The Magick and Mystery of CAN & ‘Tago Mago’

Music has always been an incredible tool to communicate complicated ideas, while providing messages that transcend language and culture. It’s been a vehicle for concepts that have inspired counter culture strongly in the last 100 years. Since the industrial revolution, with labor came struggle, and with strife came beauty. Artists sacrificed themselves to make art that allowed them to transcend their daily lives, and enter a space, where they can feel something within themselves that provides a temporary distraction and escape. The intentions of artists from our past, and the artists of the present in mainstream culture are vastly different in what they are trying to create with their music. Instead of making art, most are motivated by fame, money and ego. What made songs of our past that much more significant, which lends themselves into the category of “timeless” classics, had a lot to do with the struggle which an artist had to endure in order to make something so powerful. It was true soul music, which acted as a vehicle to save an artist from the darkness of their lives, and transform them into the stars we’ve come to admire in recent years.

With that being said, artists have always sought various styles and genres that would allow them to make their desired impact. Through various tones, rhythms and beats per minute, artists have been able to discover a formula to properly activate their mission. Music is malleable, and has a wide range to disguise itself at the will of the artist. The most relevant artists learn how to evolve musically, as a way to find ways to access mass appeal, while remaining true to a brand they’ve developed. In this day and age, there seems to be more contrived versions of trends being recycled in the 20 year cycles humanity seems to follow. You can start eventually ignore the specific details, and look for a pattern, and once you find that pattern, you can eventually see these trends rise and fall as they did 20 years prior. Usually the counter culture and niche trends find their way into mainstream culture, and we see reunions of those artists due to cultural relevance.

Which is why this artist, and record in particular needs to be heard. This band has quietly influenced a variety of artists in multiple genres over the last 30 years, and their style was truly one of kind when they originally came into rock music. The artist is CAN from Germany, and the story behind TAGO MAGO is what inspires this post.  This record in particular inspired extremists like Johnny Rotten, who cite this record as one of his favorites. If that never happened, would Johnny Rotten choose music as his canvas?

The band was founded by avant-garde musician, Irmin Schmidt from Cologne, Germany. After taking a trip to New York City, he was exposed to the world of Andy Warhol, Hotel Chelsea, and The Velvet Underground. Upon his arrival, he started a band inspired by improvisational jazz and rock music, to create “new music”.

When I founded the group I was a classical composer and conductor and pianist making piano recitals, playing a lot of contemporary music but also Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven and everything. And when we got together I wanted to do something in which all contemporary music becomes one thing. Contemporary music in Europe especially, the new music was classical music was Boulez, Stockhausen and all that. I studied all that, I studied Stockhausen but nobody talked about rock music like Sly Stone, James Brown or the Velvet Underground as being contemporary music. Then there was jazz and all these elements were our contemporary music, it was new. It was, in a way, much newer than the new classical music which claimed to be ‘the new music’.”  —Schmidt, in a 2004 interview

With this came the birth of a band that began as Inner Space, and eventually settled on the name CAN. They created the backronym, “Communism, Anarchism, Nihilsm” for the band’s name, and discovered the highly unstable and confrontational New York artist and vocalist, Malcolm Mooney. Their first release was “Monster Movie”, released in 1969.

According to the band’s Wikipedia page:

Mooney returned to America soon afterwards on the advice of a psychiatrist, having been told that getting away from the chaotic music of Can would be better for his mental health.[4] The liner notes of Monster Movie claim that Mooney suffered a nervous breakdown (“caught in a Can groove”), shouting “upstairs, downstairs” repeatedly. He was replaced by the more understated Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, a young Japanese traveller found busking outside a Munich café by Czukay and Liebezeit. Though he only knew a handful of guitar chords and improvised the majority of his lyrics (as opposed to committing them to paper), Suzuki was asked to perform with the band that same night.

After a few years, the band found their style and released the double album, Tago Mago in 1971. The record was recorded in Castle near Cologne. The band stayed for an entire year, without paying rent to the owner, an art collector, Mr. Vohwinkle.

The record was the first of its kind. The style of the band started to get more experimental and followed the jazz ethos of jamming on songs. The album found it’s inspiration by occultist, Aleister Crowley, which was felt in the darker tones of the album, while also being named after Isla de Tagomago, tied to Crowley legend.  They called this album, their “magic record”, where they attempted to achieve a mysterious musical world from light to darkness and return”.

The band was able to look at their music as a form of magic, and they ritualized the recording process in order to give it an air of “mystery and forbidden secrets”. They were able to set an intention in what they were creating in order to achieve a desired result. The result can still be felt sonically. Explore it yourself, and enjoy the journey.


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