For The Work magazine
The musical performances of 64-year-old Krautrock pioneer Damo Suzuki are, and have always been, exercises in improvisation, informed by a philosophy that places spontaneity at the forefront of the creative process. Suzuki views rehearsal as cosmic pollution, a betrayal of his unspoken vow to the audience that each show will be a conversation, an experiment between him and his musicians (or Sound Carriers, as he likes to call them) and the people standing before them.
Suzuki’s best known as the vocalist for Can, the pioneering Krautrock band that found him busking on the street in Munich in 1970. They asked him to play with them that evening, leading to vocal performances on landmark albums such as Tago Mago, Future Days and Ege Bamyasi. From the start, his hypnotic, non-specific lyrics in languages he created off the cuff were like Beat poetry set to music, a never-ending Kerouac-esque scroll of spontaneous ecstatic observations expressed as melodic growls and mantric repetition.
Suzuki performed with Can from 1970 to 1973, and his idiosyncratic performance philosophy would influence countless musicians since. The Fall famously named a song after him; the Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez, members of Broken Social Scene and Tame Impala have all signed up to be his “Sound Carriers” at one point or another.
Based in Cologne, Germany for more than 30 years, he continues to perform regularly in Europe, and is still committed to his lifelong goal of spreading “energy”--aka good vibes—through a fascinating musical dialogue that, we’re happy to report, will continue for many more years to come.
In a recent documentary you talked about traveling to Italy and France and Mexico, and how you noticed how similar cities were starting to look. When did you start noticing that?
It’s globalization. Every big city looks quite the same. Mainly I perform in the big cities because there is the demand and people are informed about my music. But everybody looks the same if you are in Berlin or NYC or London. The same American culture and cafes and hamburger restaurants.
So where can we find contemporary authenticity? Seems like these days people can find themselves by going online shopping.
Nowadays it’s difficult because there is too much information. If you find yourself online it’s often manipulated, based on a product. Too much of the information out there is not really spiritual food for you. It’s very difficult time for everybody.
So how do you find what’s good out there?
If I read an article and I get a good feeling, that helps me decide. But there is no bible. Good is about having the freedom to decide for yourself. People should not get too much information from other sources. It is not your experience, and often it’s manipulated. But if you are satisfied with yourself, the next step is to share good energy with human beings. These are sources of energy which we need right now.
If we are bombarded with information and news and entertainment, how do we get back to ourselves without cutting off and moving into a cave?
Information can be a type of junk food especially from big companies and TV stations and big radio. So instead, go to the internet and find your truth or go to local stations because they have much more interesting news and truth.
You’ve described performing as a spiritual experience. When you are on stage, what is it that you are channeling?
Every time, I am in the now…I’m creating time and space, every time. I have a good opportunity to do that because I am not working within an industry or in a system, and I am able to be free. This is how everybody should be, free from any kind of organization, free from kings and states. Don’t believe in gurus. I make music like Damo Suzuki and I don’t like to be categorized as “this is underground, this is progressive”. I am not so interested in this. I like to be myself. And I ask that the audience should also have that freedom.
Why is it that you refuse to rehearse? Why is spontaneity so important to you?
Let me explain it like this. I eat organic food because I like to harmonize with nature, and nature does not like rehearsal. Look at a landscape, you can see there is no rehearsal. So, music is a part of nature’s communication. And I like to connect with people, but not as a band or artist creating a separate world. Not where I’m the artist on stage and you’re the people in the audience. Because then the people in the audience are expecting hit songs, and already there are answers. I don’t like to have any answers. So If we make this a spontaneous thing, you don’t have answers. You don’t have a concept and you don’t know how it ends. But I am free. I am free from myself too. So together we are free to create and we can go every direction and at the same time the audience can get it, because they don’t have any expectations, and they can travel with us. That is the most important thing in music. Communication. Maybe 200/300 in the audience making their own stories. Interactivities. Interactivity is communication. And communication is how music started. I feel actually people can understand many things without talking, and without one person needing to be the star or hero. Everybody is equal under the sky.
So it’s more like a conversation then; you are having a conversation through music, responding to your audience in that moment and it’s a democratic experience in which you don’t believe yourself to be any more important than anyone else?
I don’t like to use the word democratic. There is no real democracy in the world. I am not into any kind of ideology. I like people to find themselves, but without being egotists. We can create many things together, if we are creative enough we can get much more energy. Energy is something to do with creativity. This is one thing that we human beings must reach for. It’s not energy we can get from a philosopher or politician or a king. They are also just like us. Why should we believe in such people? Why should we believe in stars or gurus? Everybody must realize everybody is nobody, but everybody has meaning in society and everybody has a mission just maybe they didn’t find it yet. You don’t have to believe in me, find yourself and you can see things much more clearly and you can share your good energy with other people. These are easy things.
Supposedly we are more connected than ever before, as humans. With phone, social networking and the such. What do you think about that?
Yes there are many communication tools but actually people are losing communication with other people. You go to parties and they are there with phones in their hands talking with another friend somewhere else, but they are in the middle of a party. What is this?
Do you think it’s important to spend time alone in order to find yourself, or can you find it through other people?
You can find yourself through friends too. There is always a kind of energy coming out from other people. We can learning more and things if there are many people. I don’t think you can make conversation with 100 or 200 people, but I like to take a good conversation with maybe 7 or 8 people. With music it can be more. Last time played it was in Sheffield with 40 people on stage, 35 of them singers.
35 singers, like a choir? And everyone improvising?
Yes. Next day I was waiting for a train in Sheffield and people came up to me and said it was really good. I thought so too, I had a really good feeling.
I wish I could have seen it myself. What other memorable experiences have you had on stage recently?
Two years before that, in Croydon, just outside London, I performed together with disabled people, and two music teachers. Together we made music and it was really something special. With me, seven people.
What kind of disability did they have?
In the brain. I don’t know what it is called in English. But it was one of the most interesting concerts. When they found some nice riff, they continued and continued and continued. Almost like krautrock.
So maybe Krautrock is basically an autistic expression of music, just looping on and on and on, is that what you’re saying?
Yes. They really got in a trance.