Shamefully, as big fans of brilliantly innovative ’70s Krautrock band Can, we only just found out the band’s stunningly gifted drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, died in January 2017 aged 78. Although known the world over, the band only has a cult following, with most music fans remaining clueless there are geniuses amongst them. Pink Floyd, some folks will rant, tend to be considered the great innovators of the ’70s – garbage. Can were a million miles ahead, musically and creatively.
Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1938, Leibezeit grew up in a nation torn apart by post-war shame and disillusionment. The new generation of Germans in a post-Nazi nation was determined to show off its cultural prowess and move on; Krautrock emerged in the ’60s to show what Germany was truly capable of. Can formed in 1968, which ultimately led to a series of landmark records which Liebezeit gifted his astonishing drumming to. Today, we honour this!
Jaki Liebezeit – Drumming God!
You won’t see Liebezeit listed in any Top 100 Drummers Ever lists in the likes of Rolling Stone magazine – this is simply due to ignorance on the “experts” part (in the same way arguably the most naturally gifted drummer of them all, Reni, has never made it to a Rolling Stone drummers list). This shocking ignorance aside, Liebezeit is unquestionably one of the best drummers of all time.
Can’s brilliant guitarist, Michael Karoli (who died in 2001), joked, on first spending time with Liebezeit, he thought he looked like a serial killer. The steely gaze and air of cold detachment did that – these attributes weren’t helped by the psychotically precise, barely human, robotic, and relentlessly pulsating nature of the man’s drumming – his band members often noted he was better than any drumming machine on the planet.
To suggest Liebezeit could only reel off a beat over and over (as he does on the 18 minute Halleluwah on Tago Mago) is a massive understatement. With his schooling in jazz, Liebezeit had all the swing and harmonic understanding of music as any of his peers – for Can, he was utterly indispensable. Without him, the band wouldn’t be half as interesting.
As drummers ourselves, we can attest to the remarkable style Liebezeit created – it’s exceptionally distinctive and complex, which is extremely difficult to do (listen to most rock drummers and they’ll stick to a basic beat in every song). Perched on his drumming stool staring dead ahead, occasionally with flicks of his head to one side or another, the man would blast out his trademark grooves with seemingly no effort.
He was extremely versatile, too, shifting between robotic funk (mainly seen on Tago Mago), jazz (Ege Bamyasi), and jazzy/experimental/freeform whatever (Future Days). It’s exhilarating to listen to, showcasing his uncanny limb independence and ability to create complex, but accessible, drum patterns. Now, there aren’t many drumming geniuses – most drummers really shouldn’t grace a kit (ourselves included), but Liebezeit is one of the few whose legacy must be remembered. This is adieu to a master.
To round things off, here’s a rare drum solo from Mr. Liebezeit. The best thing you can do, however, is take a listen to Can’s three landmark albums from the early 1970s: Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days. The latter is a personal favourite, although the former two showcase Liebezeit’s drumming abilities to their full extent. You can also read a touching tribute to the man from his former band member, Damo Suzuki.