Lost And Found
It’s no exaggeration to say CAN were one of the most influential bands of the twentieth century. Referenced in songs by everyone from LCD Soundsystem to The Fall to Primal Scream their influence is exponentially larger – without Can the experimental art-rock, post-punk, underground rock and alt-rock scenes could have all developed very differently.
Correctly or not they were bundled with Kraftwerk, Neu! and Faust as part of the krautrock movement, a neat handle for journalists but not entirely helpful in explaining what made each band so unique or groundbreaking. In Can’s case, it was a freewheeling sense of exploration rooted in dense jazz-like rhythms and structured improvisation.
As founding member Irmin Schmidt explains, “We knew very well what we were doing because at least three of us were professional musicians at that time [and] already had a career of ten or 15 years behind us. Jaki [Liebezeit] is very experienced jazz drummer and Holger [Czukay] and me had a long education of classical music. And even though Michael [Karoli] was ten years younger and didn’t have that long experience he was an extremely gifted rock guitarist. We were very conscious with what we were doing but we left space to spontaneity which means not to plan every step.”
By the time the band came together in 1968, both Schmidt and Czukay had already studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the true giants of contemporary classical and improvisational music. As such, despite the boundary pushing chaos on their records (Tago Mago, Monster Movie and Ege Bamyasi are essential) there was a clearly defined structure. “Improvisation didn’t mean we were just aimlessly jamming around. We came together and tried to create a very concentrated atmosphere in the studio. Very soon there was always one idea showing up or something and then we focused on the nucleus of those developing pieces. We always were trying to create form. Not just whatever came into our heads.”
Schmidt isn’t the sort of musician prone to dwell on the past and since the slow dissolution of Can in the late ‘70s he has worked almost exclusively in classical, compositional music and soundtracks. However, over the last twelve months Schmidt and collaborator Jono Podmore have remastered a swag of master tapes discovered while their old studio was being dismantled. The resulting three CD box set, Can: The Lost Tapes (EMI/Mute) is out this week and even though it collects discarded tracks they are far from lo-fi throwaways. “I was not surprised about the quality; I was more surprised by some wonderful pieces where Malcolm [Mooney] was singing and I didn’t know it existed.”
And trawling through 50+ hours of tapes reminded Schmidt of what Can were capable of. “What we did was quite strange, quite aggressive, quite brutal. And when we were on stage we were quite fierce. But we could be nice.”
Can: The Lost Tapes is out Friday June 15 on EMI/Mute.