Uncut APRIL 2017 - by Rob Hughes


Can drummer and prolific collaborator (1938-2017)

"We were trying to find our own way," Jaki Liebezeit once told the BBC, discussing the rise of Can and other German bands of the late '60s, who began dispensing with prescriptive rock'n'roll. "We thought like artists. Imagine a painter saying, 'I can't suddenly paint like Andy Warhol or like Jackson Pollock, so I have to find something else, something original.' It takes a while, but it is possible to find."

As the backbone of Can, Liebezeit was a drummer of phenomenal ability, a master of rigour and invention whose unerring precision and subtle rhythmic shifts helped root the more experimental fancies of his bandmates. His locked grooves were as crucial to hypnotic epics like Yoo Doo Right and Halleluhwah as they were to the more succinct Mushroom or Vitamin C. Alongside Neu!'s Klaus Dinger, he was a central figure in the popularisation of motorik during the '70s. A student of european free jazz, who'd spent his formative years with Chet Baker in Spain and then under the restrictive setup of German trumpeter Manfred Schoof, Can proved to be the ideal conduit for Liebezeit's instincts. "With Can I was finally allowed to do what I wanted," he told Modern Drummer in 2011. "Repeating rhythms and grooves over and over again, consciously, was a whole new thing at the time, even though this is an old idea... In Europe during the '60s this wasn't understood at all. But the truth is simple - without any repetition there is no groove."

Liebezeit co-founded Inner Space with keys player Irmin Schmidt, bassist Holger Czukay and guitarist Michael Karoli in '68. Mercurial US singer Malcolm Mooney joined that summer and, at the drummer's suggestion, the group changed their name to the acronymic Can: "Communism, anarchism, nihilism". Radical debut Monster Movie arrived a year later, followed by a succession of LPs - chief among them Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days - that were as breathtaking as they were innovative. Liebezeit remained for the duration of Can's lifespan, playing on a dozen studio albums through to 1989 send-off Rite Time.

Away from Can, he can be heard on Brian Eno's Before And After Science (specifically, Backwater), as well as collaborations with Jah Wobble, Depeche Mode, Burnt Friedman, Philip Jeck, David Sylvian, eurythmics, Robert Coyne and Neu!'s Michael Rother, to cite just a few. Liebezeit also served time with German jazz-fusionists Phantom Band during the early '80s and formed his own outfits, Drums Off Chaos and the electronica-driven Club Off Chaos. Many of his post-Can endeavours involved old bandmates, be it backing ex-vocalist Damo Suzuki, teaming up with Czukay or, as on 2013's Cyclopean venture, in conjunction with Schmidt. He'd been due to reunite with the latter and Malcolm Mooney for an anniversary show at London's Barbican this April, in tandem with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, billed as The Can Project. "Jaki was a great musician, very precise," said Holger Czukay, speaking to this writer in 2011. "I think drum machines were invented because of Jaki, to make music more human."