RIP Holger Czukay

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 3, 2017 03:05pm | Post a Comment

Holger Czukay

by Michael Henning

Can founder and bassist Holger Czukay died September 5, 2017. The band posted the following on Facebook: "We are very sad to confirm that Holger passed away yesterday, in his home, the old CAN Studio in Weilerswist. His wife U-She passed away only weeks before. Holger was devastated by the loss of his beloved partner, but was looking forward to making more music and was in good spirits. His passing has come as a shock. We will post more information about funeral arrangements shortly."

In the mid-1960's, Czukay studied under electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne. Can, Tago MagoCan's soon-to-be keyboardist Irmin Schmidt was another student of Stockhausen at that time, and it was not long before the two joined forces, recruiting guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit to round out the core Can lineup in 1968. Malcolm Mooney, an American living in Germany at the time, became their singer for the first few years. Can recorded their dynamic and fiery debut album, Monster Movie, with him. Mooney was later replaced by Damo Suzuki, a long-haired Japanese hippie who the band notoriously found busking on the street the day of one of their gigs. They convinced Damo to join them later that night for a performance and he stayed a member of the band for the next three albums. It was an excellent match, one that yielded some of the band's best work, including their sprawling psychedelic double LP masterpiece Tago Mago, the now-heavily sampled funky grooves of Ege Bamyasi, and the endearing ambient-rock classic Future Days.
Holger Czukay
Czukay did most of the engineering and producing of the early Can albums, shaping their sound with his incisive tape cutting technique, and turning group improvisations into finished pieces. No less important to the group's sound, he also played the bass with a unique style which might be best summed up as "minimalist avant-funk." Of his chosen instrument, Czukay once said “the bass player’s like a king in chess. He doesn’t move much, but when he does he changes everything.”

Can never attained mainstream commercial success, but they did have a Top 10 hit in their home country in 1972 with "Spoon," the theme song from a German detective TV series. This propulsive, rhythmic tune was broadcast into the homes of millions of Germans on a weekly basis, and before long they had the biggest hit they would ever achieve. It was one of the earliest recorded examples of a band using a drum machine and a live drummer in tandem, a unique synthesis of man and machine. Given that their drummer already played as much like a machine as he could, it worked quite well.

Holger left Can in 1977 after the album Saw Delight. As a solo artist, he utilized primitive modes of sampling, shortwave radios, sound effects, and tape splicing to create a complex, multilayered musical world that brimmed with unusual sonic juxtapositions. The track "Persian Love" from the 1979 album Movies is a particularly excellent example of this technique.

Czukay called his work with radio snippets "radio painting," and his influence on modern day electronic musicians and collage artists is evident. His most notable solo albums are his debut, the aforementioned Movies, the follow up On The Way To The Peak Of Normal from 1981, and 1991's underrated Radio Wave Surfer. He also collaborated with a number of other musicians, including Jah Wobble, David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Eurythmics, U.N.K.L.E., and former Can drummer Jaki Liebzeit, who passed away earlier this year.

Of Jaki, Holger once said: “Jaki... made me understand rhythm is the greatest concentration of music, that one single drumbeat can contain all the music in the world.”

Holger Czukay will be sorely missed, but the depth and breadth his influence on modern music is evident now more than ever. RIP Holger!

Relevant Tags

Michael Henning (9), Can (9), Holger Czukay (6), Krautrock (12), Jaki Liebezeit (1), Michael Karoli (1), Irmin Schmidt (1), Karlheinz Stockhausen (3), Damo Suzuki (2), Kraut Rock (2)