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Tome On The Range

Give The Drummer Some: The Instruments Of Jaki Liebezeit
The Quietus , January 25th, 2020 07:28

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Jaki Liebezeit: Life, Theory and Practice of a Master Drummer, Jono Podmore takes us through the instruments that contributed to the former Can drummer's unique sound and playing style


Practice Kit
This kit was permanently set up in front of the window in his practice room at the Stollwerck ready for Jaki to play. A few variations were made over the years but essentially this was the layout of his kit from around 1995 onwards. It comprised largely commercially available drums but with modifications and special clamps that Jaki would carry with him to gigs. So despite the unusual layout all the pieces could be easily hired or sourced worldwide. There is no hi-hat or kick drum – nothing to be played by the feet. When I first worked with Jaki in 1997, I thought he simply hadn’t finished setting up his kit when I saw this unusual layout with no kick drum. When I asked where it was, he replied that ‘people played drums with their hands for fifty thousand years, why should I be any different?’ He started experimenting with a hands-only kit in the early nineties with Drums Off Chaos and, after his last recordings using a standard kit with Club Off Chaos in 1997, he switched exclusively over to this layout. He gave an account of this in a 2004 interview with Modern Drummer:

I’ve given up the foot pedals. I play … a modified 16- inch floor tom for a ‘bass drum’ sound. By striking with my hand, I can make a much bigger impact … I’m really happy with this set-up. It requires a different technique.

Placing cymbals on top of each other in a sandwich has become more common but Jaki cultivated the practice. Despite his cymbals often being trashy and damaged, many from the old DDR, he could handle them very well, always managing to produce sophisticated and unique sounds. The cymbals were placed to enable them to be played on the upstroke, an ergonomic technique Jaki developed at some point around the turn of the century, saving time and energy. In general his cymbals were commercially available and sourced from shops, but there are a few more unique-sounding cymbals picked up from touring over the years.