I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

A Brief History of Can: Krautrock Heroes


by Johnathon Davis
July 29, 2013

Krautrock is a vast genre of music, and as with any genre it has it shining stars. This is where Can comes in, not only as a star but as a cornerstone to Kraurock’s creation as well. They were formed in the West German city of Cologne in 1968 by Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, David C. Johnson, and after a short time Michael Koroli and Jaki Liebezeit were added to the lineup to flesh things out.

Can drew influence from a wide array of styles and experiences to make music that was in its essence nothing short of unique. Czukay and Schmidt had previously studied directly under the tutelage of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, which one could easily say pointed Can towards their rather non-standard approach to music. A vocalist was added -- American sculptor Malcolm Mooney. This arrangement did not last long however and he parted ways with the band (David C. Johnson also left the band before the departure of Mooney) and was replaced by Damo Suzuki, who is as synonymous with Can’s best material as the fact that they played music. Suzuki left the band in 1973.

By 1975, the group’s popularity got them signed to Virgin records in the UK. This success in England led them to appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test and the titular English music program Top Of The Pops. During this later period of Can’s musical journey their musical approach became somewhat more conventional, as evidenced by the decidedly disco sounds of the single “I Want More”. In 1977 Czukay had left the band (having shifted from playing bass to using tape recorded samples, oscillators, and other electronic bits to make sounds), and by 1979 the band had ceased until later reunions took place in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Can’s often repetitive and definitely relentless jams have had a wide influence on musical movements ever since. Bands from clear across the musical spectrum from Joy Division to Talk Talk boast of the influence Can had on their music. Countless cover versions of their songs just add thickness to the pudding of proof. Without Can where would we be? We will never be able to answer that entirely but it is quite certain that much of the music by artists we love wouldn’t be quite the same had they not put that copy of Ege Bamyasi or Tago Mago on their turntables.

Vitamin C never tasted quite so good...

Johnathon lives in Portland, Oregon. He makes collages. He also writes things for Network Awesome, as well as his weekly movie review blog which can be found at http://fshomevideo.blogspot.com. You should read it, it's really terrific.