For anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of German music from the late 60s / early 70s onwards, certain key bands will spring to mind. If you have a deeper understanding and interest in what has been termed, with some controversy, ‘Krautrock’ some names loom large. Can is one such band. With their avant – garde experimental music that incorporated psychedelic, funk and world music elements they not only pioneered this movement but influenced generations of musicians into the future. In 1970 Japanese musician Damo Suzuki entered the world of Can, as they entered their second and possibly most influential stage.
Damo was spotted by members of the band busking on a Munich street and after a brief introduction joined them to perform on stage that evening. Asked about what he was performing during these busking days and how this came about, Damo explains, “As I couldn’t play guitar well, I made more things with vocal. I had some odd composed pieces, but mainly I did improvisation. There were many guitarists on the street I met after my performance as a busker, they’re wondering for my composition as mainly they’re better guitarist than me, but they don’t have original songs. I guess I learned that in any case and situation I’m able to make something – it shouldn’t have to be music..happening, living theatre…”
Jumping to the present Suzuki is a solo artist. Having left Can after recording a number of their most highly acclaimed albums including the legendary masterpiece ‘Tago Mago’, he has worked under his own name as the Damo Suzuki Network. The interesting aspect to his live performances these days is that he does not have a regular band. When playing he hooks up with local musicians previously unknown to himself. I suggest that that first improvised gig with Can had a similarity with his working methods today and whether being a part of a band had made him want to return to those earlier days.
“I’d never thought this..” he remarked suggesting that to Damo the performance is the central focus not thinking too deeply around it – that the aim is to get on stage and create in that moment.
I ask how he finds the musicians (he terms them ‘sound carriers’) to perform with.
“Meaning of music is changed since last century, ambient, noise, experimental sort of things are music. Therefore, I use name “sound carriers”, also I’m not expecting from them music, I’m expecting from them creative energy, not have to be music inform fixed in people’s brain.”
Listening to live and recorded performances by Damo Suzuki one finds that this energy, this creative freedom and experimentation is central to all. Suzuki further explains the appeal of playing with these ‘sound carriers’:
“We don’t rehearse for Network performances, bring no information, we don’t talk about music before or after the show. As I’m not interested to make music, more I like to make platform for sound carriers and audience. Yes, I like to make special space for the night. Therefore information is not important, we make at the spot information (Energy) and share to the audience. Damo Suzuki’s Network is not music performance. Creating time and space of the moment, within this we communicate, it’s one and only thing, not repeatable.”
Each performance is unique – a happening or event created by the vibe or energy of the time, place, musicians and the moment.”
I am interested in this organic approach and consider how it contrasts with musicians who spend hours rehearsing with musicians they know so well to create their sound. I put it to Damo that there must be a lot of trust put in the musicians to be able to create something he is happy with. It seems possible that it could all go wrong.
“It’s not only in creating music,” he explains, “Trust is one of most important substance in human life. Trust is result of communication and music is communication. Risk? Every human’s life there is mistake, this is sometimes charm too. This happens by accident, this moment how you support this person on music making is amazing moment of instant composing. Mistake is allowed, this is exiting moment. Risk I take it by myself if there’s any risk (I don’t think there is), sound carriers enjoy just this moment. Rest comes along with good result, because, all sound carriers are all open minded before show start to create and enjoy this moment, this is positive creative energy. So what do I have to worry about?”
When thinking about the spontaneous and organic performance process I wondered about Damo’s songwriting process. Does he have lyrics in mind that he performs regardless of what the musicians are playing? “As I mentioned I’ve no information, surely no idea of lyrics. Mainly there’s no meaning, it’s just spontaneous words flow, every commercial music lyric (vocalist) has weight, I’ve no interest in this kind of mainstream thought. As I told music is communication, so I love to make this process from very beginning with sound carriers on the stage and audience. From my instant lyric that is not understandable, every single audience make own story. This is creative moment for them, this called interactive. As I told I’m not interested in making music, I like to create this special platform based on time and space of the moment.”
As you can imagine this way of working does not lend itself to recording conventional albums. Damo has released a number of live albums. I asked him if he records in the studio at all? Does studio recording appeal to him at all these days?
“I’m just for anything opposite to what many people or band/artist does. Create time and space of the moment with ever changing local sound carriers is my trademark, I don’t have to do common thing.” This is evidenced in live albums recorded in various places over the years from Tokyo and Osaka to London. Damo explained that “There are some LPs and CD coming in this autumn, all are live recording. You know, I just don’t like have system or plan for creativity in my life time.”
With such a method of working and creating, is there anyone musically that inspires Damo Suzuki? “There is no space in my brain to listen other artists as my brain is keeping music without stop. When I hear music then only live music, I hear opening/supporting band music by accident. After concert some band handing me their materials, I hear these materials at home. You know I like to be hungry everyday, too much information makes me sleepy and enough. Occasionally I listened to classical music, where my interest in music begun. Prokofiev, Rachmaninov…I’m quite found of St.Petersburg school.”
I spoke to Damo on the eve of a short British tour, including The Soundhouse in Leicester. I asked him if he will be recording any of the shows? Could there be a Damo Suzuki live in Leicester CD?
“I don’t have to plan to record, there’s someone want record. Also now adays many music police/spy in audience, recording just everything through button microphone. Idea of releasing is come from local sound carriers that I performed with. They ask me to release and I’d like to have some copies as merchandising, that’s all. If they don’t inform me and release, then it’s just bootleg and I don’t care about this, there’re some cases where people just release without informing me, still it’s OK, I don’t think that much seriously, just I doubt about this persons character.”
So with live dates, the ever possible prospect of recordings – official or unofficial- surfacing what else has Damo got in store for the future?
“Not will be change, no matter of which way I walk just being Damo Suzuki.”
That sums it all up – Damo signs off with a call of “energy” – catch that energy in Leicester or locate some recordings. Energy is the nucleus of all that Damo does – his main focus- and it makes for some incredible listening.
Damo Suzuki plays at The Soundhouse on 3rd August. Get tickets here.