"All art is subject to political manipulation, except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation"
“Mankind is a rope tied between beast and superman – a rope over an abyss” – a thin, razor-sharp rope upon which Laibach proudly waltzes. True to Nietzsche’s musings on the superman, Laibach is a band whose essence lies beyond the confines of good and evil, transcending rules and morals – an all-encompassing, unstoppable force whose mode of action not only withstands but thrives upon every obstacle laid in its way. Focused and deadpan, the groups’ art is expressed through the language of totalitarian imagery and an industrial aesthetic inherited from their futurist forbearers. Their messages are conveyed with a frightening fluency that has duped many audiences into overlooking the incredibly sophisticated and subversive rhetoric hiding behind every line and every action. Indeed, Laibach steps beyond the crudeness of mere irony and stands tall as a living effigy of totalitarianism, obliterating taboos and striking the very heart of our deep-seated morals and values, confronting us with the censorship and violence of our idyllic democracies all the while teaching us about the freedom and joys of totalitarianism. 37 years on, the group still captivates with the elegance with which they eloquently sing and play along this tightly strung line, as evidenced by their latest record, the critically acclaimed Also Sprach Zarathustra, based on Matjaž Berger’s theatrical adaptation of Nietzsche’s oeuvre. Furthermore, 2015 saw the band defying all expectations by setting a historic precedent through their trip and performance in Pyongyang, North Korea, which was documented and turned into a captivating documentary titled Liberation Day. Earlier this year, the collective returned to Asia for a trip to South Korea, making them the first first international band to ever play in both Koreas. Astonished by their most recent endeavours, we caught up with the band via email for an interview.
(((o))): Having started out as a score for a play, what inspired you to turn Also sprach Zarathustra into an album?
The theme itself, but mainly the music. It sounded good as a theatre score, so we decided to do some more work on it and release it as an album.
(((o))): As with Laibach, Nietzsche’s body of work is prone to wrongful representations, namely through its extensive use of parables. How would you describe your approach to Nietzsche’s oeuvre?
We don’t know much about his work – except that he was wrongly represented and abused – so we approached him with general respect and curiosity. Some of his ideas are, of course, still totally relevant today.
(((o))): The subjects of politics, ideology and power has long been established as intrinsic to Laibach’s identity, yet you still deliver your discourse through layers of subtle references and subtext, as with your video for ‘Vor Sonnen Untergang’. To what end does this approach serve Laibach’s purpose?
There is no great purpose in it – just a plain constatation. Art and politics do not exclude each other, therefore Laibach analyses the relation between ideology and culture, presented through art. All art is subject to political manipulation, except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation… When you listen to the music or watch the video, it should work also outside this contextualisation, but you don’t see and get the full picture.
(((o))): Moving on to the release of Liberation Day – your decision to perform in the DPRK was seen by critics as a dangerous cultural exchange, one that further validates and legitimatises North Korea as a state. What did Laibach gain in return from this experience in North Korea?
We gain the validation and legitimisation of Laibach as a dangerous cultural emission. We also had a great concert and met some nice people in North Korea.
(((o))): Earlier this year, you performed at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea, effectively becoming the first band to play in both Koreas. What kind of set did you prepare for the South Korean concert?
Similar to the one in North Korea with added songs that were ‘censored’ in North Korea – the censored songs were mainly our versions of important Korean songs that the censors in Pyongyang didn’t like that much…
(((o))): How would you describe the reception of South Korean audiences compared to that of North Korean audiences?
Exhilarated and very emotional, quite unusual for perception of Laibach.
(((o))): The Liberation Day documentary shows that your stay in the DPRK coincided with an instance of rising tensions between both Koreas: in a classic act of provocation, the South Koreans erected walls of loudspeakers blaring Korean pop songs across the border. The choice of songs during these routine provocations – songs with titles like ‘Bang Bang Bang’ by BIGBANG – show a sense of subversive irony in the act. Would it be fair to compare Laibach’s contextualised use of pop songs and the use of K-pop by the South Korean Military?
You can of course compare it, but the fact is that no one – or hardly anyone – in North Korea really heard those South Korean loudspeakers. Meanwhile Laibach’s concert was filmed by national TV and presented the next day on the main news and when we later arrived in South Korea, everyone there knew about it as well. So North Korea were more clever in the way they ‘used’ Laibach, compared to how the South Korean Military used K-pop for their frivolous but dangerous entertainment.
(((o))): Back in 1997, you performed in Ljubljana in front of several heads of state, with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra. 20 years later, Laibach becomes the first band to play both in the DPRK and in South Korea. Has Laibach’s recognition amongst heads of states and governments changed your approach to political subject matter?
No it didn’t; it only confirmed to us that we were right. And let’s not forget that politicians usually dislike Laibach wholeheartedly and they only stay to watch the show and listen the concert because they have to. Such was the case in Ljubljana back in 1997 and also two years ago in Pyongyang.
(((o))): Does the Laibach ideology suffer or thrive from todays’ internet-driven mass media and the recent climate of suspicion towards it?
We don’t feel much suffering ourselves, but Laibach’s ideology is very adaptable; it works in every context.
(((o))): This year, you’ve also played a show in Tel Aviv, another place known for its national division. Furthermore, the rock band Radiohead drew a lot of criticism for playing a show in Israel. How would you characterise your approach to your Tel Aviv show compared to that of your shows in both Koreas?
A concert in Tel Aviv was a totally different kind of situation to the one in North Korea. Generally we are against boycotts, especially cultural ones. And even PLO is against such a boycott of Israel – and they should know better than the rest of the world. If people want to prevent bands like Radiohead playing in Israel, they should first start demanding a boycott of concerts and other public events in US and all countries around the world that are actively or passively supporting official Israeli politics against Palestine. Laibach went to Israel because we were invited many times but never succeed to get there before. Our record label (Mute) founder’s family is rooted in Tel Aviv, our records have been available in Israeli record shops since the late ’80s and we have many friends, supporters and followers in this country, so out of respect for them and out of respect for Jewish history in general we decided to perform – for the first time in 35 years – in spite of all the criticism, and we also presented the Liberation Day documentary at the film festival in Tel Aviv. Of course we hope that some day we can also perform a concert or present a Liberation Day also in their fellow state Palestina.
(((o))): Back in 1985, you stated that “Politics is the highest and all-embracing art, and we who create contemporary Slovene art consider ourselves politicians.” (Source: laibach.org) Where does religion fit in your definition of art and politics? How would you define religion with regards to art and politics?
What to say about religion that was not already told? Generally, it is just another system of beliefs and rules, like any other ideology, but very cunning and powerful. Religion is extreme ideology. In fact, it is a foundation of capitalism, and – in most cases – also of communism. Like capitalism, religion is a system that produces guilt and debt. Churches are banks, priests are bankers, heaven is wealth, hell is poverty, the rich are saints, sinners are the poor, possession of goods is blessing and money is God. Religion is to some extent also greatly comparable to a childhood neurosis. Abusing religion for practical or spiritual purposes is therefore equal to pedophilia. We, Laibach, believe in God, but unlike Americans we don’t trust her/him/it. In an ideal world we would be quite happy to abolish religion – as one of the foundations of evil – but what would be the ideal world without God? And what if the evil would mutate and continue to exist, but this time without the highest authority which can still alleviate it? Then perhaps the heads would fall, cut again as they did during the French Revolution – which, in some cynical sense, the Islamic state is already mimicking it with its purifying theatrical purgatory, except they do it supposingly in God’s name.
(((o))): Could you name one of your favorite albums, movies and books?s
L: Album: Radioactivity (Kraftwerk), movie: Playtime (Jacques Tati), book: Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren).
A Huge Thank you goes out to the band, to Zoe and the whole team at Mute records for making this interview possible.
Be sure to catch Laibach on their upcoming European Also Sprach Zarathustra tour next month:
4 Nov – Budapest HU, A 38
5 Nov – Prague CZ, Palace Akropolis
6 Nov – Vienna AT, Arena
9 Nov – Malmö SE, Moriska Paviljongen
10 Nov – Oslo NO, Vulcan Arena
11 Nov – Stockholm SE, Kraken
13 Nov – Helsinki FI, Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo
15 Nov – Tallin EE, T.R.Theatre of Estonia
16 Nov – Riga LV, Palladium Riga
17 Nov – Vilnius LT, Loftas Club
19 Nov – Wroclaw PL, Stary Klasztor
20 Nov – Berlin DE, Kesselhaus
21 Nov – Dresden DE, Reithalle
22 Nov – Bochum DE, Christuskirche
23 Nov – London UK, O2 Academy Islington – tickets avail from ticketmaster.co.uk
24 Nov – Paris FR, Trabendo