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R.I.P. Jaki Liebezeit, drummer of pioneering krautrock group Can

(Photo: ullstein bild/Getty Images)

Jaki Liebezeit, drummer and founding member of pioneering German krautrock group Can, has died. Originally trained as a jazz drummer, Liebezeit teamed up with the other members of Can—themselves classical musicians—to break out of their old disciplines and explore the growing realms of rock, psychedelic, and electronic music in the late ’60s. (Supposedly, Liebezeit provided the backronym for the band’s name, declaring it retroactively stood for “Communism, Anarchism, and Nihilism.”) Liebezeit’s drumming—precise, complex, and almost metronome-like in its dedication to the beat—would help to define and anchor the band’s sound throughout the 1970s, even as it drifted across the realms of disco and ambient as the decade wore on.

Nowhere was Liebezeit’s robotic virtuosity more on display than on “Halleluwah,” from the band’s 1971 double album Tago Mago. While every other aspect of the 20-minute song meanders—Damo Suzuki’s vocals fading in at random intervals, and improvised guitar and keyboard parts wandering across the landscape—Liebezeit’s drums never lapse for even a moment. Even as the song explodes into chaos in its final moments, the drums stay rock solid, speeding up but never dropping the beat. Liebezeit’s take on the song is a rightly celebrated performance that’s been an inspiration to other rock drummers for more than 40 years.

Can split up in 1979, leaving behind an 11-disc discography and a generation’s worth of musical influences. (They later came back together in 1989 for a reunion album, Rite Time, and have periodically played together when schedules and health permit.) Like most of his bandmates, Liebezeit spent his post-Can years playing in other people’s bands, lending his “tight but multifarious” style to English bassist Jah Wobble and composer/magician/taxidermist Philip Jeck. Eventually, he settled into the comfortable role of a respected guest performer, dropping in with artists like Brian Eno and Depeche Mode. He also formed his own drum-centric groups, Drums Off Chaos and Club Off Chaos. His final album was 2013’s Cyclopean EP, with Burnt Friedman, Jono Podmore, and his old Can-mate, Irwin Schmidt. Listening to the songs off the album, neither age nor familiarity seems to have slowed Liebezeit down, or knocked him off the beat.

Liebezeit died from complications of pneumonia earlier today. Can’s official Facebook page confirmed his death.


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