Holger Czukay – Der Osten Ist Rot

Holger Czukay 1983 (photograph: Conny Plank) (groenland.com)

Holger Czukay 1983 (photograph: Conny Plank)


When I got reacquainted with the music of Japan and David Sylvian in the early 1980s, it introduced me to an arsenal of new music, including experimental (electronic) music, like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Holger Czukay. An intriguing journey of discovery commenced. In 1984 Holger Czukay released the album Der Osten Ist Rot, my introduction to his music. A look back.

Holger Czukay

On March 24, 1938, Holger Schüring was born in Gdansk, Poland. Because of the war his scholastic training didn’t come into fruition. In spite of that, he got a job at a radio repair shop. Not only did he learn how to fix electric equipment, he also got fascinated with radio and its possibilities. It would have a lasting impact on Schüring’s career.

The reason for the name change and when this was introduced, and used as his stage name, isn’t entirely clear. At one time he claimed his real surname was Czukay and had taken on Schüring to smoothen the family’s flight to Germany. As Czukay said in 1997: “The people can write about me what they want, as long as it’s not the truth”

From 1963 to 1966 Czukay studied music under the tutelage of none other than Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the most influential (German) composers of the 20th century and pioneer of electronic music. Czukay: “Karlheinz taught me so much, including importantly to: ‘find your own sound’.” Czukay wasn’t fond of pop and rock music, Until 1967 when he heard a song by The Beatles, I Am The Walrus. Czukay searched for more and more music and discovered a whole world of great (experimental) music, including Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

CAN - Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days (spotify.com)

CAN – Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days


In 1968 Czukay co-founded the band CAN with school friend Irmin Schmidt. The name CAN seems to stem from the acronym for Communism, Anarchy and Nihilism. Early 1970 the band consisted of Holger Czukay (bass, tapes and radio), Michael Karoli (guitar), Jaki Liebezeit (drums), Irmin Schmidt (keyboards) and Damo Suzuki (vocals). This line-up released CAN’s most influential albums: Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972) and Future Days (1973).

The band was one the most important representatives of the so-called German kraut-rock scene. CAN fused genres like (psychedelic) rock, funk, musique concrète, avant-garde and jazz, music that still manages to impress and was ahead of its time. CAN’s influence can be felt in genres like post-punk, ambient and electronic music.

Late 1977 the magic between CAN and Czukay had faded. He left the band, or was he asked to leave? Fact is that Czukay’s development as a bass player stalled, especially in comparison to the other band members, something Czukay was more than willing to acknowledge.

During his later days in CAN, Czukay focused more on sound(collages) utilizing shortwave radio, Morse code, tape recorders and various other objects. His way of working was instrumental in the development of sampling, both technologically and artistically.

Holger Czukay - Canaxis 5, Movies, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal (spotify.com)

Holger Czukay – Canaxis 5, Movies, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal


In 1969 Czukay had released his first solo album, Canaxis 5 and with his exit from CAN, he had to redefine his solo career. He remembered Stockhausen’s advice, ‘find your own sound’, and started his search. The result can be heard on his real debut: 1979’s Movies. Helped by several ex-CAN members, Czukay played almost every instrument: guitar, bass, keyboards and synthesizers. The album was lauded and would be an important inspiration for Brian Eno and David Byrne’s influential 1981 My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album.

In 1981 Czukay released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, seeing him accompanied by Jah Wobble, ex-CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit and Conny Plank, the famed producer, who Czukay knew from his Stockhausen lesson days.

Czukay started working with several artists, who visited Conny Plank’s studio, like Devo and The Eurythmics. In 1983 Czukay released the single Snake Charmer, a cooperation with Jah Wobble and U2’s The Edge. He also met David Sylvian and followed it by a guest spot on his solo debut album Brilliant Trees.

Holger Czukay - Der Osten Ist Rot (groenland.com)

Holger Czukay – Der Osten Ist Rot

Der Osten Ist Rot

More or less using the same people as on the preceding album, Czukay resumed work with producer Conny Plank in his studio. The resulting Der Osten Ist Rot was released in the first half of 1984 (the exact release date in unknown).

Czukay continued where he had left things and made another progressive, avant-garde album, mixing genres and Czukay utilizing his tape-collages to the fullest. At that time it took a huge amount of time, as tapes had to be cut, glued together and synchronized, by hand.

Czukay was humorous as well. The back cover contains the following text, both in German and English:

Rock warning notice (liner notes on back cover): The party-leaders in Peking have published a new cultural-guide-book, which is specially dedicated to Red China’s youth. In this booklet “How to recognize decadent music”, the functionaries react against the increasing interest of the young Chinese to western music. Because there is a great demand on the black market for tapes of Rock’n’Roll and disco music. The worried guardians of revolutionary culture are warning of the “siren sound of the west” because rock music leads to alcohol and drug addiction, to violence and homosexuality. “The music of Elvis Presley is only the expression of a confused blind excitement”. The book closes with the serious warning that Rock’n’Roll endangers your health. It recommends Red Chinese productions, like the revolution song “The feaces-collectors descend from the mountain” for their soothing qualities. Stern Magazin nr. 15 1983

© 1984 Der Osten Ist Rot liner-notes

Was Czukay inspired by Frank Zappa’s story Joe’s Garage, which also addresses the depravity of music, this time compared to the ayatollah regime in Iran?

Holger Czukay 1983/1984 (thevinylfactory.com)

Holger Czukay 1983/1984


As stated in the introduction, I first encountered the name Holger Czukay through Japan and, particularly, David Sylvian. In 1984 he released his beautiful debut album Brilliant Trees, introducing the name Holger Czukay. I started a search and stumbled upon his latest album, Der Osten Ist Rot.

I can’t remember whether or not it was love at first sight, but the album did have a hold on me. The opener The Photo Song sounds rather trivial at first, but is treacherously ingenious. That holds true for much of the music and collages on Der Osten Ist Rot.

The title song is an ‘adaptation’ of the Chinese anthem, seemingly as a tribute to Stockhausen’s Hymnen, a 1966/1967 composition, based on nation anthems. But the album goes deeper than that, (avant-)disco, ambient, sound collages and German rap.

I highly recommend listening to this album. In preparation for this album I frequently played it again, and I must say I wasn’t disappointed, far from it.

Holger Czukay - The Photo Song (discogs.com)

Holger Czukay – The Photo Song


The album produced 1 single, The Photo Song. To the best of my knowledge two videos were shot, one for the single and one for Bänkel Rap.


All songs written by Holger Czukay, unless stated otherwise.

  • The Photo Song
  • Bänkel Rap
  • Michy
  • Rhönrad (Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit)
  • Collage (Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit, Conny Plank)
  • Esperanto Socialiste (Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit)
  • Der Osten Ist Rot (The East Is Red) (Nie Er) *
  • Das Massenmedium (Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit)
  • Schaue Vertraunsvoll In Die Zukunft
  • Träum’ Mal Wieder!

* Chinese anthem, March Of The Volunteers, cover.


  • Holger Czukay – vocals, guitar, bass, organ
  • Jaki Liebezeit – drums, trumpet, piano, organ
  • Michy – vocals, organ
  • Conny Plank – synthesizer
Holger Czukay - Post 1984 albums (spotify.com)

Holger Czukay – Post 1984 albums

After Der Osten Ist Rot

In 1987 the successor, Rome Remains Rome was released, with help from CAN’s Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit, accompanied by Jah Wobble. Next up was the fertile collaboration between Czukay and David Sylvian, resulting in two albums: Plight And Premonition (1988) and Flux + Mutability (1989).

Simultaneously, work was done on something that wasn’t deemed possible, a new CAN album (with Czukay). In 1989 Rite Time, the last CAN album, was released. It was no success.

Czukay’s solo career continued and garnered another 6 solo albums:

  • Radio Wave Surfer (1991)
  • Moving Pictures (1993)
  • Good Morning Story (1999)
  • La Luna (2000)
  • Linear City (2001)
  • 11 Years Innerspace (2015)

Czukay would continue to work with many artists and remain active within music. On July 28, 2017, Czukay’s wife and artist, U-She, died. Almost 6 weeks later, September 5, 2017, Holger Czukay died at home, the former CAN recording studio, near Cologne, Germany.

In closing

What’s your take on Holger Czukay and/or CAN? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Holger Czukay – Der Osten Ist Rot. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.


    • uziizi on 04/10/2024 at 4:24 PM
    • Reply

    The result can be heard on his real debut: 1979’s Movies. Helped by several ex-CAN members

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