A cult icon who influenced Pulbic Image Limited, Brian Eno and The Orb enters his 8th decade.

Before samplers and computers; before rap and electronica; before ambient and new exotica, Holger Czukay was doing it all. A student of Karlheinz Stockhausen and a founding member of Can, the German avant-progressive rock group, the sound of Holger Czukay presaged much of what we take for granted in music today. And despite turning 70, he’s still pushing at the seams and pulling at the threads of music.

Here’s an update of what I wrote in a 1997 piece for the now defunct Pulse Magazine:

Every generation kicks up its music eccentrics, artists like John Cage, Ornette Coleman, Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart, who hear music differently from most of us, and who ultimately change the way we listen. Holger Czukay could easily move to the top of that list. He was a member of the seminal German rock group called Can and he’s gone on to a quirky solo career that has drawn people such as David Sylvian and Jah Wobble into his elliptical orbit for collaborations.
In the late 1990s, Holger Czukay and Can experienced a revival of sorts, rediscovered by the techno-generation as progenitors of cut & paste sampling techniques and by more experimental rockers as free-form explorers of improvisational space. Can and Czukay are cited by artists ranging from The Orb to Tortoise to John Lydon. Mute Records released “Sacrilege,” an album of Can re-mixes that includes Brian Eno reconstructing “Pnoom,” The Orb dissecting “Halleluwah” and Sonic Youth attacking “Spoon.”

We’re featuring Holger Czukay tonight, Monday, March 24 on a special Echoes half hour that will include an interview with the idiosyncratic musician. Holger Czukay is a wildly eclectic and eccentric musician who falls outside just about any category you can come up with. That also means that his music isn’t always easy to wrap your ears around. I recall buying his solo debut, Movies, when it came out in 1979. I returned it after a couple of listens. But 6 months later, I found an entry into his Dadaesque world and Movies became one of my favorite albums with his mix of hipster lounge exotica on “Cool in the Pool” countered by the epic expanse of “Hollywood Symphony.” That album is my first pick for essential Holger Czukay CDs.


The second is his second album, On the Way to the Peak of Normal.  It’s 37 minutes of ecstatic non-sequitor bliss. When we visited Holger’s Cologne studio in 1982, he had a giant, outdoor TV antenna in his studio. He wasn’t using it to get better reception. It was draped with hundreds of tape loops and tape snippets that comprised songs like “Ode to Perfume” from On the Way to the Peak of Normal.

Another album from the early years would be Full Circle, composed with Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Jah Wobble, who at the time was working in Public Image, Ltd. It’s zen-dub hipsterism at its best.

Leaping forward, I was taken by the more song oriented spaces of Good Morning Story from 1999.  It mixes cut-up jam sessions and bizarre dialogs centered by Jaki Liebezeit’s metronomic drums and the voice of Czukay’s wife, U-She, a really good singer when she isn’t eerily channeling Nico.

Holger has done some of his most accessible work with David Sylvian, contributing immensely to his albums, Brilliant Trees and Words with the Shaman. But I would point to their collaboration Flux & Mutability, for it’s subversively soothing textures and surreal sound designs.

Finally, you can’t have a complete Holger Czukay collection without some Can. Critics tend to cite their earlier works with whacked out singers Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki. You have to be in the right state of mind to experience albums like Monster Movie and Tago Mago. The records that really sold me on Can were some middle period recordings, Soon Over Babaluma and Landed. Kinetic grooves, lacerating guitar from Michael Karoli and Holger’s throbbing bass and hallucinogenic engineering make these albums classics of post-psychedelia.


I saw Holger Czukay play New York’s Knitting Factory in 1997 to an SRO room. I also saw him play the TLA in Philadelphia in 2004 to about 5 people. That’s wrong. A musician who has never fit into easy popular or critical pigeon-holes, Holger Czukay makes people like Thom Yorke and Trent Reznor seem like corporate cogs. Holger Czukay prefers to be the wrench in the machine.

Again, from my 1997 Pulse article:

Holger Czukay enjoys his status as a homunculus in the machinery of pop music. “I did an interview with German MTV and at the end I asked the director of the station if they had a chief editor. He said, ‛No.’ I said, ‛Take me. I can make your station very successful. Don’t play anything that I like and you’ll become very successful.’”

Damn. I knew that was the problem with Echoes.

John Diliberto

Comment posted by
at 3/25/2008 1:05:31 PM

And let’s not forget where Moby probably got the idea from

Comment posted by
at 3/25/2008 12:05:31 PM

And let’s not forget where Moby probably got the idea from

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.