Born in the Free City of Danzig on March 24, 1938, oddball composer and musician Holger Czukay (pronounced chook-eye) was best known as a founder member of the art rock band Can, guardians of 1970s absurdist Krautrock and accidental stars in the UK with their quirky 1976 hit, I Want More.
Czukay was born Holger Schuering in Gdansk in 1938. He was seven when in January 1945 his family decided to flee to Germany. It was only thanks to his grandmother's intuition that he and his family didn’t perish on the MS Wilhelm Gustloff. Czukay’s grandmother sensing danger decided to forgo the fact that they’d already bought tickets and instead make the journey west by train. The family travelled by train first to Hanover and then to Berlin.
In an interview Czukay gave Bartek Chaciński in 1999 he recalled his younger years in Gdansk.
"I was born in Gdansk. My neighbour was Günter Grass, then about 10 years older than me - he was the same age as my brother and was in the same class. Even our home gardens were connected - there was no fence. On January 9, 1945 we left on a Red Cross train to Germany. We had tickets to travel on the MS Wilhelm Gustloff. I do not know if you remember the ship that sank with more than five thousand people on board? The biggest sea disaster in history? Well, my grandmother decided that there was no way in the world she was getting on that ship. That's why we decided to go by train."
Czukay fled to the west in (after reportedly setting fire to a Russian military camp at the age of 12). He studied composition under the equally eccentric German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen between 1963 and 1966 but it wasn’t until he formed the rock group Can, which he founded with Irmin Schmidt, Jakim Liebezeit and Michael Karoli, that he became famous. Between 1969 and 1977 they recorded nine albums.
Can's music is considered to be some of the most important to come from the Krautrock bands, characterised by its psychedelic atmosphere, motor rhythm and spatial sound. Czukay was the first to introduce elements such as sampling to western music (he and Irmin Schmidt used the sound of the student riots in Paris on one track). He also created a genre called Ambient, inspired by African rhythm. Czukay called himself a punk musician.
Can were one of the first bands to use a drum machine in their music and it featured on their German top-ten hit in 1972 entitled ‘Spoon’, a song recorded for the very popular German gangster series ‘Das Messer’. Czukay collaborated with such notable artists and Jah Wobble, Eurythmics, David Sylvian and Brian Eno. He continued to work hard and break boundaries long into his life. Those wishing to know more should check out his two early solo albums, the amusing and funky Movies (1979) and the 1981 follow up On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, which shows off Czukay’s sublime production and tape manipulation skills at their very best.
Holger Czukay died at the age of 79 on 5 September 2017 in the town of Weilerswirst near Cologne, where he worked and lived. Blogger Bartek Chaciński, in a piece written after news of Czukay’s death broke said “He (Czukay) was open to experimentation with the children of the revolution of 1968 (...) and one of the great entertainers of the 1960s and 1970s who had a strong connection with Poland".