Laibach: Anthems

by Pil and Galia Kollectiv

If your pony was the one-trick kind, wouldn’t it be cool if that trick was taking eighties pop tunes and turning them into cod-fascist mock operatic anthems? You might get a bit disconcerted if, mid-nineties, it decided to start its own a-territorial state and issue passports, but as long as that was just a phase and it stuck to pumping industrial techno, you wouldn’t mind too much.

If you had only just discovered Laibach with new compilation CD + DVD bonanza Anthems, you might be forgiven for thinking they were a secret project funded by the Bush administration for future deployment in some bizarre Guantanamo Bay scenario where menstruating east European whores are shipped in to smear their unholy blood on the prisoners faces to the pumping sounds of a mutant I § the 1980s show, totalitarianised to make the terrorists feel at home. Not that we’re denying any of this actually goes on in Guantanamo, but Laibach’s brand of popaganda actually precedes the madness of Dubya’s reign.

For Laibach, coming from the borders of the Iron Curtain, the war in Yugoslavia in the nineties was a logical progression from what they experienced in the post-Tito eighties: an insurmountable gap between the remnants of communism, the ideological teaching and weapons training in schools, and on the other hand the influence of western consumerism, French theory and even punk. In this respect, Laibach is the only logical outcome of the twentieth century: Laibach is Dada, surrealism and absurd theatre, Laibach is Himmler’s chamber of horrors, Mussolini’s balcony speeches, Stalin’s pet Gulag, Laibach is the culture industry, the Nation-state, fifties out-of-control suburban consumerism, the space race, the killing fields of Cambodia and elevator music all in one. And other than a handful of groups and individuals, Marcel Duchamp, Malcolm McLaren, J. G. Ballard, so few have managed to capture the contradictory nature of the last century with its wild promises of total dictatorship and complete freedom as well as Laibach.

Rightly interpreting pop as the folk mythology of our times, they rewrote the Beatles’ entire Let It Be album as the story of the birth of nationalism, turning “Get Back” from a search for personal roots into an anti-immigrant rant and “Across the Universe” from a quest for inner peace to a reactionary resistance to change. They covered the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” over a full length album, discovering new meanings in each line with every reiteration. Elsewhere, emptied of any sense of tragedy, the euphoria of “The Final Countdown”, “You’re in the Army Now” and “Life is Life” becomes a pure vessel for mind control, the individual subject of pop subsumed under the epic grandness of operatic vocals and orchestral instrumentation. And what their own original material lacked in this kind of wit it more than made up for in industrial perfection. That the world has caught up with Laibach, making their more recent forays into technoid soundscapery sound almost in synch with a post-Matrixian universe, really just proves that they were right all along. Reversing the scene in Apocalypse Now where nice bourgeois classical music soundtracks mass destruction, Laibach make genocidal muzak to toast your bread to.

The first CD in this lavish compilation contains everything you really need to know about Laibach, while the second’s remixes are a bit superfluous. But the real treat here is the DVD, which includes live performances, a film about the band, and, best of all, videos of some of Laibach’s finest moments. As an art collective, Laibach were able to recruit seriously good filmmakers to produce Mathew Barney-esque visualisations of their sinister sounds. Earlier mountaintop idylls and medieval settings segue into abstract explosions of digital imagery. And if all this isn’t enough to make you want to embrace the leader and throw away your voting rights, well maybe there’s hope for you yet.