rock" or "Can-influenced-rock" advertised in a fanzine. A lot of these groups are amazing in their own right, but don't have lots to do with Can. Go straight to the source, and get the Can cds themselves.

ED NOTE: We also have a HOLGER CZUKAY interview at our site
as well as Holger's own 'Short History of the Can- Discography' and his article on Stockhausen and this article on Can's Tago Mago.

Also see an interview with Damo Suzuki