Pop: Definitely mad, but there's a rhythm to it

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The Independent Culture



ORDINARY BANDS find themselves a new singer through a wanted ad in the music press. But German avant garde rockers Can were no ordinary band. Having lost their previous frontman to psychiatric advice, they discovered 21-year-old Damo Suzuki busking in Munich in 1970. Apparently risking starvation through his ineptitude, he was recruited on the spot, making his debut that very night.

The hugely influential band, created as an experiment in different musical approaches rather than a vehicle to perform conventional songs, anticipated many trends now accepted in the mainstream, with their emphasis on rhythm over structure and their love of repetition. Their influence on acts as disparate as Primal Scream, Happy Mondays and American noodlers Tortoise is profound.

And they all had excellent intellectual credentials, of course: most of them were in their thirties and some had studied with Stockhausen. Yet the presence of a Japanese hippie, struggling with the English language - no, any language - remains vivid in the memory. After three years, Suzuki became a Jehovah's Witness and quit music.

And that would be that - just another German Seventies cultural curiosity like urban terrorism, the Green movement; a Maoist captain of the national football team complete with funky afro. But the sell out crowd is curious to see Suzuki's first serious performance in two decades, and delightfully he seems to have stepped out of an old photograph with long hair, beard, and dreadful striped cotton trousers. Backed by various Krautrock veterans, including Can-mate Michael Karoli, ace drummer Manni Neumeier of Guru Guru, and crack saxophonist Gert Dudeck, they kicked hard into what was basically two hours of improvised jazz-rock, often the worst music in the world but tonight frequently astonishing.

Young guitarist Alexander Schnert, separated at birth from Karoli circa 1972, was at pains to point out that the musicians had not played together before, but there were few clues, save the inevitable collapse at each number's finish. The sheer rhythmic kick, carried by bassist Mandjao Fati, was distinctly reminiscent of that other defiantly unclassifiable Seventies outfit, Funkadelic, while Suzuki happily rambled indecipherably.

Only three Can songs were performed, including a primitive "Mother Sky" and a frantic "Halleluwah", though their signature sound of murky basslines and taut echoing snare was intact throughout, and Dudeck was incandescent on the quite brilliant encore of "Mushroom". Best of all, a primitive soul groove became a euphoric marvel, Suzuki yelling an impromptu hook, calling us all "beautiful people" as the audience filled the stage. Damo was so reluctant to leave, you suspect he was an outstandingly persistent Jehovah's Witness.

With Germany currently producing interesting and approachable experimental music from the likes of Tarwater and Mouse On Mars, it seems an ideal time to reappraise its heritage. Unbelievably, this didn't sound like a middle-aged jam fest, it sounded like a living alternative. Still mad, and definitely still a star.