I have struggled with this article. My relationship with the Slovenian band Laibach is only a few months old. Rammstein created the interest. Laibach stood for a salvation.
But do I understand this band? I highly doubt it. My solution is, after many weeks of thinking, to simply describe my feelings in the experience with these artists.
For Laibach is as much an art project as a musical project. They already started in the 80s, as contributors to the creation of the artist collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) in 1984.
What I feel when I watch and listen to Laibach’s music is the contrast between the beautiful and the hideous. This is a theme in many of the songs. The dark sides of this come out in a completely cruel video which is an old Sound of Music song. You don’t have to watch many seconds before you understand what Laibach is talking about.
This is a topic that interests me. I have no daughters. But I have sympathy/empathy for all girls who are subjected to brutality and abuse. I also have several nieces, this is close family to me. Laibach made a colleague have to take a break. This is not pleasant music.
Laibach has been working on this art project for decades. They were perceived as dissidents during the Tito regime. Now they are national heroes in Slovenia, and have performed with the state symphony orchestra. But the message is the same: Resistance is futile.
I have of course heard of Laibach before, but I thought it was some kind of «death metal» band. In some way they are, in a way. But here it is synth, techno and the contrasts between beauty and decay that are the theme.
The female vocalist, who has now retired, must be almost the most beautiful woman in Slovenia. Milon Fras contributes with a dark voice and drama. The contrasts create magic.
They dig up old tunes, like the fantastic version of See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.
But Kurt Westergaard does not get a «clean grave». That is impossible in today’s multicultural Denmark.
Mina Špiler shows Annie Lennox-level abilities.
Laibach flirts with symbols, but of course they are not fascist or Stalinist. They can easily be accused of being nationalists, since they have released a number of songs that pay tribute to different nations.
My feeling is that they are not really celebrating the nation, but the people. As they sing in the almost indescribably beautiful Rossiya:
Arise – the prisoners of starvation
Arise – the damned of the Earth
Let’s get them together
Let’s break us free
The world is changing
At it’s core
Long live great Russia’s motherland
Built by the people and their mighty hands
Long live young nation
United and free
Shining in glory
For all men to see
I have to say that this song was made long before the invasion of Ukraine. But I still think Laibach have sympathy with normal and innocent russians.
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek gave me an opening, so that I could approach an understanding of the Laibach phenomenon. I despise most of what Žižek has contributed us with, but «blind chickens», well, you get the idea…
Žižek explains how Laibach uncovers evil by going to its core. We see this in uniforms, in videos, in the entire project. And the band executes this one hundred percent.
Žižek says a lot of strange things in this interview, such as that North Korea is a maternalistic society, since the leaders have big bellies. Oh well. But he understands his compatriots, and it seems to me that he hits the spot when he explains Laibach’s project. To understand evil, one must embrace it. Strange thoughts, but I feel there is a resonance here.
But he is brave enough to say that the totalitarian stems from the dream of the cruel mother figure, It is quite spectacular, few will use terms like toxic femininity. But it is truly a reality.
You have to take evil seriously. Only then can you understand which forces you are actually fighting against. And thus maybe hope can grow. The battle is not lost, not yet.
Resistance is futile, says Laibach. But they meet up in the trenches. They are like Sisyphus. The stone must be rolled up the slope, again and again, forever. I have written about Sisyphus in the past, and for a long time I considered writing my main thesis in philosophy on suicide. But then I did something else instead. Such is life: Unpredictable.
A statement from someone from Laibach that I noted from a video gives a bit more info. You have to embrace irresponsibility and reject morality, at least when we talk about art. Is this serious? I actually think so. Liberal democracy is leading to our downfall. But what is the alternative?
Democracy ensnares people through the utopian injection of desires and fantasies into the social bloodstream. It’s hypodermic needle is the entertainment industry. It is a shared needle, and the shared needle leads to a spread of disease. In democracy, there is no cure against it’s own desease.
We cannot concern ourselves with the fullfilment of other people’s expectations of us. Our only responsibility is to remain irresponsible. We believe that in art, morality is nonsense. In practise, it is immoral. In people it is a sickness.
As Richard Wolfson puts it:
Laibach’s method is extremely simple, effective and horribly open to misinterpretation. First of all, they absorb the mannerisms of the enemy, adopting all the seductive trappings and symbols of state power, and then they exaggerate everything to the edge of parody.
Next they turn their focus to highly charged issues — the West’s fear of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the power games of the EU, the analogies between Western democracy and totalitarianism.
Strangely enough, it was the Norwegian artist Morten Traavik/Mike who organized the Laibach concerts in North Korea, in what is referred to as the first rock concert in the closed country. I have read that this is not entirely true (that they were first), it is not really that important.
The video is amazing. Laibach goes all in, the Palestinian ambassador (it is said) puts his fingers in his ears to escape the depravity, but Laibach shows no fear:
We fight for you
For freedom unforeseen
Thinking as one
To the beat of the drum
The black cross machine
The reactions in the audience are special. This is thus made possible by Morten Traavik, who appears as a hero in the ongoing drama in the Norwegian art world.
The song is called The Whistleblowers. They are the ones we usually sacrifice. This is precisely what I feel Laibach is pointing out here. But it is only a personal feeling.
Traavik was on holiday when I contacted him, but told me that he could answer some questions after I had finished writing my article. What I wonder most is whether Laibach are so well-rounded that they maintain their artistic roles also in a private context.
Traavik responded from some beach by putting me in touch with Laibach himself.
– I have cleared you, he told me.
So I got in contact with Laibach.
At full speed I sent an English translation of my text to Laibach. Then I asked the Slovenian artists three questions, and the answer came almost immediately.
– Do you consider yourself as artists or musicians? Or does it really matter?
– Yes, it matters; we consider ourselves engineers of human souls.
– Can you say a few words about the experience in North Korea?
This question is too complex to give a short answer to, so they asked me to be specific. I let it go, and informed the band of this decision.
– I write that I do not feel you represent nationalism, you represent the people. Is this a complete misunderstanding?
– It is irrelevant what do we represent; important is how do you (mis)understand us (sic).
They do not slip out of the role, they engage in a lifelong performance. But the humanity shines through when they offer some comforting words en passant:
Only to comfort you we’d like to say that understanding is in principle overrated; the best understanding of Laibach is in fact misunderstanding.
So now Laibach is included in my favourite musical library forever!
Then came the answers from Morten Traavik, he is loyal to the Laibach concept.
– What did you hope to achieve by arranging the Laibach concert in North Korea?
– Confusion followed by reflection.
– It is said that Laibach is an artistic project that uses music in the service of art. Do you see Laibach as artists rather than musicians?
– I perceive them primarily as thinkers and satirists in the truest sense of the word, with a sting in all directions, including inwards.
– They should probably never step out of the roles they play, they are so accomplished in their form of expression. Do these people have a private life, or is their whole life devoted to the artistic project?
– It would be very un-Laibachian of me to answer that question.
The Beauty and the Beast
I mentioned the contrast between the beauty and the beast. This applies to both personnel and music.
Watch this amazing version of Across the universe (The Beatles).
Watch this beautiful tribute to the sunrise. It couldn’t be more beautiful (you can guess for yourself if I’m talking about the music, the video, the lyrics or Špiler, I’m a married man).
The highlight for me is the meteorite, which burns itself up in pursuit of the light/sun. I’m not religious, but when a clip like this comes right after focusing on Jesus and the crucifixion, it makes an impression.
But the brutality must also be shown. I can’t find anything better than Tanz mit Laibach. The harsh expression appeals to an old AC/DC fan.
The text reveals the project. They are willing to dance with everyone, in order to understand. They dance with everyone, and do not distinguish between totalitarianism and democracy, or a red anarchy. Same shit if it’s Amerikano Freunde or Deutscher Kamerad.
But even here the beauty emerges, in small drops. Ther is always beauty, even in the darkest moment. A hero, a beautiful woman, or a kid having fun.
The text is breathtaking, at least for me. It is in German, if needen use Google translate.
Wir alle sind besessen
Wir alle sind verflucht
Wir alle sind gekreuzigt
Wir alle sind kaputt
Von qualitaet das Lebens
Wir tanzen Ado Hinkel
Wir tanzen Schiekelgrueber
Und tanzen mit Maitreya
Und mit Demokratie
Wir tanzen mit Fascismus
Und roter Anarchie
The names Ado Hinkel and Benzino Napaloni are taken from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and are parodies of Hitler and Mussolini. Schiekelgrueber was the original surname of Hitler’s father Alois.
Maitreyas is a figure from Buddhism, and over the centuries there has therefore been a widespread religious hope among Buddhists to be reborn as a human in the future at the same time as Maitreya. This is how one can experience Nirvana.
When watching the video of Laibach’s performance, I notice that the main character marches and marches, dressed in military attire. But he doesn’t move. He does not recover from the stain. There is a deep pessimism here, I don’t know, I’m just expressing my experience.
Hope may lie in the denial of compromise, the refusal to submit, no matter the odds. You will have to find this out yourself, music (and art) is a personal thing if it is to have any value.
But for my part, I see Laibach as an ally. It is possible they despise me. But I love them. And I hope I misunderstand them with my dignity intact.
They dared to stand for something. You have to admire that, even if you have other points of view.
Both the music and the lyrics are fabulous and thought-provoking. I end with the dance itself.