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Can (band)

The now-legendary Can was one of the most influential bands of the Krautrock era, a psychedelic, avant-garde, multi-lingual "anarchist community" who have since had a great influence on modern rock and dance music.

They formed in Cologne in 1967 as Inner Space, comprising bassist Holger Czukay and keyboard player Irmin Schmidt (music teachers who had studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen), guitarist Michael Karoli (a pupil of Czukay), and jazz drummer Jaki Liebezeit. By the release of their first album, the heavily guitar-based Monster Movie (1970), they had enlisted an extremely unstable American vocalist, Malcolm Mooney. His distinctive, anguished vocals added an extra dimension to the already intense music, with its aural distortions and VU-influenced repetition. Particularly disturbing was the 20-minute "Yoo Doo Right", the first of many Can tracks to go well beyond typical song length.

Mooney returned to America soon afterwards and was replaced by the more stable Damo Suzuki, a Japanese traveller found busking outside a cafe. The band's next record was The Can Soundtracks (1971), in which Suzuki's multi-lingual, often incomprehensible, occasionally meaningless and always idiosyncratic vocals made their first appearance.

The next few years saw them release their most acclaimed works. While their early records were at least Earth-bound, their mid-career albums were quite simply something else. Tago Mago (1972) was an astonishing record, totally bizarre on first listening but with a psychedelic energy that brought back the listener beyond his will. The sound was a world away from either prog-rock or the late 60s garage bands from which they drew inspiration, with melodies and rhythms that suggested nobody had even heard of the rule book. The album was followed by Ege Bamyasi (1972), a more accessible (but still avant-garde) record with a definite funkiness besides the experimentation, as on the catchy "Vitamin C". The acclaimed Future Days (1973) was a comparatively relaxed affair, consisting in places of little more than intriguing background sounds, but also featuring the quasi-pop song "Moonshake".

Suzuki left in 1973 to become a Jehovah's Witness, and the vocals were taken over by Karoli and Schmidt. Can released Soon Over Babaluma in 1974 before signing to Virgin Records the following year. Throughout the albums Landed (1975), Flow Motion (1976), Saw Delight (1977) and Out of Reach (1978), Can moved towards a somewhat more conventional style, and the single "I Want More" from Flow Motion became, in the UK, their only Top 40 record in any country. Meanwhile Holger Czukay, who is now perhaps the best-known ex-member, was being slowly pushed to the fringes of the group's activity and did not appear at all on the album Can (1979). The band quietly disbanded at the end of the 1970s.

Since the split, all the former members have been involved in musical projects; Czukay seems to have had the most success. In 1986 they briefly reformed, with Mooney but without Suzuki, to record Rite Time (released in 1989) and have since been the subject of numerous compilations, live albums and samples. Like the Velvet Underground, their real impact was not commercial success (they had none) but their subsequent influence, not only on rock music but on dance as well.



Singles: Important compilations include Limited Edition (1974) and Unlimited Edition (1976) (both consisting of early rarities) and Cannibalism (in three parts released in 1978, 1992 and 1995 respectively).

References: Rock: The Rough Guide (second edition), Penguin, 1999, and Martin C. Strong's Great Rock Discography (fifth edition), MOJO Books, 2000.