Laibach : live review
Manchester Academy 3
April 12th 2012
Laibach are an experience.
One that works on so many levels.
This is way beyond the meat and potatoes bunch of blokes with guitars of the normal gig going experience. There are subtleties, nuances, textures and ideas here that are way beyond the normal high decibel rush of music that they instantly cause confusion.
Working out of a different set of tradition and codes and inventing whole new soundscapes and atmospheres makes reviewing Laibach tricky because there is no definite simplistic idea going on here- just a series of intoxicating atmopsheres that are difficult to pin down in a mere live review.
The collective (this is not a band but more an art collective) utilise electronic instruments but are not strictly electronic. They dress in black but are not strictly gothic, they have an industrial overtone but are not industrial, they cover songs by the Beatles and the Stones but are not rock n roll or pop, they sometimes use dubstep beats and talk about disco but are not a traditional party band.
They deal in atmosphere and ideas and concepts that most other bands couldn’t even dream of and their dangerous, artful intellectualism is deliberately provocative and open to misinterpretation. They make you think, they take you on a trip and they make you dance to their own dark radio.
Tonight there are no antlers worn by frontman Milan Fras but he still retains his deep, sonorous voice and imposing henchman of doom onstage image and that curious flay eared hat but has shaved off his stern facial hair making him look oddly fresh faced. Musically there are moments of darkness, stark dance floor beats, dark clad industrial gothic madness, intellectual high art danger and mind blowing neo classical beatify and that can all be in one song.
Operating far beyond the rules of convention this is a band who consistently entice and provoke, subverting meaning and messing with the comfort zone.
From Trbovlje in Slovenia Laibach were the musical wing of the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective, which they co-founded in 1984. The name Laibach is the German name for Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana. Their fluctuating line up, built around Milan Fras, has spent the decades making dark clad, high art music that has become a template for so many European groups- from the stadium packing Rammstein, who pretty well took the whole Laibach idea and turned it into an admittedly genius, high art, industrial metal machine and other bands like Norway’s Wardruna and their Viking black metal folk thing. It’s like Laibach came up with a new template for European music- a high art, neo classical take on music that reflected the smashed and lost European cultures lost in the great wars and their long hangover.
Tonight Laibach present more of an art show than a mere rock gig with their pile driving, dark electro beats or moments of sheer exquisite, breathtaking beauty that are quite moving but also aligned with a sly and black sense of humour.
They utilize film effectively, playing them onto the backdrop making the multi media effect of Laibach is stunningly visually and highly effective. They start the set with the backdrop showing a huge machine and co-vocalist, the stunningly beautiful, slavic featured, Mina Spiler shouting down a megaphone.
With her haughty stage personnae and emotionless, yet perfectly featured face, Spiler has this amazing voice which she uses later on with the band’s cover of John Lennon’s favourite Beatles song, Across The Universe- a high point of the set where the whole Laibach thing makes total sense. Her voice soars and the song is stripped down to a stunning simplicity, the use of space if highly effective and the song is drawn out into places that the original only hinted at.
The band are famous for their cover versions and they pepper their set with their highly imaginative deconstruction of rock classics from the aforementioned Beatles to a genius version of Bob Dylan’s Ballad Of A Thin Man, each time taking the original song and finding whole new meanings in the sound and lyrics.
Stripping away the American folk and blues base of these songs and replacing it with a mid European sound and sensibility, they change something that was once so familiar into something quite different. Like Rammstein, this leaves them open to bizarre accusations of being nazis by people who are too lazy to understand the shorthand of the sound and image.
Thinking that dark music plus dressing up in fifties uniforms and singing in deep voices is somehow nazi is the sort of misconception that both bands like to play with- Rammstein taking the cliches of Germany and executing them into a bombastic whole and shoving it back into people’s faces and Laibach operating on a far more subtle level- taking these long trapped ideas of being European and letting them out of the pandoras box.
Or as the collective explain on their website.
”ËOur expression is multi-layered, so that in only one confrontation with it, it is not possible to completely comprehend its structure. It provokes those who do not have the energy to reconstruct and understand the Laibach idea (unmasking social neurosis). But those who will perspicaciously reach the thought are the chosen ones of our times. Laibach unites warriors and opponents into an expression of a scream of static totalitarianism. In art, morality is nonsense; in practice it is immoral; in people it is a sickness.’
The band are anything but Nazi’s and it’s this fear of being European that they are maybe playing wit. It’s effective and thought provoking and really powerful when they do their covers and is underlined even more when they cover the national anthems like on their take on God Save The Queen, discovering new levels of darkness and strangeness that is locked up in the national anthems.
They even cover Warm Leatherette, finding new space and textures in the classic song from The Normal song which is arguably the first song in the electronic music era. Laibach’s stripped down version is sung in what sounds like German gives it a new edge, the faster new beat backing makes this perfect dance floor material and much of the set is peppered with this stomping beat which in other songs grabs bit of drum and bass and stark electronica into its mix .
The set also includes some of the soundtrack they wrote for the film Iron Sky a camp romp about nazis and flying saucers- a 2012 Finnish science-fiction comedy film directed by Timo Vuorensola. Set in 2018, it tells a story where German Nazis, after being defeated in 1945, fled to the Moon where they built a space fleet, and are now ready to conquer Earth, maybe Laibach are the perfect band to soundtrack the film and the music fills the room with its faded grandeur and desolate beats and slavic sensibilities.
Like nothing else a Laibach gig leaves you emotionally and intellectually drained by it’s sensual dislocation of the senses.