Forget the Rolling Stones, Damo Suzuki Is the Show We All Missed

We've missed a lot of great shows in the last few months, but especially Damo Suzuki's.
We've missed a lot of great shows in the last few months, but especially Damo Suzuki's.
Llapissera/ Wikimedia Commons
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Some people know Damo Suzuki as the former vocalist of krautrock pioneers CAN. Most people don’t know him at all.

Suzuki was supposed to play Club Dada on May 4, but this rare visit became one of the coronavirus’s many concert casualties. This says nothing, either, of the fact that his last American tour was postponed because of visa issues. The only injustice greater than the cancellation of his Dada show is the fact that nobody appreciated just how special it was going to be.

Even though Suzuki's stretch with CAN only lasted between 1970 to 1973, this short tenure saw the creation of what is arguably the greatest album trilogy in music history: Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days. Some would argue that David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy is better, but Suzuki’s CAN laid the groundwork that made Low, Heroes and Lodger possible in the first place. Brian Eno, who collaborated with Bowie and Tony Visconti on all three Berlin records, even made a short film in tribute to CAN, in which he called them “globally important.”

The music of virtually every punk, post-punk, electronic, indie, alternative and experimental band over the past 50 years has a common ancestor in CAN. Strands of Suzuki’s musical DNA can be found in the catalog of artists from Joy Division and Television to Daft Punk and Bjork.

Without Tago Mago’s experimental and abrasive take on funk music, artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, Primus, Living Colour and Jane’s Addiction would not have had the diverse stylistic palettes they have famously drawn from. The late Mark Hollis of Talk Talk even cited it as “an extremely important album,” while Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols called it “stunning.”

The improvisational funk sensibilities on Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi have also extended the musical frontier for hip-hop. Kanye West’s “Drunk and Hot Girls” samples the latter album’s second track, “Sing Swan Song,” just as Earl Sweatshirt’s “Centurion” samples its fifth track, “Soup.” But what makes CAN’s music truly ubiquitous are the breakbeats and funky tempos on cuts like “One More Night.” Without these left turns, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which Dr. Dre could pioneer G-funk with The Chronic, or one in which OutKast could expound on it with Stankonia.

Perhaps the most overlooked album in the Suzuki trilogy is the 1973 full-length Future Days, which seemingly tones down on the progressive funk tendencies of the two preceding albums. Some people consider it the band’s last great album, but critics were generally lukewarm. Admittedly, Future Days is comparably mellow and pristine, but its atmospheric elements make it one of ambient music’s essential precursors.

What makes all of this so astonishing is that it only took Suzuki three years to achieve a musical omnipresence of this sort. Artists like Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem and Oasis have cited CAN as an influence, but what makes Suzuki such a formidable pioneer is that he has influenced far more people of high stature without them even knowing it.

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