Laibach Live – Cognitive Dissonance At Its Best

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It just so happened that a few weeks before I went to see Laibach live, I went to HAU3 to see an independent theater group “Golova-Noga” from Belarus, as part of the “100 Grad Berlin Festival”, performing the piece called “Mauser” based on Heiner Müller’s play.

A bunch of young people were carefully injected into the crowd at the very beginning – during the process of questioning that every participant had to pass first to get in – who then revealed their uniform and stood out as soon as the door was shut. Then they started peeling the viewers with their eyes and heartless voices making declarations that people couldn’t quite understand either because of the language barrier or the thick accents which, all in all, only raised the tension.
LP_Laibach2015Astra_0012Being treated in such a disturbing manner or just being led into feeling a little insecure – these aren’t the most common experiences for a European theatre-goer to undergo: face the wall, hold a balloon behind your back, keep quiet, follow the orders, BANG! Darkness. End of the story… “Aren’t you one of us? Are you any different?” – asked the spoken introduction to the play.

They used to use military smoke bombs onstage as a dry ice effect

“We are millions and millions are one”, – say Laibach on their new album “Spectre”, a band which remain as one of those big bands (or big bangs) that many have heard of but not many know anything much about.

Over the years people got the feeling but lost the spirit of the whole phenomenon behind it. They (Laibach themselves), however, don’t seem to have lost much of this spirit ever since they started the whole campaign of provocation back in the 80s, when they used to use military smoke bombs onstage as a dry ice effect – things that turn a regular concert into performance, a sensational experience that rings a bell when you connect the words with what you see and feel.

Laibach live does flirt with Nazi imagery and have done all along

These days it’s easy to get just a weird “flashback” experience delivered to you as an attraction – like the “Bunker” tourist spot in the Lithuanian woods, but it’s not quite the same if you don’t make some kind of point out of it.

LP_Laibach2015Astra_008Abusing people for their own money to tickle a phantom pain for something we never miss having for real, all that guilty pleasure relationship with nostalgia – is one thing. A bold, loud well-dressed statement – is something else. Yeah, it’s less harmful these days as it works mostly through the visual background, pointing light and the singers’ sharp voices, but no less aggravating, really, for those who don’t strongly feel that one needs to divide satire from the object of satire. In this way a language barrier or a lack of thinking or attention can easily lead to a good deal of confusion – understandably so – since they Laibach live does flirt with Nazi imagery and have done all along, and this does disturb those who are especially sensitive to this kind of thing.

According to my mate, a professional psychoanalyst and big music lover, who attended their gig in St. Petersburg not long ago, there were misguided members of the audience – neo-Nazis, apparently – who took the look of the band way too literally, although they hadn’t bothered to get a proper translation of the lyrics. A bit awkward. Laibach really have an effective way of making people itch in the wrong places.

It’s like attending Tim Burton’s Birthday party with strict dress-code rules and a fair amount of fantasy involved

LP_Laibach2015Astra_002“This shit just doesn’t fly in Berlin”, – says my Manchester mate who came along on Friday night to check out the gig. The Berlin crowd of the Out Of Line Festival, as expected, had a totally different quality.
It’s like attending Tim Burton’s Birthday party with strict dress-code rules and a fair amount of fantasy involved in doing the hair and dressing up for the night. Whenever there is a break between the bands one just enjoys watching the variety of gothic outfits, detailed, with all shades of black. It’s also a certain kind of pleasure to see Laibach, the Slovenians, performing here, in Germany, with the “Iron Sky” fragments on the wide screen behind them.

It’s basically all we ever wanted: that elegant evil look without actual evilness: on the contrary, attacking the evil using its own disguise, such as its uniform, to maintain the ultimate shape of cognitive dissonance. Well done indeed.

This whole Orwell’s disco (they are doing properly danceable music after all) started after an easy-listening break with “Te Deum” prelude by Marc-Antoine Charpentier at the end of it. Then the lights went off, the screen turned on, a thick dark liquid started streaming down the display, and the first song “Eurovision” broke in with the front rows knowing all the lyrics, which powerfully resonated the vocals in one damn and doomed chorus, going: “EUROPE IS FALLING APART!” You basically feel the fall with your own body through the sound that wraps you up in that decadent moment. You stare at the figure in black above you, turn right to check on the severe lady whose tight hair continues with a ray of white light, connecting her skull to the roof of the stage. Epic.

Everything about it is just epic. There are a few more musicians on stage, including the shadow of the drummer in front of the marching boots and blinking eyes on the screen, but they just naturally don’t get as much attention compared to these two.

Teutonic pantomime with enough Nazi imagery to make Speer happy

“Put your hands up”, – says Milan Fras making sure his voice gets a superficial robotic intonation. With all the multimedia involvement it does remind of Kraftwerk appearance at some extend, but then it does not – with these dominating dictator-like figures busy with picturing our existence as one hopeless and monumental anti-utopia. And it is sort of sad and depressing, but at the same time it forces you to dance, repeating simple and clear lines: “Liver, liver, liver. We need to take and deliver”. It’s like an Apocalypse after party for the undead.

LP_Laibach2015Astra_0022“Teutonic pantomime with enough Nazi imagery to make Speer happy”, – concludes my Manchester fellow on the way out when we stop to have a glance at the Laibach merchandising. Paul Kehoe, who happens to be the drummer of “Peter Hook and the Light”, the band that keeps alive the heritage of Joy Division nowadays, suddenly spots something on one of the tables: “Oi!” he goes.

A few days later you still think in slogans

I looked down to see the both famous and infamous Hitler Youth “drummer boy” that ended up on the cover of the debut EP of Joy Division “An Ideal for Living”, back in 1978. Yep, the same drummer boy on the Laibach cigarette cover cases, and by “the same” I mean identical to the one Bernard Sumner once drew for his own record, now with a few modifications – such as replacing the boy’s face with the face of the “Statue of Liberty” and adding the band’s cog-wheel mark on the surface of the drum.

”Oi!” goes Paul once again when he spots a baby bib with an even more converted design of the original drawing. A little puzzled by the discovery, still hypnotized by the music, I found the way out through the shadowy crowd heading towards a red flag on top of the building at Warschauer strasse. It’s just the first thing you spot after the gig like this when you go out of Astra Kulturhaus. A few days later you still think in slogans and hum to yourself:

Walk with me
Walk with me
Monster of uncertainty
Walk with me
Walk with me
Walk with me

Article and photos: Pogo Dina
ludmilapogodina.com
Photo: facebook.com/ludmilapogodina.photo