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In Praise of Laibach

Against the boring sadnesses, cheap epiphanies, and impotent boasts of contemporary pop, Laibach poses real values: military discipline, God, and the state.

Twenty, perhaps even ten years ago, there was a lot of video footage of bands you could only see by visiting a sweaty pervert’s basement dwelling, or a rental shop that specialized in, say, amputee porn. If you had some money, and didn’t mind waking up early on the weekends to go to record swaps in high school gyms, you might have been able to get a hold of a greasy third-generation VHS that had tracking problems and Portuguese subtitles. Nowadays, the internet—at least in its present state—gives you a more hygienic option: watch everything at home, instantly, for free.

Two such video gems now available through YouTube are the documentaries Victory Under the Sun (1988) and Predictions of Fire (1996), both about the Slovenian band Laibach. Everyone should know about Laibach. Usually lumped in with industrial music, Laibach formed in June 1980, one month after Marshal Tito’s death, in what was then Yugoslavia. The band’s name is the German word for Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, which had been annexed by the Reich during World War II.

They are the band that provides today’s young people with a healthy alternative to “alternative” music and its litany of private griefs. Against the boring sadnesses, cheap epiphanies, and impotent boasts of contemporary pop, Laibach poses real values: military discipline, God, and the state. As Laibach put it in a 1983 TV interview with Jure Pengov, a reporter from Ljubljana who was hostile to the group: “Happiness lies in total negation of one’s identity, deliberate rejection of personal tastes and beliefs. In depersonalization, sacrifice. In identification with a higher system, the mass, collective ideology.”

Laibach 1983 interview with Jure Pengov:
 

They weren’t kidding. Since 1994, Laibach has administered its own state, the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) State, with passport control, temporary embassies, an official news service, baptisms for infants, and a Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy. That department is represented by the formidable Peter Mlakar, and Laibach has other philosophers in its camp. When Laibach were denounced as fascists at home and abroad for their theatrical totalitarianism, Slavoj Žižek defended the group in his 1993 essay “Why are Laibach and the Neue Slowenische Kunst not Fascists?” (Žižek, “the giant of Ljubljana,” appears in interviews in Predictions of Fire and in 1993’s Laibach: A Film from Slovenia, an excellent documentary available on DVD.)

Laibach “Life Is Life”:

Laibach “God Is God”:

The guttural basso profondo and fervent delivery of singer Milan Fras give the tautologies of Opus’s “Life Is Life” and Juno Reactor’s “God Is God” a majesty that is not their own. It’s easy to imagine Laibach as satirical ironists whose work exposes the latent totalitarianism of rock music, but that was Marilyn Manson’s childish game. Everything about Laibach suggests that, on the contrary, its members have always been doing their best to believe what they are saying and to convince you of its truth. If you don’t have time to listen to their cover of the Beatles’ entire Let It Be album, try their cover of Queen’s “One Vision” (retitled “Geburt einer Nation,” or “Birth of a Nation”). It’s hilarious, but it’s not satire or even parody. Fras transforms the lyrics (“One flash of light / One God, one vision / One flesh, one bone / One true religion / One voice, one hope / One real decision,” etc.) not by mocking them, but by believing them with a militancy of which Freddie Mercury was not capable. By singing Laibach’s covers in this way, Fras doesn’t reduce them to absurdity. Instead, the performances reveal the songs as authentic visions of utopia that had been betrayed by their creators.

Queen “One Vision”:

Laibach “Geburt einer Nation”:

Recently, Laibach performed at the Tate Modern at the end of an all-day event dedicated to Neue Slowenische Kunst. They also scored the most eagerly anticipated movie of the year, Iron Sky, in which Nazis who have been living on the dark side of the moon since WWII return in spaceships to annihilate humanity.

Iron Sky trailer:

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