European art-rock band Can was one of the first groups to use electronic “treatments” of instruments, and it pioneered an exploratory postpsychedelic-rock style that would later influence Amon Duul, Ash Ra Temple, and the generations of new-wave, techno, experimental postrock, and ambient artists that followed. Can’s sound was based on repetitive, trance-inducing rhythms overlaid with atmospheric noise and sudden bursts of distorted electronic effects, with instruments often unrecognizable in the mix.
The debut Monster Movie finds the approach still rather primitive. But when vocalist Malcolm Mooney was taken ill and replaced by Kenji “Damo” Suzuki —who the group discovered singing on the streets of Munich —Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay began making full use of their studies with German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Can expanded its frontiers and sounded more assured on Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, and Soon Over Babaluma. The music was natural for films; the ensemble scored part of Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End. Soundtracks collects these and similar commissioned efforts.
In 1976 Can enjoyed a few hit singles abroad with “I Want More” and a version of “Silent Night.” With the addition of ex-Traffic members Rosko Gee and Reebop Kwaku Baah, the players’ sound got funkier on the well-received Saw Delight.
Can soon went into limbo, with various members splitting off for solo and collaboration LPs. The most prolific was Czukay, whose works include the Brian Eno–ish Movies (1980), On the Way to the Peak of Normal (1982), Der Osten Ist Rot (1984), Rome Remains Rome (1987), and Radio Wave Surfer (1991). Czukay has also worked with Rolf Dammers (Canaxis, 1982), Eurythmics, David Sylvian (1988’s Plight and Premonition, 1989’s Flux + Mutability), and Jah Wobble (1981’s How Much Are They EP with Liebezeit and 1983’s Snake Charmer with the Edge).
In 1986 the post-Johnson lineup reunited to record Rite Time. In 1991, without Czukay, the band contributed a track to the Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World and went back on hiatus. Despite numerous requests to reunite and its immense influence on modern independent acts as varied as England’s Stereolab, America’s Tortoise, and Finland’s Circle, Can has refused to formally regroup. In 1997 Mute Records released Sacrilege, on which artists ranging from Sonic Youth to A Guy Called Gerald remixed Can’s classic material. In 1999 the label unveiled a retrospective box set alongside domestic reissues of Can’s entire catalogue.