HOLGER CZUKAY-DER OSTEN IST ROT/ROME REMAINS ROME.
HOLGER CZUKAY-DER OSTEN IST ROT/ROME REMAINS ROME.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to interview one of the most innovative musicians of his generation, Holger Czukay. I spend forty minutes talking about Can and Holger’s solo career. It was a truly fascinating insight into a musical legend. Two of the albums we discussed were Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome. There’s a reason for that.
Berlin based Groenland Records today release a selection of ten tracks from Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome. They’ll be released on two 10” albums and as a digital download. As an added bonus, previously unreleased remixes versions are included on the album. For Can fans, this is the latest course in what’s veritable feast. Each of these albums showcase the talents of one of the most innovative and progressive musicians of his generation, Holger Czukay whose solo career began in 1979.
That was the year Can split-up. It had been on the cards since 1978. That’s when Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah joined Can. They made their debut on Out Of Reach, which Can eventually disowned.
Out Of Reach, Can’s tenth album, was released in July 1978. The title proved to be a prophetic. After all, commercial success always seemed to elude Can. Not only did Out Of Reach fail commercially, but the Out Of Reach proved to be Can’s most controversial album.
So much so, that they disowned Out Of Reach. On Out Of Reach, Holger was “sidelined.” When I asked him what he meant by this, he said “During the recording of Out Of Reach, I felt an outsider in my own group. I was on the outside looking in. I was on the margins. All I was doing was adding sound-effects.” For Holger, he felt his group had been hijacked by Gee and and Baah. Things got so bad, that Holger quit Can.
The critics rounded on Out Of Reach. They found very little merit in Out Of Reach. Gee and Baah were rightly blamed for the album’s failure. Even Can disliked Out Of Reach. They later disowned Out Of Reach. For the followup, Can Holger’s role was minimal.
Following the failure of Out Of Reach, the members of Can began recording what became Can. Remarkably, Gee and Baah were still part of Can. Sadly, Holger was not longer a member of Can. He’d left during the making of Out Of Reach. His only involvement was editing Can.
Even Holger’s renowned editing skills couldn’t save Can. Try as he may, he could only work with what he was given. Can, which is sometimes referred to as Inner Space, was released in July 1979. Again, critics weren’t impressed by Can. It received mixed reviews. They agreed one one thing, that Holger was sadly missed. However, little did anyone realise how bad things were within the Can camp.
Can split-up after the release of Can. That was their swan-song. However, even before that, Holger “felt marginalised, this had been the case since he Gee and Baah became part of Can. They’d hijacked Can.” Now, Holger would embark upon his solo career.
Holger hadn’t really been making music since 1976. The last two Can albums saw Holger editing the music. So, Holger set about finding “his own sound again.” He’d “been through this with Can,” Now he’d have to do so again. It would be worth it though, when he released his first solo album since 1969s Canaxis 5, Movies.
Recording of Movies took place at Inner Space Studio, Cologne. This was where Can had recorded the best music of their career. It was like a Can reunion. Jaki Liebezeit played drums on Movies. Irmin Schmidt and Michael Karoli played on Oh Lord, Give Us More Money. Even Baah was drafted in to play organ on Cool In The Pool. Holger threw himself into the project. He recorded Movies and played guitars, bass, keyboards and synths. Then when the four songs that became Movies were completed, Holger mixed and produced the album. Movies saw Holger hailed the comeback King.
Released to critical acclaim, Movies was hailed as one of the best albums of 1979. Holger’s decision to embark upon a solo career had been vindicated. He was back doing what he did best, creating ambitious, groundbreaking and pioneering music. That would continue in 1981, when Holger released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal.
When I spoke to Holger, he said “one of the albums I’m most proud of, is 1981s On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. It was Holger’s first collaboration with Conny Plank.
Working with Conny Plank Holger remembers, was a revelation. Holger felt Conny was a consummate professional. “Here was someone who understood what I was trying to achieve.” He ensured that I never made music people neither understood, nor wanted to buy. The sessions were organised and disciplined, very difference from the indiscipline of late Can albums.”
Recording took place in the familiar surroundings of Inner Space Studios, Cologne. The only member of Can were present was Jaki Liebezeit. Other members of the band included Conny Plank and Jah Wobble, who Holger and would collaborate with on the 1982 E.P. Full Circle and the 1983 Snake Charmer E.P. They’re two of many collaborations Holger would be involved with. That was still to come.
Before that, Holger released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal in 1981. Just like the early days of Can, Holger was the critic’ darling. They were won over by one of the most inventive albums of 1981. Although Holger had been making music for three decades, he still had plenty to say musically. That would continue throughout the eighties, with his various collaborations and his 1984 album Der Osten ist Rot.
Sadly, neither Der Osten Ist Rot, nor Rome Remains Rome have been released before. There’s a good reason for this. Sadly, previously, the master-tapes were damaged and several songs lost for good. So, unless you’re fortunate enough to own a copy of the original albums, then Groenland Records’ rerelease will be a tantalising taste of a musical pioneer at the peak of his powers.
Der Osten Ist Rot.
When recording of Der Osten ist Rot began at Inner Space Studios, Cologne, there was still a Can influence. Holger had written six songs and cowrote three with Jaki Liebezeit of Can. Jake also played drums, piano, trumpet and organ. Conny played synths and Michy took charge of vocal duties. Together, they played their part in another groundbreaking album from Holger Czukay.
Released in 1984, critics welcomed another ambitious and groundbreaking album. The combination of Holger, Conny Plank and Jaki Liebezeit had proved a powerful partnership. This is apparent when you listen to Der Osten Ist Rot, which remarkably, was released thirty years ago.
Only four tracks from Der Osten Ist Rot feature on Groenland Records’ rerelease. The first is Music In The Air. It’s best described as haunting and ethereal. Here, Holger fuses ambient, electronica and experimental. The result is minimalist music. It comes courtesy of hypnotic drums and an ethereal synth choir. Waves of music wash over you. You’re enchanted by its understated, ethereal beauty.
Rather than the original version of Sudetenland, a remix has been chosen. It’s another genre-melting, innovative track. Drums and a pulsating bass combine before a half-spoken vocal enters. By then, guitars chime and then a joyous choir enters. They’re accompanied by a rasping horns and bursts of vocal. The combination is joyous and melodic. Sometimes, there’s a sense of urgency as the frantic drums pound. Seamlessly, musical genres melt into one. Everything from ambient, classical, electronica, experimental, jazz, rock and world music are combined to create a track that’s variously beautiful, ethereal, joyous and urgent.
Der Osten Ist Rot is another remix. It takes on a much more avant garde sound. That’s due to rolls of thunderous drums, crashing cymbals, steel drums, chiming guitars and washes of synths. A myriad of sounds assail you. Holger springs a series of surprises. Especially when a trumpet sounds and brass band plays. From there, the track veers between a traditional German brass band and a somewhat futuristic avant garde sound. Later, bursts of riffing rock guitars and a rasping horns interject. They add another layer of music. It’s compelling collection of sounds and influences. Not many people could make this musical dichotomy work, but innovator extraordinaire Holger Czukay can.
Traum Mal Wieder is the final track from Der Osten Ist Rot. Again, it’s a remix. It has an understated, ethereal sound. It gives way to a futuristic sound, before cymbals and drums sound. They’re played repeatedly, resulting in a hypnotic sound. Bursts of vocal escape from the arrangement. So do an organ. Just like the vocal, it adds to the sense of foreboding. Very different are the ethereal harmonies that sweep in, during this futuristic symphony.
Rome Remains Rome.
Rome Remains Rome saw Holger joined by some familiar faces. This included two of Holger’s old friends from Can, guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Bassist Jah Wobble completed what was a fearsome rhythm section. They provided the heartbeat to Rome Remains Rome, which was released in 1987.
On its release in 1987, Rome Remains Rome saw the continued reinvention of Holger Czukay. He was a musical chameleon. No two albums were the same. Holger’s music continued to evolve. That’s what you’d expect from one of the most innovative musicians of his generation, Holger Czukay.
Blessed Easter is the first of six tracks from Rome Remains Rome. It sounds like a hymn. The band play slowly. Just the rhythm section, organ and piano provide a slow, mesmeric backdrop. That sets the scene for Holger’s heartfelt vocal. He’s accompanied by another vocalist, who delivers a spiritual vocal. A choir sweep in, adding to the beauty of the music. By then Holger and his band are in the groove. Things only change with a couple of minutes to go. It’s as if Holger’s decided to stretch his legs musically and improvise. Still, his band are in the tightest of grooves. His choir sweep in and Holger gives thanks, during this glorious fusion of blues, jazz, rock and classical musical.
Esperanto Socialisteis a fusion of avant garde, minimalist and classical music. It lasts just under two minutes . A crackly, understated backdrop sees harmonies sweep in and out while a church organ plays. There are religious overtones during a track where Holger and his band continue to push musical boundaries.
Words like minimalist, eerie and haunting spring to mind as Das Massenmedium unfolds. Straight away, the music sounds timeless. There’s a nod towards Kraftwerk. That’s down to the mesmeric vocals. They repeat the same phrase, while percussion, crunchy drums and crashing cymbals combine with a myriad of avant garde sounds. There’s even a hint of techno and a Can influence, as the remix takes on a mesmeric, hypnotic sound. Holger drawing inspiration from the music of the past and present, creates a timeless track.
A variety of sound effects and snippets of conversation open the experimental sounding Schaue Vertrauensvoll In Die Zukunft. There are no lyrics. Instead, Holger combines sound effects with parts of one half of a telephone conversation. It’s a compelling combination that results in cinematic sound. You’re left to let your imagination run riot and work out what’s happening during this captivating track.
Just a lone, jaunty piano plays during Rhoenrad. Bursts of a vocal threaten to burst through, but never quite do. Together, they create a lo-fi sound. It’s as if Holger is attempting to replicate an old 78 record. Either that, or the accompaniment to the old talkie pictures, where a pianist accompanied the pictures. That’s the pictures this track paints.
Michi is the last selection from Rome Remains Rome. Again, it has an understated sound. Just pensive drums and a throbbing bass combine to accompany a heartfelt vocal. The minimalist arrangement means the vocal takes centre-stage and deservedly, plays a starring role in this track.
The ten tracks from Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome are a tantalising taste of two of Holger Czukay’s greatest solo albums. He released Der Osten Ist Rot in 1984 and Rome Remains Rome in 1987. Since then, sadly, neither album has been released. There’s a reason for this.
Previously, the master-tapes to Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome were badly damaged. So badly damaged that several songs have been lost for good. This means that never again, will the full albums be heard in all their glory. That’s unless you’re fortunate enough to own a copy of the original albums. If you’re not, you can still enjoy some of the music from Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome.
Today, Berlin based Groenland Records today release a selection of ten tracks from Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome. They’ll be released on two 10” albums and as a digital download. As an added bonus, previously unreleased remixes versions are included on the album. For Can fans, this is the latest course in what’s veritable feast that’s seen both Holger Czukay’s solo albums and Can’s back-catalogue released. They’re a reminder of one of the most innovative and progressive musicians of his generation, Holger Czukay.
Although innovative is an overused word, that’s the perfect description of Holger Czukay. He truly is an innovative and pioneering musician. Whether it was with Can, or as a solo artist, Holger Czukay wasn’t afraid to push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. That’s apparent on the selection of tracks from Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome.
No wonder. Holger is best descried as a musical maverick and adventurer. On Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome he seems determined to spring a series of surprises. He bowls a series of curveballs as tracks head off in the unlikeliest of directions. It’s truly compelling, as musical influences and genres melt into one.
Everything from ambient, avant garde, blues, classical, choral, electronica, experimental, jazz and rock are fused by Holger Czukay and his band on Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome. They’re a reminder of a maverick musicians at his creative best.
Throughout his long and successful career, Holger Czukay released some of the most ambitious, innovative, inspiring and influential music of the past fifty years. Much of that music is timeless and unique. That’s apparent on Holger Czukay on two of his finest solo albums, Der Osten Ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome.
HOLGER CZUKAY-DER OSTEN IST ROT/ROME REMAINS ROME.