Oh Yeah: Jaki Liebezeit’s Drumming Masterclass

Jaki Liebezeit and Can
Thump… thump-thump.

The world lost one of its best drummers on 22nd January 2017, but we’re still disappointed his genius isn’t recognised beyond a cult level.

But we’re also super eager to honour a musician whose talent goes beyond infinity into genius and thump… thump-thump.

With his distinctive Motorik beat, the hypnotic track Oh Yeah is mesmerising and glorious, with Liebezeit’s propulsive drumming shuffling it forward. It’s a drummer masterclass in minimalism meets creative genius.

Oh Yeah! The Genius of Liebezeit’s Motorik Beat

Okay, so this track is on Can’s landmark Tago Mago (1971). It’s the third track in and begins with a brooding explosion (atomic bomb).

What emerges are a brooding bassline looping pattern from Holger Czukay. But also the sounds of drummer extraordinaire Jaki Liebezeit.

What’s remarkable here is what his right leg does. On his bass drum pedal, throughout the entire seven minute track, he does this:

Thump... thump-thump

No drum machine. No mistakes. Only the most perfect timing and with no stop for seven bloody minutes.

Other drummers have noted his technique was to nail down remarkable grooves and then add occasional deviations. The first subtle flourish is at 1:17 seconds.

Much easier than it sounds, but Liebezeit’s genius was in adapting as required to Can at its peak. He was Germany’s jazz top young drummer in the 1960s. By joining Can, he ensured the group entered the stratosphere onto the level of the greats.

The band’s focus was to prove Germany had something to offer post-WWII. They also hired Buddhist singer from Japan Damo Suzuki.

And Liebezeit got the inspiration for his “monotonous” sound from some eccentric soul who randomly approached him. He recalls the story here.

Tago Mago is where the band hit total genius.

Whilst guitarist Michael Karoli (who died in 2001 aged 53) was also brilliant, the landmark album is also dominated by Liebezeit.

And on Oh Yeah Liebezeit is a propulsive beast! Consider the initial stage of the track:

  • Right foot: Thump… thump-thump.
  • Left foot: Tick, tick, tick, tick.
  • Ride cymbal: Swoosh, swoosh, swooch, swoosh.
  • Snare drum: Smack, smackity-smack, smack.

After the opening section, Damo Suzuki’s bizarre, nonsensical vocals appear over the top. It’s all rather dark and brooding, with swirling synth effects creating a doom-laden track.

But what’s remarkable is how such an eerie song ultimately lifts towards something life-affirming.

In the closing section Karoli’s guitar becomes energised and joyous. The song picks up a pace and all the musicians are on the case.

Suddenly, Liebezeit’s drumming reflects this emotional change. It connects with the musical shift perfectly and he’s bopping away like crazy.

All of which ends to a perfectly timed conclusion, as if Can’s drummer had planned his entire drumming loop to land with millisecond perfection at the close.

And then it all fades out into oblivion.

Oh Yeah leaves Jaki Liebezeit alone to bop out that beat for the rest of eternity, his right foot sending that message out into the cosmos. And that in itself is complete perfection.

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