Sept 16th 2012
Laibach are like no other band.
They seem to exist purely in a world of their own, a world that confuses people, a world where a sly and dark sense of humour can be deliberately provocative and a world where the old Anglo American stranglehold on pop culture was challenged and a new sonic space created.
Laibach now come with a sense of history which is interesting for a band that never shied away from dealing with history itself and distorting its darker moments to confront given truths. It seems strange to think that when they started in Lubijuana (they took the German wartime name of their home city) it was back in the communist days, the pre Balkan conflict times of Tito and the seemingly never ending socialist bloc of East Europe. That they have survived far more successfully than whole governments and political systems is quite interesting and something that I'm sure they would drily smile at when no-one was watching.
In 2012 Laibach find themselves in a curious position.
Their recent soundtrack for the Iron Sky film has given them a new platform and they play some of it tonight, along with scenes from the film running on the giant screens behind them. The film seems perfectly apt for them- a very dark humoured romp with nazis coming back to planet after going to the moon in 1945 and coming back in the near future but as nice Nazis, the Finnish film is high camp ridiculousness and the type of romp that Mel Brooke's would have done in his prime. A Spaceballs in Nazi uniforms and similar dumb jokes.
It is certainly not the type of art house, heavy duty film you would expect the band to be involved in. Of course their music fits the concept perfectly with its mixture of unsmiling humour and black, buttoned to the top starchiness and tonight's set is full of those throbbing electronic beats that are perfect for the darkest dancefloor on the planet underlined by that array of splendid covers they deal out that are so diverse that they are becoming mind boggling.
When Laibach do a cover they always seem to wrench something completely different out of the song. Their version of The Normal's Warm Leatherette is an interesting nod to their label boss at Mute, Daniel Miller's ground breaking electronic band whilst their version of John Lennon's Across The Universe is fragile and beautiful and sung perfectly by ice queen goddess and also member of the group Melodrom, Mina Spiler, whose keyboards and vocals give her a shared central role in the band along with permanent fixture Milan Fras who puts the onerous into sonorous.
Mina stares impassively at the audience and deadpans her way through the set doing this sexy, twitching micro dance in her attitude black outfit. Meanwhile Fras still intones the songs in that wonderfully deep and dark voice that oozes attitude and a seriousness. Still dressed in his retro gear and kepi hat he has an imposing presence. The antlers he used to wear are long gone but the attention to detail is still there and the combination of the band's dark clothes and films creates a certain atmosphere that is designed to create a confusion of whether there is humour involved or not reflecting back the fears of Europe at itself and maybe also questioning the over emphasis on symbols and not the content.
I'm stood next to august music journalist, really good guy and the writer of the definitive book on post punk, Simon Reynolds. We are chatting about the band. At first he is not sure and wonders if I like them, which I tell him I do as they touch my darker more gothic side. Within three songs he's nodding his head and really gets it when they do their brilliant strip down of Bob Dylan's Ballad Of A thin Man, getting right to the heart of the song which was Dylan's acidic put down of a bad review from an unknowing, out of touch music writer. The words flash up on the screen behind, along with images of Dylan and it's left up to you to decide whether they are taking apart rock classics or just finding new twists in old plots.
Whatever their motifs exposÃÂ© brilliant raw fault lines in the old songs and the more deadpan Fras sings the song in his deep voice the more emotional it seems.
They keep that great motif from the original and turn it inside out making it darker and bleaker and exposing the raw emotions of that withering Dylan put down.
It's very much in keeping with their redesigning of music in a much more central European style, they hark back to classical and other traditions that have little to do with the powerful American music industry, whether this is something that hooks back to the neither Washington or Moscow real politik of their childhood Yugoslavia is a moot point but is certainly something that Laibach specialize in.
They invented a whole new aesthetic, from the loose strands of ideas that were swirling around after punk and were hinted at in the nascent industrial scene with Nurse With Wound, Throbbing Gristle and their precursors. Maybe they were operating in the same space as the original Joy Division- that dark, melancholic take on the later days of post war seventies Europe where the memories of the conflict were still longing like dark shadows that were hinted at a decade before by Kraftwerk. The memories that were still alive, the shattered remnants of a long lost, high culture Europe that were still floating around, those hints of a pre American, Euro culture of fading empire and neo classical art.
In that post punk period when all possibilities were thrown up by the dark energy and limitless possibilities of the times, it was quite possible for both groups to make a mark and, along with several other esoteric outfits, they created a new route for music. Decades later Laibach are still at it, confusion is their platform but it's a confusion that you can dance to as they address the European guilt trip. Their cover versions are the perfect example of this, tearing away everything to leave a new core.
This is a powerful gig that is unrelenting but also a strange kind of pop. Laibach are a template for the likes of Rammstein to utilise (Laibach or on record as acknowledging the similarities claiming that all art is copied and that 'Rammstein are Laibach for children and we are Rammstein for grown ups' which is not as bitchy as it sounds as the groups worked together on remixes) and a trip into another world where, like Kraftwerk before them, they found a new kind of funk where it was least expected.
Laibach are so out of sync with the music parade that their gigs are like entering another world. This was a stunning concert. Dark, unsettling, funny and visually powerful and another challenging moment in a long carrier…