To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
28 Jul 2015 10:32
Laibach perform live in Trbovlje, Slovenia, on July 4 2015 (Jure Makovec, AFP)
As far as rock scenes go, North Korea’s is low-key. Apart from the famous
Moranbong girl band, the country’s
deeply restrictive system of political censorship makes it an unlikely pit stop
for a group on a world tour.
Yet in August, as part of their Liberation Day concerts, Slovenian
play at Pyongyang’s Kim Won Gyun musical conservatory to an
audience of 1 000 locals and a handful of foreigners – making them the first Western rock band to play in the country to date.
The gig takes place as the DPRK celebrates 70 years since the liberation
of the peninsula from Japanese colonial rule. Announcing the tour in June, the band
described North Korea as “a reclusive garrison state as well-known for its
military marches, mass gymnastics and hymns to the
Great Leader, as for its defiant resistance to Western popular
In an interview ahead of the tour, band member Ivan Novak said the group
would adapt the setlist to meet the sensitive needs of the country.
“We are adjusting our programme to the North Korean context,” he said,
“and we’ll perform several Laibachian versions of the songs from the
, adding some additional songs from Korean heritage”.
Asked whether he feared any kind of censorship, Novak said: “We hope not
– we’ll behave like guests normally should.”
The band’s public statements about the DPRK would not be controversial
in the totalitarian country itself.
Novak, for example, blames the stand-off on
the peninsula on the intervention of foreign powers, criticising China and the
US for their division of Korea more than North Korea itself.
“We see the situation on the Korean Peninsula as a result of the Cold War,” he said. Truman doctrine, which has decided that a united
Korea is a no-go, because it would not be in the interests of both superpowers,
China and United States.”
“North Korea as it is fits America better, since it can be used as an
excuse for strong US military presence in the region.”
Since being founded in the Slovenian town of Trbovlje in the year of
Yugoslav leader Josip Tito’s death, “rising to fame as Yugoslavia steered
towards self-destruction,” as they put it, Laibach has eschewed simplistic
descriptions of its music, which has been variously described as rock,
avant-garde neoclassical dark wave and “industrial”.
Blending music with visual art, the band’s first performance took place
alongside an exhibition called
Victims of an Air Accident.
Before long this blending of visual art and complex music caught the
attention of Yugoslavia’s authorities, with a piece entitled
The Revolution is Still Going On, depicting Tito next to a penis,
being shut down by police in the middle of the show.
Before long they were banned from publicly performing in their home
country, but recording sessions with John Peel in 1986 and 1987 led to an
international tour and a much improved profile.
Laibach is no run-of-the-mill, easy listening rock band – this isn’t
Hasselhoff on the Berlin Wall or the Kim family favorite, Eric Clapton. The band
is famously subversive, with an ironic tone and use of political imagery
including, most controversially, fascist iconography – while at the same time collaborating
with anti-fascist artists. Theband has been described both as the most absurd
band to have ever existed and known for provoking debate and been as the
godfathers of Occupy and Anonymous. So how did they end up playing Pyongyang?
The Norwegian connectionThe band’s journey to North Korea started with Morten Traavik, a
Norwegian director who has conducted cultural exchanges with the DPRK,
including an Arirang mass games-style concert in Norway
and opening an international art academy in Pyongyang.
His association with the band he has loved since the 1980s began last
year, when members approached him to direct a music video for the single
The Whistleblowers. During the project, the suggestion of a visit to North Korea
Morten Traavik: ‘We’ll behave like guests normally should’“The idea of trying to connect Laibach, a band which has always
celebrated the notion of mass movements and collective efforts, and North Korea
was kind of bound to raise its head at some point,” said Traavik.
“It’s a quite
logical extension of the previous collaborations I’ve had with DPR Korean
artists and cultural authorities.”
With the band’s charged political performances, might there be a chance
of trouble from the authorities when it takes to the stage with a performance
reflecting the band’s anti-totalitarian past? Traavik doesn’t think so.
“We’re going with no hidden agendas and I think this simple fact will
probably be more provoking to the human rights zealots on ‘our own’ side of the
fence than to the [North] Koreans,” he said. “I can’t really see what the
trouble would then be.”
Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in
North Korea, said the tour would be “interesting”.
Scarlatoiu said that while one concert was unlikely to challenge the
state’s grip on power, exposing everyday citizens to art and culture from the
outside world may be beneficial.
“If young North Koreans attend, there may be an impact, even if only
members of the elites were in attendance,” he wrote . “If there are few or no young
people in the audience, the concert will be clearly just a sham.”
Laibach said they don’t know whether Kim Jong-un himself will attend the
concert, or whether he’s a fan, but Novak says: “he might as well be without
knowing it yet”. - © Guardian News and Media 2015
Create Account | Lost Your Password?