Holger Czukay, of Germany’s Can, Dies at 79

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Holger Czukay

The bassist and co-founder of the experimental German band Can, Holger Czukay, died Tuesday (Sept. 5) in his apartment—the band’s former studio—in Weilerswist, near Cologne. Czukay, who was 79, was found by a neighbor; the cause of death is unknown. The musician’s wife died in July and a former bandmate, Jaki Liebezeit, died in January.

Czukay, borh March 24, 1938, in what is now Gdańsk, Poland, studied music under Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 1960s and formed Can in 1968. The group, whose psychedelic, avant-garde leanings and early usage of electronics led Can to be dubbed pioneers of the “Krautrock” genre, released its debut album, Monster Movie, in 1969, and peaked in the early 1970s with the release of albums such as Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days.

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Although they never reached the album charts in the United States (where their early recordings were released by United Artists), Can, who incorporated improvisation into their music, exerted a strong influence on the post-punk scene worldwide; John Lydon is said to have modeled his post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Limited after Can’s early sound, and Can’s influence has been noted by artists including Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, David Bowie and Talking Heads. Radiohead has performed a cover of Can’s song “The Thief” and Brian Eno once made a short film about the group.

Peter Gabriel acknowledged Czukay’s death, writing on his Facebook page: “When we were trying to put WOMAD together in 1980 I fell in love with his ‘Persian Love’ song, which struck me as a really beautiful piece. He was very supportive of the idea of a festival of music from around the world, and very gracious in letting us use this beautiful music as part of the album that raised funds for the festival.

I didn’t know him well, but it was very clear that Holger possessed a curious mind and a kind heart.”

Can in the ’70s; Czukay is second from right

Czukay, who also served as Can’s engineer during his involvement, recorded his first solo album, Canaxis 5, in 1969, and left the band in 1977 after the release of the album Saw Delight, on which his only function was the contribution of electronic effects. He went solo full-time in 1979, releasing the album Movies, after which he continued to release albums under his own name and with numerous collaborators. He is credited with being one of the pioneers of the sampling technique favored by hip-hop artists.


Listen to Can’s “Mother Sky” from 1970

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