By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by U-She
Today, Holger Czukay is a busy man, running back and forth as he packs things up for the big move back to the old Can studio in Weilerswist, near Cologne. This is a very special thing: The Weilerswist studio, a former movie theater also known as Inner Space during Can’s time there, is an enchanted place, the scene of the making of such prime-era Can classics as Future Days, Soon Over Babaluma and Landed.
Shook-eye, it’s pronounced. And a bit of background: Holger was the bassist–chief engineer of revered German band Can circa ’68–’76. Can’s legend looms large in recent times for their enormous impact on (no exaggeration) just about every kind of contemporary music, though let’s say mostly in the techno, electro, hip-hop, trip-hop, ambient, DJ and punk-rock spheres. In Germany the band is the stuff of legend, too (though never saleswise), so much so that Inner Space, which had in post-Can times been used for normal commercial enterprises, was recently purchased and moved intact to a museum, where it was re-created in minute detail.
Czukay himself is the famously mad musical genius who created such influential solo albums as Movies in 1979, which was the virtual blueprint used in the subsequently even more influential My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne (which both admitted to in later years); he has collaborated with Jah Wobble, David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto and numerous others in recent years, and his latest album, in collaboration with his artist wife U-She, is called The New Millennium. Czukay will make a rare American appearance on May 18 at the Knitting Factory, and it’s an important occasion for a number of reasons, one of which is that Czukay, as the principal sculptor of Can’s sound, is the secret, key background man behind so much modern music that you owe it to yourself to hear the source, and, more importantly, where it’s arrived in 2004.
The New Millennium is another odyssey into fantastic worlds of highly organized yet purely spontaneous sound, each polyrhythm-percussion-based track a massaging low-frequency waterfall of sampled, electronic and analog stupefaction. On many of these pieces, like “Djinni,” for example, Czukay does something in the archetypal Czukay mode, which is to convey that something is happening, though you’ll never know exactly what. Czukay’s explanation of the thinking behind it all is, a bit typically, something that clicks with you weeks after hearing him say it.
“‘Djinni’ is . . . how can I say? Today everything is based on effects. ‘Djinni’ is based on neutral effects.”
It has episodes and interludes, and cutaways — like a film, obviously.
“As I said 20 years ago, I’m an acoustic-electric landscape painter. But that landscape painting is trying to tell a story — not delivering a message.”
Another great excursion is “Chittagong,” with more creeping into dusky alleyways, where further adventures might take place. He couldn’t possibly have planned the intricacies of these mysterious nooks and crannies . . .
“It’s strange. I bought a synthesizer, and tested it. And suddenly U-She came by and said, ‘Have you recorded that?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just only playing around.’ ‘Can you record this now?’ ‘I will try.’ ‘I’ll come back in 10 minutes.’ In 10 minutes she came back, and I just finished the recording of the ground track. And she came down, had the words ready, and said, ‘Can we make just one vocal recording of this?’ And this one recording was it.
“She has a vision, and sometimes she is leading, as she was on [the track] ‘Millennium.’ Usually we don’t start from a lyric, she only listens to something that I am trying to establish on an instrument, very carefully. This is where she is overtaking me, because I will go to bed and say forget about it, and she’ll say, no, you record this immediately, and then I can’t escape it. ‘Millennium’ you can say was finished in five minutes. But the four weeks following was her opinions on how my guitar was too loud, etc. [Laughs.] The typical arguments in bands, always the same.”
Czukay departed Can to get relief from the egotistical bickering that ultimately prevents bands from presenting a unified vision. On his solo albums, he enjoyed working alone, without distractions. But, always looking for a different way of doing things, on Linear City, he shared the recording/editing process with fans via his Web site (www.czukay.de).
In Can’s last interesting period, Czukay ceded the bass playing to former Traffic man Rosko Gee in order to concentrate on bringing spontaneity back into the group, via shortwave radio “playing” and his own analog sampling machine — a modified Dictaphone. “This is why I was lucky at the time — switching on the shortwaves, and working with this radio as an unpredictable sound source. Working with the Internet, with other people together, has somehow the same quality.”
On Linear City, what is perhaps not too surprising is how Czukay’s warm, inviting personality comes through, even in collaboration with several other people.