Holger Czukay

02023-04-17 | History, Köln, Question:Answer | 4 comments

In response to DMT36, James asked:

Did you ever see Czukay performing in Cologne?

No, I never saw Holger Czukay perform live but I watched several performances on TV in Köln, and I met him one time. Some of the performances were actually live and others were full playback. I remember watching his band Can perform on a TV show and wondering whether they were actually performing this particular time. I was around 15 at the time and had learned to look for the telltale signs. Are there microphones on the drums? Is the singer using a regular microphone, but without the cable, to make it look like a wireless mic? Are the guitar and bass plugged into anything? My mom used to say I was ruining performances for her by pointing out that a singer’s lips and the singing didn’t actually sync up and they weren’t real performances… well, just miming really. 

So I was watching a Can performance and everything seemed to be plugged in and… could they be doing this live in the studio???? Then the guitar player, Michael Karoli, took a solo. During his solo he slowly turned around, with a smirk on his face, and…. the end of the cable, the one that was supposedly connecting his guitar to the big amp behind him, was in fact stuck into the back pocket of his jeans. I roared with laughter and loved that they were poking fun at the full playback. (Many years later I had some interesting experiences with full playback in Mexico and in Germany, myself…)

At this point, in the Seventies, Holger was already playing shortwave radio and dictaphone instead of bass. I think Rosco Gee was on bass. Not many understand the huge influence Holger had on music. The use of cut up radio voices on Brian Eno and David Byrne’s excellent album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts goes back to Holger who had been doing that for many years already. In the late Seventies Eno visited Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne many times. In fact Eno said he was inspired to create Music for Airports after an experience of waiting for his flight from the airport in Köln. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is an excellent album and I merely want to point out that Czukay’s influence on music is disproportionate to his fame. I am sure he liked it that way.

One late afternoon in the early Eighties, sometime between 1981 and 1983, while I was visiting my parents in Köln, I walked around the city. (((I thought about this and am not sure whether it is correct… could have been around that time, or around 1986, when I was back in Köln to buy the classical guitar that I ended up recording most of NF with))) I stopped at a cafe and while I was there I saw Holger come in and sit down at the bar. I walked over to him and we started talking. He ordered a glass of Fernet-Branca, advertised on German TV as hellishly bitter, to make himself more brave, or so he claimed. He explained that he had to do a difficult mixing session that evening. The subject turned to recording and microphones and Holger explained that the where (of microphones) is much more important than the what. He said he had gone to Hamburg, where Irmin Schmidt (founder of Can) was conducting the orchestra of the NDR (public radio station) in a performance of his music. While the orchestra was recorded in the modern fashion, with the use of dozens of microphones, Holger went looking for the “one sweet spot” in the room and recorded the performance with a single mic. He claimed that his recording sounded far better than the official record did. I believe it. It’s an art, finding the sweet spot of a room. Perhaps it’s an art that is going extinct.

I am so glad that I plucked up the courage to talk to Holger that day. I’ll never forget it.

Anthony Bourdain recorded a show in Köln in 2016 (Parts Unknown, Season 7, Episode 7). It’s an excellent excellent show and I was hugely impressed with Bourdain’s (and his researchers’) knowledge about the city. I had a big smile when Bourdain met Irmin Schmidt for a meal around 21’ into the show. The first image of that section was Czukay playing bass, actually. Definitely worth seeing the entire episode!!


my 2008 post on Holger’s 70th birthday, which links to a great post by Echoes. Quote: 

Holger Czukay enjoys his status as a homunculus in the machinery of pop music. “I did an interview with German MTV and at the end I asked the director of the station if they had a chief editor. He said, No. I said, Take me. I can make your station very successful. Don’t play anything that I like and you’ll become very successful.”

another post from 2010


  1. anne

    Interesting – never heard of him – looked him up

    “I was around 15 at the time and had learned to look for the telltale signs”. …live performances must be a challenge indeed.

    re Anthony -loved him- still in shock.

    • anne

      what i loved about Bourdain was his complexity, his story – his candor (surprised cnn allowed it ).

      He was outrageous in terms what he would eat. Very open mind to food.

      He felt honored to eat in hosts home and favorite restaurants.

      “Bourdain was known for his sarcastic comments about vegan and vegetarian activists,considering their lifestyle “rude” to the inhabitants of many countries he visited. He considered vegetarianism, except in the case of religious exemptions, a “First World luxury””

  2. James

    Thank you for all these interesting stories. And I learned quite a bit from watching the Parts Unknown episode too. That was a good show.
    I discovered Holger in the mid 80s when I fell in love with the Snake Charmer EP he and Jaki Liebezeit made with Jah Wobble and The Edge.

    • ottmar

      Oh, I don’t know that record. I had “Full Circle” and liked that quite a bit. Will have a listen. Thank you!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Concert Dates

No items found


@Mastodon (the Un-Twitter)