Laibach Volk – Dead In Trbovlje

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They aren’t exactly international superstars, Laibach. Dimly remembered for their ironic reinterpretations of mainstream eurohits such as “Final Countdown” and “Live Is Life”, Laibach never quite got around to covering Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”, or if they did it was never released. Eastern european bikers gone electro, their image wasn’t ever going to find much of an audience in the more stratified english speaking music scenes. Too heavy for the club scene and too ravey for the metal world, plus they’re German or something, which in the Londoncentric fashion led side of the UK’s music publicity machines automatically places bands such as Laibach into the novelty section alongside one-hit wonders such as Nena and DJ Ozy.

Laibach played up to these preconceptions. Their version of Opus’s 1986 hit “Live Is Life” provided them with minor UK chart success and put their name quite firmly on the euromap, a name to drop alongside Einsturzende Neubaten and Die Krupps.

Except that Laibach aren’t actually German. They are Slovenians, from a country that was only an actual province of Yugoslavia until the mid-90s. And they formed in 1980, at a time when crossing the Soviet frontiers into the decadent capitalist west was as realistic a prospect, and at least as risky as space travel. We can only guess at what earlier incarnations of Laibach might have sounded like, but the band which toured extensively across europe and the US during 2007/8 has left a detailed and expansive document of its existence.

The performances on this DVD fall into two categories. Much of the material is from Laibach’s NSK Project, a concept based around the notion of an alternative United Nations, with the Slovenian quartet providing anthems for each member state, although “anthems” is a bit of a misomner when considering the satirical and often bitingly critical lyrics, declaimed in a poker-faced monotone by frontman Milan Fras. Videos accompany a number of these pieces, such as “France”, which consists mostly of an image of a digitised guillotine.  Then there’s “Spain”, which starts off as a cheery slice of summertime europop which is grittily demolished by Fras’s rasping vocal:  “let us sing comrades, the great battle songs / our fierce voices will prove we are strong”. The “Ketchup Song” it isn’t.  The video for “Anglia”, meanwhile, features an elderly woman alternately feeding and taunting naked prisoners chained to the walls of a tiled basement :  “still you believe you are ruling the world / using all your tricks to keep the picture blurred … God save your Queen”  rasps Fras,  this isn’t exactly mainstream Eurovision material.

The main part of the DVD reveals Laibach’s real intentions though, a concert recorded in the group’s hometown of Trbovlje. It is apparent that Laibach would prefer that their audience saw them as a kind of theatrical performance troupe rather than a GothMetal band doing the euro festival circuit alongside more accessible rock acts. The hometown concert takes place in a theatre, with a seated audience, and has the ambience of a chamber concerto rather than a fists-in-the-air moshpit ubermetal Gotterdammerung.  The songs from the NSK Project are delivered flatly, almost blandly, in a contrast to the starkly monochromatic video imagery used to backdrop the performance, and Laibach’s home audience are attentive and appreciative. After all, when Laibach instigated their NSK concept, Slovenia itself was recieving visits from the real UN, which was sending peacekeepers southwards into Bosnia and Croatia as the Balkan conflict threatened to widen. Perhaps it is a real paradox, and one which Laibach might admit, that for all their strident internationalism only Slovenes themselves can fully appreciate what Laibach are actually about.  And I wouldn’t put any money on them turning their post-Soviet electroclash sensibilities to a reimagining of (eg) Britney Spear’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time” at the 2009 Eurovision in Moscow.

“We are shepherds disguised as wolves” say Laibach in their press release, a sentiment which probably leaves most of their english-speaking audience either shaking their heads blankly or hiding under their beds, but there is much more to the seemingly two-dimensional world of Laibach than Laibach themselves will ever reveal.