The blog of Laszlo Bokor

The blog of Laszlo Bokor

Saturday, 4 March 2017

My 5 favourite Laibach music videos

Hi there,

Many of you may be aware that, between 2005 and 2011, I spent a lot of time in Slovenia. During those years, I had the chance to travel all across the country; in 2009 and 2011, I was granted CEEPUS scholarships to the universities of Maribor (2009) and Ljubljana (2011) respectively, so I even had the chance to carry out some studies and research there. Six years are quite sufficient to get to know a certain place well and discover its geographical, cultural, national and, maybe even, internationally known treasures. When it comes to music, I have a quite competitive knowledge of local bands and could, during any conversation, bring up a chat about, among many others, Alfi Nipič, Boris Kopitar, the Turbo Angels, or Vlado Kreslin and Siddharta. (I have in fact seen Alfi and Siddharta live, twice, both. And Vlado, once. Oh yes, look...)



   
Alfi (2007), Tomi of Siddharta, and Vlado (2008); Photos by me

I cannot remember the time I first came across the band called Laibach, which bears the name of the Slovenian capital city, Ljubljana's, historic German name. But it was most definitely in connection with Rammstein - you know the notorious band actually from Germany - as they were highly influenced by Laibach's musical and artistic characters. You can identify lots of similarities between these two bands, but maybe Rammstein is more metal-based, use explicit lyrics, and their shows are known to be visually overwhelming with fireworks which made them significantly more popular and famous. I, however, believe, that today we would not have the possibility to praise and celebrate Rammstein without Laibach and the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), so let the band introduce themselves to us (this section is taken off their website, I have only sorted out some punctuation): From the start, Laibach has developed a “Gesamtkunstwerk” – multi-disciplinary art practice in all fields ranging from popular culture to art (collages, photocopies, posters, graphics, paintings, videos, installations, concerts and performances). Since their beginnings, the group was associated and surrounded with controversy, provoking strong reactions from political authorities of former Yugoslavia and, in particular, in the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. Their militaristic self-stylisation, propagandist manifestos and totalitarian statements have raised many debates on their actual artistic and political positioning. Many important theorists, among them Boris Groys and Slavoj Žižek, have discussed the Laibach phenomenon both from an analytical as well as critical cultural point of view. The main elements of Laibach’s varied practices are: strong references to avant-garde art history, nazi-kunst and socialist realism for their production of visual art, de-individualisation in their public performances as an anonymous quartet dressed in uniforms, conceptual proclamations, and forceful sonic stage performances – mainly labelled as industrial (pop) music. Laibach is practising collective work, dismantling individual authorship and establishing the principle of hyper-identification. In 1983, they invented and defined the historic term ‘retro-avant-garde’. They creatively questioned artistic ‘quotation’, appropriation, re-contextualisation, copyright and copy-left. Although starting out as both an art and music collective, Laibach became internationally renowned foremost on the music scene, particularly with their unique cover-versions and interpretations of hits by Queen, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, etc. You can read more about them on their website, click here.

In the recent years, Laibach has become part of my life, it has developed to be one of those favourite bands of mine that I find the most influential on my daily life, and can shape my opinion on the world. The provocative and sarcastic, often deliberately offensive and controversial, but still creative and intelligent art certainly makes Laibach one of the most interesting performers of our times.

It has been on my mind for a while to pull together this blog post on (for me) the most influential Laibach music videos. The band has its official YouTube channel which contains all of their genuine videos, so when I made this Top 5, I only relied on their own playlist and chose five tracks from this selection. Maybe one day, I will also rank the album songs and make an actual Top 10, but most likely I would always go for these five tracks. Enjoy!

5. Final Countdown (NATO - 1994)
The original version of this song performed by the Swedish group, Europe, is known by the great majority of us. As a kid, I loved it; and this admiration about Final Countdown (or many other Europe songs) has not faded much over these decades; but hey, it was originally released in 1986! One of Laibach's specialities has been to turn international hits into their own, elaborated style. They not only re-record a song like many of the 'tribute' bands do who strive to sound like the original band; Laibach does not try to sound the same, and since they employ lots of topics (like Nazism or Stalinism), the outcomes are both fascinating and controversial. This song in a particularly nice way represents the sound of the early 1990s as well, but the video's visuals also bring you closer to George Orwell's 1984 atmosphere - like many of the other Laibach videos actually do in the same way, as you will see it. All in all, what else could I possibly say about this one?   


4. Opus Dei (English version of Leben heißt Leben) (Opus Dei - 1987)
Compared to Final Countdown, the original song is called Live is Life played by the Austrian band, Opus (click here for the original), and it is a proper 1980s cheesy shite anthem. That song must be known by literally everyone: Live, la la la la la; Live is life; La la la la la; Let us all talk about life. In Hungary, this last line has even gained a special fame as it sounds like "levelet kaptam, life" (I received a letter, life), a home-cooked, proletarian-style translation. Anyway, this was the first Laibach song I heard for the first time many many years ago; it is well-known for its glorious, military marching sound, so the original melodies of Opus were completely turned inside out, fortunately. I must not have engaged with the band too much at that time as since I left Slovenia in 2011, up until the end of 2014, I had not been aware of their performances at all. In fact, I completely forgot about them. Fortunately, I rediscovered them, like I said, about two years ago shortly after the Spectre album came out and the band got into the news as they had a tour in the last remaining Stalinist state, North Korea. Well, one of the best musical accidents for me was to bump into Laibach once again, but this time I got engaged for real. We can give a massive thank you to both Opus and Laibach for this masterpiece as this song remains the track that introduced Laibach to me (or me to Laibach?).


3. Rossiya (Volk - 2006) 
This is a special song for me. It is partly because the original here once upon a time was the national anthem of the Soviet Union. (It is now, after a few years of absence and text modification, Russia's.) As a geographer, I have always had a weird fascination with national anthems. I love national anthems. And for some reasons, I like the ones that associate with some controversy. If anybody asked me which were my favourites, I would say: Hungary's (of course! - a bit of healthy patriotism), the Soviet Union's, and Israel's. As for a fourth, I could also add the German Democratic Republic's, and as a fifth the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy's anthems, as they are beautiful musical pieces. On Volk, Laibach presents us with many national anthems, in their own style of course, including two of my favourites of which this video is one. And if you really want to understand the basis of the NSK art movement, you better start listening to these anthems including the one that used to be the Nazi Germany's.


2. The Whistleblowers (Spectre - 2014)
We rise, we grow
We walk and we stand tall
We never fall
As big as the sky
As far as the dawn
We walk
And we do not fall
We sleep, we dream
With no time in between
We never stop
Whistling our chant
In the heat of the night
We sing
The spirit is clean
From north and south
We come from east and west
Breathing as one
Living in fame
Or dying in flame
We laugh
Our mission is blessed
We fight for you
For freedom unforeseen
Thinking as one
Rolling along
To the beat of the drum
We march
The black cross machine
We stand alone
But soon the day will come
When freedom rings
We'll meet again
Now eternally
And walk
Once more as one! 


(c) Laibach


1. Geburt Einer Nation (Opus Dei - 1987)
The previous song, The Whistleblowers, is truly one of the best and most beautifully flowing songs ever composed by Laibach. If I did not know the band's repertoire well, I would probably choose that as the Number 1 here, and my decision would be purely based on music and the visuals only. But, fortunately, I know their art just as well as their music. Whilst The Whistleblowers still brings us some Soviet (some would argue Hitler Jugend) charm with lots of reflections on socialism (furniture, pictures of the great dictator, uniform, training methods, etc.), and especially on spies, wrapped in a 2014 quality, Geburt Einer Nation (Birth of a Nation) shows us what Laibach really represented in the mid-1980s (although, not much have changed around them). The strong association with absolute totalitarian regimes and their artworks reflect in this video well whilst you know it was something extraordinary to do during the time of the state-controlled Yugoslavia. This music video for me perfectly shows the strength of art's individualism and maybe its privilege, no matter how provoking it is, to peacefully raise our voices or our awareness to certain, especially political things, and project our thoughts on, for example, fascism, nationalism, communism or fundamentalist religion, but we could even bring PC (political correctness) into this club. Do not take Laibach the wrong way, however, they are not praising any of those ideologies; but their associating arts are symbolical, poignant and reflective as well as educative. This song for me is an anthem of rebellion against suppressing our rights to freely discuss and share our opinions on radicalism and one-sidedness, whilst you get the best Queen "One Vision" cover ever.

Jawoll, ja, jawoll. Hvala lepa for reading.
~ Laszlo