‘My home is everywhere. I am a nomad of the 21st century; my address is my e-mail address,” writes Damo Suzuki in English via, naturally enough, e-mail.
Suzuki, now in his 50s, has been traveling for most of his life. He left his native Japan as a teenager and busked around Europe until a fateful meeting with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit from the German progressive rock band Can. After they saw him doing an impromptu live performance outside a cafe in Munich in 1970, and asked him to sing on stage with them the same evening, he was invited to join the band.
His time with Can marked a period of intense creativity within the group that resulted in the highly regarded albums “Tago Mago,” “Ege Bamyasi” and “Future Days.” He left them and became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1973, only to re-emerge as a member of the experimental band Dunkelziffer in 1984.
Suzuki’s direct, immediate approach to creating music finds its current incarnation in Damo Suzuki’s Network — a worldwide community of musicians. The Network makes music “of the moment,” creating their sound anew with each performance, and with its only record releases being live recordings of the more spectacular shows — 2007’s vinyl-only EP “Please Heat This Eventually,” recorded with Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, is the studio-based exception to this rule.
Suzuki is keen, however, to distinguish what he does with the Network from what we usually think of as improvisation. “I am not doing improvised music — I call it ‘instant composing.’ Improvised music comes from jazz, where the soloist seems to improvise, while at same time other parts of the group play composed stuff. The Network is different: everybody on the stage has an equal right to create time and space of the moment. Mistakes are allowed, even welcomed. From mistakes, a new process begins.”
When talking about music, Suzuki often refers to “energy,” in particular the kind that flows between performer and audience. The Network is a way for him to forge connections between musicians and audiences all over the world, in contrast with what he believes is the self-centered view of life that he once held.
“When I started, I was a young hippy and had no opinions. Now I have much more experience and have my own perspective. For me, hippies are quite egotistical. They don’t communicate with the world or have ideas to change this system. It’s a kind of escapism.”
While the Network has included old contemporaries of Suzuki’s, such as ex-Can guitarist/violinist, the late Michael Karoli, locally he has tended to work with younger musicians, including artists such as Ghost [see feature above], DMBQ, Shugo Tokumaru and indie-folk band Andersens.
“Older people have already kind of found their answers,” he says, “and if you work with them, you will be not free. They are already masters of this or that and have experience. They might not move an inch, even if they’re doing the wrong thing.”
Having lived in a state of near-constant travel for years, Suzuki says that playing Japan is just like playing anywhere else, although he notes that, “There are bunch of good, innovative musicians — and girls are getting pretty.” In contrast, he says that Germany, where he is based in the rare breaks during tours, “is sleeping and nothing has really happened for a long time.” He singles out Japanese bands such as Mandog, Acid Mothers Temple and Marble Sheep, all of them “members” of the Network, but laments it is “a pity they are not accepted so much in their own country.”
Despite being on the move on his “Never Ending Tour” — he’s been playing 70 or 80 gigs a year worldwide since about 2002 — and the links he has made with people in all corners of the world, his nationality is hard to shake off.
“I was born Japanese and I will die Japanese.” he declares. “This is the identity God gave me. I have a Japanese passport, because without this I cannot travel; my vision is to travel without a passport, but that’s a dream at the moment.”
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