Damo Suzuki, Singer Who Ignited the Experimental Band Can, Dies at 74


Damo Suzuki, a Japanese vocalist finest recognized for his position with the revered and influential German experimental rock group Can throughout its most vital interval, died on Feb. 9 at his dwelling in Cologne, Germany. He was 74.

His dying was introduced by Can’s label, Spoon Data. No trigger was given, however Mr. Suzuki had been identified with colon most cancers in 2014. Initially given a ten p.c likelihood of restoration, he endured greater than 40 surgical procedures within the ensuing decade.

Mr. Suzuki was a free spirit who left Japan as a young person for a nomadic life in Europe. His music ignored style boundaries, and his singing typically appeared like shamanic incantations in an invented language.

“If you happen to’re a artistic individual,” he stated in a 2013 interview with The Japan Occasions, “it’s necessary to interrupt guidelines. If you happen to’re in the midst of the system, you may’t create a lot. However in the event you’re on the surface, you may simply keep away from it, begin from zero and make your personal stuff with no affect in any respect.”

With Can, his enigmatic, typically indecipherable utterances wove by way of free-flowing grooves. His vocals may very well be as lilting as a lullaby — the Can guitarist Michael Karoli as soon as known as him a “loud whisperer” — or as startling as a shriek. In efficiency, whereas his bandmates focused on their devices, Mr. Suzuki shimmied across the stage like a psychedelic imp, typically barefoot and shirtless, his face hidden by an undulating mane of lengthy black hair.

Can was a “rhythmic collision of disparate components,” Paul Woods, who co-wrote Mr. Suzuki’s 2019 memoir, “I Am Damo Suzuki,” stated by e mail. “That mixture of 4 musicians who appeared to be enjoying in their very own universe and a vocalist who sang in a Japanese/English mélange shouldn’t have cohered — but it surely did, completely.”

Certainly, Can was not solely a main inspiration for different bands like Public Picture Ltd and Radiohead; it was additionally sampled by hip-hop artists like A Tribe Referred to as Quest and Kanye West. In 1985, Mark E. Smith of the Manchester post-punk band the Fall recorded a tribute, “I Am Damo Suzuki,” which later offered the title for Mr. Suzuki’s autobiography.

Kenji Suzuki was born on Jan. 16, 1950, in Oiso, a coastal city in Kanagawa Prefecture, about an hour’s drive southwest of Tokyo. His father, Daiji, an architect, died of most cancers when Damo was 5. After his dying. Mr. Suzuki’s mom, Kimie, ran a small grocery. Mr. Suzuki was considered one of 5 kids, together with a sister who died when he was an toddler.

The household moved to close by Atsugi when he was 8, and he spent his adolescence there. An detached pupil, extra thinking about listening to the Kinks than his schoolwork, he dropped out of highschool at 17 and plotted his departure from Japan. He despatched a letter to a Swedish newspaper saying he was in search of a household to assist him and train him the tradition. After receiving 21 enthusiastic responses, he set sail on a Russian ocean liner a day after his 18th birthday.

Disembarking in Siberia, he made his method to the tiny Swedish city of Grasmark. After a brief stint there, he spent the subsequent two years busking throughout Europe, squatting in communes and portray. He picked up the nickname Damo (after a manga character) whereas in Eire.

In Might 1970 he was enjoying guitar in a Munich manufacturing of “Hair” (with a solid that included Donna Summer time) when he had an opportunity encounter with Can’s bassist and drummer, Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit. Can was about to start a sold-out four-night residency at an area membership, and the band’s vocalist, the American visible artist Malcolm Mooney, had just lately left. Mr. Czukay noticed Mr. Suzuki screaming on the road in an impromptu efficiency and invited him to sing with the band that night. After studying there could be no rehearsal, Mr. Suzuki agreed.

The live performance ended up “a type of horrifying mess, so that really after 20 minutes the disco was emptied,” the Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt stated in a 2021 interview. Nonetheless, Mr. Suzuki joined the band.

His recording debut was on the 1970 Can album “Soundtracks,” a compilation of songs composed for movies. He was additionally on the three landmark Can albums that adopted: “Tago Mago” (1971), “Ege Bamyasi” (1972) and “Future Days” (1973). He left the band, in October 1973, moved to Düsseldorf and retreated from the music world.

Over the subsequent decade he held numerous jobs, together with lodge reception clerk. However within the early Nineteen Eighties, after his first battle with most cancers, he returned to music.

He fashioned his remaining undertaking, Damo Suzuki’s Community, in 1997. Initially with a gentle lineup, by late 2003 it had morphed into one thing else: what he known as the “By no means-Ending Tour,” utilizing completely different native musicians he had by no means performed with, whom he known as “sound carriers,” at each cease. By his depend, he carried out with greater than 7,000 sound carriers from greater than 40 international locations. These makeshift ensembles averted present materials, and as an alternative of holding rehearsals, Mr. Suzuki would typically prepare dinner a big meal for the gamers earlier than the present to get to know them.

Mr. Suzuki termed his methodology “instantaneous composing.” “I play lots of spontaneous music, however his strategy to it was actually specific to him,” stated Joshua Abrams, the founding father of the avant-garde instrumental ensemble Pure Data Society, who performed bass at a 2007 Chicago efficiency. “He had an incredible method of main with out main. He didn’t must say ‘Do that’ — he generated a lot power along with his presence and his vocals that anybody who was delicate may faucet into it.”

Mr. Suzuki is survived by his accomplice, Elke Morsbach; a brother, Hirofumi; a sister, Hiroko; three sons: Mirko and Martin Suzuki, from his 1972 marriage to Gitta Suzuki-Mouret, which led to divorce in 1987, and Marco Heibach, from his relationship with Astrid Heibach; and 4 grandchildren.

Mr. Suzuki’s well being struggles had been chronicled by the filmmaker Michelle Heighway, who adopted him for 5 years for the documentary “Vitality,” which shall be launched on DVD subsequent month. “Damo taught me the facility of ‘now,’” Ms. Heighway stated.

Jim Siegel, a New York-based drummer who toured Europe with Mr. Suzuki in 2003, realized an analogous lesson.

“Nowadays, so many individuals are actually eager to use no matter triumphs that they had within the distant previous, and he actually didn’t look again,” Mr. Siegel stated. “I feel his artwork was an actual reflection of his mind-set about life, that it’s within the second and the wonder is there to create one thing magical.”



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