zondag 7 februari 2016

Laibach: The European Commission suggested to veer towards a more classical style of entertainment than Laibach


This summer Laibach made world news when it was announced that they would give two performances in North Korea. As the first Western group ever, the press wrote, but that was not quite true. But it certainly was the first group with such a history of political provocations to play in the country, and that is certainly an event. Laibach now touring through Europe with this program. The next show will be on Tuesday, February 9th in Brussels.

Laibach does a special show in Brussels with the RTV Slovenian Orchestra for the awarding of the title of European Green Capital to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. How do you feel about this? Isn’t it ironic that a city that tried to ban your concerts under the name Laibach - which is the German name of the city - in the early eighties is now asking you for this celebration?
Laibach: Very ironic - but we love the irony. What goes around comes around… Even more ironic is the fact, that the Environment Directorate of the European Commission protested against the choice of Laibach in this context, stating that ‘there would seem to be a significant risk that the irony which underpins their musical style may be misunderstood by an audience unfamiliar with the genre’ and they were openly suggesting that ‘for that reason, it may be prudent to look again and perhaps veer towards a more classical style of entertainment’. Now this is a much more radical censorship than the one that we faced in North Korea. Thankfully the City of Ljubljana ignored it and we are still able to perform the show as originally planed. We just cannot link it officially to the Green Capital of Europe handover ceremony event. Which is absolutely fine with us.

You will perform songs from The Sound Of Music, which you also performed at your concerts in North Korea. Were the shows in North Korea the actual reason to make Laibach interpretation of these songs, as The Sound Of Music is one of the few western movies that are allowed and well known in North Korea?

Laibach: We always wanted to do something with The Sound Of Music; we love this film and as soon as we knew we were going to perform a concert in North Korea we asked ourselves ‘how do we solve the problem like Korea?’ So we decided to create the program around the Sound of Music film musical. North Koreans know this film well. It is one of the American films they are allowed to watch and they are using it to learn English. They also did their own, Korean versions of selected songs from the film. The Sound Of Music story really fits well into the North Korean situation and can be understood affirmatively, but also subversively - very much depending on the point of view. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek claims, that The Sound Of Music is a much trickier film than one might expect: ‘If you look at it closely, it’s officially Austrian resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, but if you look really closely, the Nazis are presented as an abstract cosmopolitan occupying power, managers, bureaucrats, exquisitely dressed, with short mustaches, smoking expensive cigarettes and so on. In other words, almost a caricature of cosmopolitan decadent, corrupted Jews, and the Austrians are the good small fascists, so the implicit message is almost the opposite of the explicit message: honest fascists resisting a decadent Jewish cosmopolitan takeover. This may be why the movie was so extremely popular, because it addresses our secret fascist dreams.

For these concerts, you also made ‘new originals’ of a few North Korean classics. Unfortunately, you were allowed to perform only one of the three songs you prepared. How was it for Laibach to deal with such form of censorship and how does that match with the provocative stance that Laibach is known for?

Laibach: We had no problem with that. We knew that there would be an extensive censorship. We expected it so we were fully prepared. Mainly they worried about the use of their own Korean songs that we wanted to perform in laibachian style, and they also worried about Korean images that we ‘implanted’ in our aesthetics. In the end they asked us to take out two of the three Korean songs that we prepared -  ‘Honorable Life and Death’ and ‘We’ll go to Mt. Paektu’ - because we’ve changed them too much from the originals. They are really extremely sensitive about their own culture and they couldn’t take such difference. The only Korean song that we were allowed to perform in the end was ‘Arirang’, a song well known on the North as well as South Korea. They also asked us not to perform two of the more ‘aggressive’ Laibach songs and some visuals, but they forgot about many little ‘subversions’ that were still there and were fully noticed by the international press and foreign diplomats in the audience. In the end, the concert was nevertheless a total Laibach performance, having in mind the time and space where it happened (the Ponghwa Art Theatre is actually based next to the Ministry of People’s Security). In principle, Laibach cannot really be censored, no matter what, especially appearing in such venue and within such context, as it happened in Pyongyang.   

 As you might know, the Belgian industrial band Militia reacted fiercely against your North Korean concerts, accusing you of supporting the regime. What do you reply to these accusations? Did you have scruples about playing in a country that commits serious human rights violations?

Laibach: Nonsense. They were probably just a bit jealous not to go to North Korea themselves. We despise that kind of political correctness and morality. Artists are performing in China, the United States, in Russia and Belorussia - we do as well, and all these countries are committing serious human rights violations. But what countries and systems are totally clean handed? We would perform even for the devil himself if we’d have a chance to do it.

We didn’t go to North Korea to earn money, they did not pay us for our shows there and we’ve covered the whole expedition from other sources. We also didn’t go to North Korea to support the regime, but to perform to their people. These people are people like everywhere else around the world, except that they live under special socio-political circumstances and therefore they have their own specific cultural and political agenda.

We did everything to respect their situation and to communicate with them with all five senses, trying to create enough oxytocin to understand each other’s feelings and emotions in order to be able to learn from each other and implement each other. Finally we went to Korea to express our support to their tendencies for reunification of Korean peninsula into a one state as we see the division of this nation as a tragic story. And to all those who keep on accusing us to perform a concert in this country, where – according to an UN report - you can find human rights abuses similar to those from the Nazis, we can only reply that if these allegations are truthful then it is even more so important to go there.

But the problem with the UN is that it often serves mainly to US and EU political interests – if we only remember the famous UN coalition that started devastating wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, based on false pretenses and nonexistent facts about nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And let’s not forget about the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuses, or Guantanamo Bay detention camp, etc., etc., not to mention the current and openly brutal methods of human rights abuses, created by European Union over the entire Greek population and over millions of refugees in Europe and around the world.

Unlike America, Russia, China, France, Israel, Italy, Germany, etc., etc. North Korea never military attacked any other country and it is not a real threat to the world at all. North Korea is just a country that everybody in the West loves to hate or at least make jokes about it, but most of the tabloid stories about the DPRK seem to be completely false. They don’t eat their own children, they don’t throw people to dogs and they don’t starve because of a lack of food, at least not anymore. They do have a problem with power shortage and electricity, but people that we had the opportunity to communicate with, were very warm and kind. Although the country is poor and isolated, with an intensely oppressive political system, people are very charming and they seem to poses the precious wisdom that the rest of the world doesn’t.  We couldn’t find much of cynicism, sarcasm, irony, vulgarity and other ‘western characteristics’, but a lot of modesty, kindness, proudness and respect. Koreans also joke, they laugh and they smile (much more than Europeans currently do…).

Americans tourists in North Korea (yes, you can meet American tourists there as well!) are not blindly hated, but welcomed as everybody else, and Koreans do not seem to equate the American people with US governmental policy. Also entering North Korea is not that difficult at all - as a matter of fact it is generally easier than entering the US, for instance. Koreans are keen to open up to the outside world, but they want to do it slowly, on their own terms, and in a very different way than the Chinese did it. It seems like their political and cultural elite is aware that they have to do this ‘dangerous’ step sooner or later, even if on account of losing some of nation’s ‘virginity’ if not also big part of their own privileged positions. But the question is: will the surrounding countries and superpowers really let them to open up completely when the time comes?

You will perform orchestrated versions of tracks from ‘Spectre’ in Brussels. When the CD was issued, you claimed that ‘Laibach is now very clearly taking a position on the political spectrum and probably irreversibly abolishing its own (to some extent quite comfortable) political ‘freedom’ and ‘neutrality.’ As it turned out, ‘Spectre’ was rather a critique of the worldwide protest movements, both left and right. You used to bring this same type of critique on the ruling ideologies of the states and governments. Could it be that the ruling ideology has become the ideology of resistance against the powers that be?

Laibach: That’s a really interesting question and seeing how things are developing right now in the world it seems that the ruling ideology is escaping definitions, and so does the ideology of resistance. Politicians, political parties and protest movements are more and more the byproducts of the same ‘death dance’ of the ruling ideology - its ‘collateral damage’ so to say - dictated by forces and circles that cannot be effectively pinned down. There is chaos out there and capitalism feels good in it.

You founded the Spectre party ‘in order to create a possibility for an organized and synchronized international movement, helping to change the world wherever necessary and possible.’ How does that party fare?

Laibach: The formation of the Spectre party is a long and ongoing process that will develop step by step and we are in no hurry with it. We are forming cells in different countries and we’ll connect them together when time comes. In time, Spectre will become a serious international movement that can actively help shape politics and culture around the globe.

I understand that you will also perform songs from ‘WAT’. On that CD, and especially in the song ‘Now You Will Pay’, you alluded to the migration crisis. You claimed to be the barbarians coming from the east. What are your thoughts about the current immigration crisis?

Laibach: The whole refugee crisis and the inability of European Union to deal with it effectively is a sad story, showing the misery of European institutions that have totally failed (again!) to create a joint and coordinated humanitarian front in order to solve this problem humanely in all its entity. Europe is just making mistake after mistake and the only question is how far this situation can last before everything will turn into the absolute social and political catastrophe.

Last question: is Europe falling apart?

Laibach: Of course it is, it always does. Europe has a self-destructive nature and it is constantly falling apart, but it seems that falling apart is actually Europe’s way of constituting itself. Every time it tries to re-establish itself it fails better and comes back stronger. In principle, we believe in the idea of Europe and we want more of it; what we need is Europe from Atlantic to Pacific! Beside a strong and connected alliance of Europe there is no alternative for European countries in realpolitik, having in mind aggressive expansion of political and economical predators - USA on one side, China on the other, Russia in between, rich Arab countries and constantly off-sided Britain from ‘within’. We sincerely hope that the idea of United Europe can be saved. Not the cold Europe of the Brussels political technocracy and banking sectors, operating according to the dictates of neoliberal dogma, but a re-politicized Europe, founded on a shared emancipatory project, expanding from North to South, from East to West. The European Union must find the right balance between debate and consensus on an overall vision. This vision must permeate into all aspects of society. Without it Europe cannot progress and may actually decline. The refugee crisis can only help creating such vision and establish new standards of ethics and solidarity. 

Laibach in Bozar (info and tickets)

Pictures: Xavier Marquis, Het Depot, Leuven.

Interview: Xavier Kruth

Next dates of Laibach in Europa:
  • 7/04 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  • 9/04 – Impetus festival @ Le Moloco, Audincourt
  • 10/04 – Theater Tilburg Concertzaal, Tilburg
  • 12/04 – The Forum, London
  • 14/04 – Studenterhuset, Aalborg
  • 15/04 – Haus Auensee, Leipzig
  • 6/04 – Alter Schlachthof, Dresden
  • 17/04 – Muffathalle, Munich
  • 22/04 – SSG/Teatro Stabile Sloveno, Trieste
  • 9/05 – Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana
  • 2/09 – Krizanke, Ljubljana w/ RTV Symphonic Orchestra