Singer Damo Suzuki, a member of the pioneering Krautrock band Can, has died at the age of 74. Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, and Holger Czukay preceded Suzuki in death. Suzuki had been suffering from colon cancer for a decade, but the cause of his death has not been made public.
Kenji Suzuki was born in Japan on 16 January 1950, and spent his teenage years as a street busker in Europe. By 1968, the avant-garde ensemble CAN had formed in Cologne by Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt, Michael Karoli, and Jaki Liebezeit. Suzuki’s path intersected with CAN in 1970, after a chance encounter in Munich led to an impromptu performance with the band. His improvisational skills secured him a place in the group. Suzuki’s initial foray into vocals was marked by the track Don’t Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone from the album Soundtracks, but he also heavily contributed to their groundbreaking albums Tago Mago, Ege Bamyası, and Future Days.
Can’s fusion of psychedelic rock, avant-garde, and electronic elements heralded the birth of Krautrock. CAN was, for all intents and purposes, the Velvet Underground of the Iron Curtain. Their innovation stemmed from a nation grappling with the shadows of history and a deep-seated fear of its own cultural identity. Can transcended these traditional confines and challenged the status quo, cherry picking from a myriad of artists: Karlheinz Stockhausen; Frank Zappa…and particularly for Suzuki, The Kinks. His choice to deviate from conventional norms underscored Suzuki’s artistic trajectory: his ethos of seeking out the new and the unconventional not only defined Can’s legacy but also shaped Suzuki’s tastes.
CAN’s belief in the transformative power of music, imagination and culture redefined West German rock music and, along with Kraftwerk, would go on to inform punk, electronic music, hip-hop, and post-punk. Suzuki’s brilliantly unconventional vocals were characterized by a freeform method, where his lyrics transcended the confines of any single language. In 1973, Suzuki parted ways with Can, taking a hiatus for the next decade.
Suzuki resumed his musical career in 1983, leading the innovative Damo Suzuki’s Network. With this project, he embraced live, improvisational performances, collaborating with Sound Carriers, a term for the local musicians he played with at each tour stop. This approach underscored his commitment to spontaneity and collective music-making. From 1997 until his passing, Suzuki continued to tour and perform, either with his network or in standalone gigs.
Can’s innovative sound has left an indelible mark on a wide array of artists, including David Bowie, Talking Heads, Joy Division, Jesus & Mary Chain, Radiohead, and PIL. His influence was acknowledged in The Fall’s 1985 album This Nation’s Saving Grace, which featured I Am Damo Suzuki. Mark E. Smith, The Fall’s frontman and an avowed admirer, further explored this influence in his techno endeavor with Mouse On Mars, known as Von Südenfed, which drew heavily on Can’s legacy.
Suzuki’s life took a personal turn in Cologne when he met Elke Morsbach in 1985, who would become his wife. In 2014, Suzuki faced a significant health challenge when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. This period of his life, marked by his struggle with the illness and his relationship with Morsbach, was captured in the documentary Energy, which delves into Suzuki’s resilience and the support system surrounding him during this difficult time.
“It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of our wonderful friend Damo Suzuki, yesterday, Friday 9 February 2024,” the remaining members of Can stated. “His boundless creative energy has touched so many over the whole world, not just with Can, but also with his all continent spanning Network Tour. Damo’s kind soul and cheeky smile will be forever missed….He will be joining Michael, Jaki and Holger for a fantastic jam!”
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