Thurston Moore, singer, songwriter and guitarist of Sonic Youth, leads a supergroup of musicians in a tribute to Can, one of the most influential avant-rock groups of all time.
‘In the early/mid 1970s in the USA, record companies would unload the more obscure, difficult-selling LPs to department stores by either punching a hole or clipping a corner off the jackets and pricing them anywhere from 49 cents to a couple of measly dollars. For young music curiosity seekers like myself, this fit our financial reality quite nicely. We couldn’t readily afford the new releases by Grand Funk Railroad or Crosby, Stills etc, but we could afford one of these weirdo sides in the so-called ‘cut-out’ bins.
Can’s ‘Ege Bamyasi’ really opened my pulsing sensibilities to what a rock band could be…
Most of it was dross, be it Ambergris (with the famous rooster head photo, later appropriated for a Pavement LP in the 1990s), Elephant’s Memory, or really super-strange and surprising sides like the first Stooges LP, Captain Beefheart’s The Spotlight Kid and a couple of German rock LPs, one by Amon Duul and another by Can. I’d get the ones that looked most interesting and at times they’d pay off, stoking the outer margins of my rock‘n’roll wanderlust. Stooges and Beefheart were amazing, but it was this one Can LP titled Ege Bamyasi that really opened my pulsing sensibilities to what a rock band could be.
The typography of the cover, with its blatant Euro pop-art presentation of a simple store shelf can of okra, was wholly jarring (no pun intended). The back cover was a still from a film of the band playing, which involved what seemed like circus jugglers and fire breathers. This was not Kiss or Alice Cooper, both of whom thrilled me, but something more with a furrowed brow – long-haired hippie aesthetes bent over their instruments, while some kind of absurd situation was interacted.
The music inside was unlike anything I had aurally imagined – insistent cyclical drum patterns with a vocalist howling and yelping in and out of electronic whirrs and super groovy, locked-in bass. It was 1973 and I was fifteen years old. I already had some realisation of a German underground music world – referred to as krautrock by the British music press – and would retain a fascination with is outlying strangeness, but the documents were almost impossible to locate outside of specialty record stores in Greenwich Village, of which I’d eventually become an obsessive habitué.
The music was unlike anything I had aurally imagined…
Early on in Sonic Youth’s songwriting I’d always refer to the information I gleaned from Ege Bamyasi. There was a comradery in knowing that Johnny Rotten namechecked Can as the one band pre-punk that he was OK with. Years later I finally saw the film from which the aforementioned still was taken and it was as if a photograph had opened up into a rock’n’roll world I could only imagine.
I’ve had the amazing experience of playing in improvising duo with Can founder Irmin Schmidt and am now involved with original singer Malcolm Mooney and percussionist Jaki Liebzeit with exploring Can/Sonik musik! Anything is possible from here.
The Can Project featuring Irmin Schmidt, Malcolm Mooney and Thurston Moore takes place on Saturday 8 April.