Jaki Liebezeit: Can’s Rhythm Wizard Builds A New Kind Of Beat

Jaki Liebezeit : Modern Drummer

photo by Heinrich Klaffs

“In a way, I think the drumkit is finished.” Jaki Liebezeit didn’t get where he is today by mincing words—or beats. On the ’60s/’70s cusp, Jaki and his cohorts in the German ensemble Can conducted sonic experiments that reverberate today in about a dozen corners of the underground. Liebezeit’s hypnotic drum patterns played against the grain of the era’s chopsmeisters. Consequently, they sound utterly contemporary now. This is proven by the high sample rate of his best beats, like those from “Yoo Doo Right” and “Halleluwah.”

Recently Mute Records awarded long-time Canatics with CanBox, a book/video/CD package featuring over two hours of newly unearthed live cuts. The core bandmembers also toured together in mid-’99, not as Can, but performing sets with their solo projects. As far as Liebezeit’s opening trapset epitaph, he offers, “The drumkit was developed for jazz, which it was fantastic for. After jazz the kit was taken by rock musicians, and drum culture went downhill. Only a few players do it well. The way of listening has changed because of machines, so you have to play like a machine today.

“So I’ve given up the foot pedals,” Liebezeit states. “I play standing up, using a modified 16″ floor tom for a ‘bass drum’ sound. By striking with my hand, I can make a much bigger impact. And with the sequencers we use, I don’t have to play a hi-hat rhythm all the time. I can play more tom-oriented beats. I also use timpani, gongs, a 10″ snare, and smaller toms, which cause less problems when recording. I’m really happy with this setup. It requires a different technique.” Advertisement

The results of Liebezeit’s approach can be heard with his band Club Off Chaos, whose unique style gives electronic dance-type music a good name. But ex-free-jazzer Liebezeit notes that he hasn’t sold off his acoustic drums yet. “I don’t use pads. Rather, I use mic’s to trigger other sounds. There’s a real relationship with real drums where the harder you hit, the louder it gets.”

Jaki also insists he’s still the one providing the drum sounds. “I don’t use loops; I play loops. In Can I always tried to make my own loop and repeat that pattern with subtle variations.”

Currently Liebezeit is continuing work on his (predictably) unique notational approach. “I develop rhythms by taking a series of numbers and dividing them in unequal ways. I write them down in Morse code, using dots and dashes. Then I decide how to orchestrate them. My book will involve a binary system that even children can understand.” Advertisement

Liebezeit practices what he preaches with his percussion group in Cologne, Drums Off Chaos. Jaki says he hasn’t been able to record with them yet. But when he does, you can be sure it will be a fascinating listen.

Adam Budofsky