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Laibach: Project and Performance Highlights: 1980-1989
by Donald Campbell

The content of this article is abstracted from The Unofficial Laibach Site, written and maintained by Donald Campbell.

1980 - 1982

In the year 1980, Yugoslavia's communist leader, Josip Broz (Tito) died (1892-1980), ending over thirty years of relatively stable rule. Shortly afterwards in the same year on the 1st of June the group Laibach was formed in Trbovlje, a small industrial-coal mining town just outside Ljubljana, Slovenia. The name Laibach had been used numerous times throughout history to refer to the city of Ljubljana. However, it's most recent use was imposed by Nazi Germany during the city's WWII occupation. In September, Laibach's first concert and exhibition, "Red Districts", due to be held at the "Trbovlje Workers' Cultural Centre", was banned. The event was designed to highlight the striking contradictions within the political structure of the town at the time, but the local Communist authorities objected to it, banning it for the reason that it used symbols inappropriately. Compulsory state military service undertaken by the band members prevented any major projects until 1982, but, in June 1981, an exhibition of Laibach's work took place at Belgrade Serbia's "Student Cultural Centre". On display were paintings, graphic works, articles and a presentation of Laibach's music previously recorded on tape.

In 1982, on January the 12th, Laibach performed for the first time in Ljubljana at the "FV 112/15 Club" along with an exhibition. This was followed by a concert in Zagreb Croatia's "Lapidarij Club" on April 2nd, and, on May 18th, a concert in Belgrade. The latter two concerts form the bulk of the material from the CD "Ljubljana-Zagreb-Beograd" with the Ljubljana material coming from the "New Rock Festival" held on September 10th. Laibach's sub-group "Dreihundert Tausend Verschiedene Krawalle" performed along side an exhibition of paintings and graphic art by Laibach on April the 28th at the "Student Cultural Centre" in Ljubljana. Laibach had been previously recording their music on consumer grade four track tape machines. On July the 12th they went to a professional studio and recorded four tracks: "Smrt za smrt", "Drzava" (appears in Ljubljana-Zagreb-Beograd), "Jaruzelsky" and "Zmagoslavje volje". On November the 23rd, Laibach held an exhibition entitled "Night of the Long Knives" which included the first recordings of another Laibach sub-group known as "Germania". Band member Tomaz Hostnik performed with Laibach for the last time at the "Mosa Pijade Hall" in Zagreb on December the 11th. The concert was investigated by the Zagreb police and army officers and, shortly later on December the 21st, Hostnik was found hanged. He was buried on December the 23rd 1982. His influence continues to this day.

1983

Around 1983 Laibach intensified their strong militaristic image by consistently appearing with shaved heads and military style clothes. On March the 6th 1983, Laibach held an exhibition in Zagreb's "Prosireni Mediji Gallery". This was closed down by the management after four days, when Laibach refused their request to take down some of the exhibits. Meanwhile, in the following month, Laibach released a cassette with the British band "Last Few Days". On April 23rd both bands along with another British band "23 Skidoo" held an all night concert at Zagreb's "Music Biennial" before the police brought it to an end around 5 a.m. A communist military official inspecting the show disapproved of Laibach's film collages and use of symbols. The festival organiser also publicly condemned Laibach and announced that rock music would be banned from the next festival, mainly to escape any consequences from authorities. Someone who was at that concert described the intimidating half hour build up to the Laibach performance: searchlights peering into the unlit audience area, static images and films of concentration camps, the sound of screaming Nazi officers, barking guard dogs, sirens and other very loud noises. This resulted in a general feeling of unease and confusion for the audience.
In May, Laibach signed a contract with "RTV Ljubljana" for the release of their planned first album "Nebro Zari" (The Sky Glows). On June the 23rd, the group made its first television appearance on "TV Tednik", a prime time political news program on Slovenian television. While Laibach were being interviewed by the show's host, Jure Pengov, their appearance made them look like humorless Nazi officers wearing armbands sporting an Iron Cross (in fact, they were representations of the Malevich Cross). Behind them were large drawings of Nuremberg style rallies with the word "Laibach" printed on them. A Laibach member recited a pre-prepared statement (their "Documents of Oppression") while the others members sat motionless, staring beyond the camera. At the end, the host branded them enemies of the people and appealed to the citizens to stop and destroy this group. The interview provoked numerous reactions with little opportunity for Laibach to defend themselves in public. The fallout from this interview played a large role in "RTV Ljubljana"'s eventual decision to cancel their release of the promised first album.
The interview also resulted in a politically motivated administrative ban on public appearances of the band and the public use of the name Laibach. This prohibition lasted until February 1987. As local authorities cracked down, the group dealt with the domestic trouble by setting their sights on Europe. Together with "Last Few Days" they organised the "Occupied Europe Tour 1983" which consisted of seventeen concerts in sixteen cities spanning eight countries. It was planned to start with two concerts, in Belgrade and Ljubljana, but both were cancelled. Thus, the tour started in Vienna, Austria at the "Arena Club" on November 1st and ended in London, England at the "Diorama Club" on the 23rd of December. Two concerts in Czechoslovakia were cancelled due to the group being denied entry. The tour received rapturous critical and audience response, especially in Poland. While they were there, the Solidarity riots were taking place. In this politically charged atmosphere, events demonstrated the ambiguous and sometimes politically contradictory nature of Laibach. They were hosted by the cultural attache to the Yugoslav embassy, they were invited by Polish tour organisers to Auschwitz, they held a press conference with the Warsaw audience, and were barracked by the Polish government (as they were convinced that Laibach were loyal communists). A review of the concert described the group building a wall of vibrating noise while towering images from nationalist films dwarfed the proceedings on stage. Meanwhile singer Milan Fras circulated through the audience with his hands behind his back doing little but spreading confusion. During this tour, the Amsterdam, Netherlands concert at the "N.L. Centrum" was recorded and released on tape in 1984 by "Staal Tape". Titled "Through the Occupied Netherlands" the tape contained a soundboard recording which took place on November the 30th 1983.

1984

While on tour Laibach signed a contract with the Belgian company "L.A.Y.L.A.H." to release Laibach's first record. "Boji/Sila/Brat Moj" was released in February 1984. An Italian label, "Trax International" released a cassette compilation in which groups from all over the world composed new national anthems for their own respective countries. Laibach represented Yugoslavia although the anthem was entitled "Hej Slovani". In March, Laibach signed a contract with "East West Trading" ditributed label "Cherry Red Records". Before signing, Cherry Red President Iain McNay was forced to read an eleven page document outlining Laibach's political manifesto. In May, Laibach's second record "Panorama" was released. Laibach held just one official concert ("Belgrade Student Culture Centre on June 6th) and a handful of exhibitions. They were keen to hold a concert in memory of Tomaz Hostnik, however the political authorities of S.R. Slovenia had invoked the city of Ljubljana's bylaws to prevent the group from appearing in public. They decided to go ahead with a concert on the second anniversary of Hostnik's death, but without any reference to name Laibach. The posters went up overnight around Ljubljana with a black cross representing Laibach, and the initials M.B. for "Malci Belic Hall". Radio stations advertisements avoided all mention of the name. Nevertheless, astute listeners could guess who the group was from the short sound sample that served as the commercial's backdrop. The concert was recorded and four tracks from it were released with additional material from the "Occupied Europe 1985" tour on the CD "M.B. December 21 1984" (1986 "Side Effects" label). Later that year, Laibach joined together with Irwin (a graphic art group consisting of traditionally trained painters) and Scipion Sisters Nasice ( an experimental dance group) to create the collective "Neue Slowenische Kunst" or "NSK" (translation from German for "New Slovene Art"). The individual groups had met before, being friends and associates in Ljublana, and had decided to band together to create a synergistic effect. Other groups soon formed within the NSK such as "Novi Kolektivizem" (New Collectivism) in 1984 to meet the NSK graphic design demands. Through the NSK organisation, Laibach and the associated partners began addressing the nationalist aspirations that were begining to surface in Slovenia. The outcome of this movement and its current international stature would have been difficult for its founding participants to imagine in 1984.

1985

On February 18th 1985, Laibach appeared at the "Berlin Atonal Festival". Two tracks from this concert were featured on the CD "M.B. December 21 1984" with another three tracks from the April the 26th concert at Zagreb's "Kulusic Hall". The following day (April the 27th), Laibach's debut album was released in Yugoslavia on the Slovenian "Ropot" label. The album currently bears the title "Laibach", but when it originally released it only bore the distinctive Laibach graphics due to the ongoing administrative ban on the band's name. In May, the double LP "Rekapitulacija 1980-1984" was released in Europe by the German record company "Walter Ulbricht Schallfolien". On June the 15th, Laibach appeared at the "Neue Konservativ" festival. The concert was recorded and released later that year as a semi-official bootleg titled after the festival. Some of the recorded material was also featured on the "Occupied Europe Tour 1985" LP. A week later Laibach embarked on the short "Occupied Europe Tour 1985" in the Netherlands. A concert recorded in the church of "Posthorn kerk" was recorded and released on tape entitled "Ein Schauspieler" by "Staal Tape". Another was recorded the next day at "Hell Hall" in Hertogenbosch and released by "V2" under the title "Life In Hell". The tour then moved to London for two concerts at the "Bloombury Festival". These were the first concerts held in London since the 1983 "Diorama" show where audience members, being aurally assualted, returned fire with readily obtainable physical objects. The "Bloombury" audience were less retaliatory enabling recordings to be made, which were included in the "Occupied Europe Tour 1985" LP. Since 1983 Laibach had been attracting a growing interest from the British and European music press, but at first Laibach refused to do any form of interviews and the press had to gather information from those who had come into contact with Laibach such as the members of bands "23 Skidoo" and "Last Few Days". Eventually Laibach decided to do interviews, but only in the form of completing written submissions to questions. This bemused the press, but the the humor of the band's "Lacan" style answers was almost completely lost on the average reader. This became their preferred form of communication with the press from about 1986 onwards. Some journalists became fascinated by Laibach and the NSK and "went native", being co-opted by the band. For example, British journalist Biba Kopf appeared in Laibach / NSK films, and also wrote the sleeve notes to the "Novi Kolektivizem" produced, "Mute Records" 1994 CD release "Trans Slovenia Express". Another British journalist, Chris Bohn, took a much deeper role and was heavily involved with the 1994 Laibach "Mute Records" CD release "Jesus Christ Superstars" as well as writing the script for the Laibach film "Bravo".
On November the 17th, Laibach began their, "Laibach Uber Dem Deutschland - Die Erste Bombardierung" German tour starting in Munich's "Arena Hall". In the middle of this tour "Cherry Red Records" released the 12inch 45 "Die Liebe". Laibach ended their German tour at Koln on December 6th, and travelled down to Zagreb for the "Das Ist Kunst" concert but decided to cancel after the managment heavily censored the program. A performance went ahead in Belgrade the next day on the 9th, but Laibach's posters were banned.

1986

On February 6th the "Theatre of Scipion Nasice" performed the premiere of the spectacle "Krst Pod Triglavom" ("Baptism under the Triglav"). One of the NSK's largest projects, it include a cast and crew of over 250 people, and was financed and staged at state supported cultural centres. It was seen by about 25,000 people. The "London International Festival of Theatre" (LIFT) had hoped to bring the show to London but the Scipion Nasice announced that the group were planning to 'self destruct' by 1987 (forming Red Pilot in the process) presented this. The storyline of "Baptism" concerned the battle between the last Slovenian pagan leader and the invading German Catholics. Laibach music was used instead instead of dialogue. Other NSK members supplied the sets, actors and direction. Two days after the Baptism premiere, the Laibach LP "Nova Akropola" was released by "Cherry Red Records". At this point, Laibach signed with "Mute Records" to release subsequent recordings.On March 15th Laibach performed at the "D.M.A.2. Festival" in Bordeaux, France. This show was recorded and released on cassette by "Le Reseau" and titled "Divergences". Around this time, Graeme Revell of "SPK" organised the thematic compilation album "Vhutemas Archetypi" featuring Laibach as well as "Hunting Lodge", "Gerechtigkeits Liga" and "Lustmord". "Novi Kolektivizem" oversaw a large part of the design for this project. Graeme Revell helped to arrange the "Germania" track for the B-side of "Life Is Life" ("Mute Records single, 1987) and also recorded the London concert that featured in the "Occupied Europe Tour 1985" LP which was released by "Side Effects Records on April the 16th. In May, the "Socialist Youth Alliance of Slovenia" awarded the "NSK" the "Golden Bird Prize" in recognition of their work and contribution to new Slovene art. On June 5th, Laibach started their first British tour. On June 9th, Manchester's "Boardwalk Club" was the site of their first English concert outside London. Their performance featuring about half an hour of German choral music followed by a wood chopper on stage baffled most of the audience. At the end of the short tour, the BBC's legendary John Peel invited Laibach to record a Peel Session (Released on "Strange Fruit Records", 2002) where they recorded Krst, Fertile Land and Life Is Life. Laibach's profile had increased considerably. At this point Laiabch became generally recognized within Yugoslavia as the most successful music group that Yugoslavia had ever produced. This led some to call for a fairer deal for Laibach. On September 18th a public round table discussion of the Ljubljana Laibach ban took place in the city's "Peklensko dvorisce" (Internal Court), "Krizanke".
Meanwhile, in England, renowned experimental British dancer Michael Clark, who was looking for a harder, more aggressive sound to give his work a more frightening and horrific aspect, chose to collaborate with Laibach. In September, the partnership yieded fifteen performances with "Michael Clark and Company" in London's "No Fire Escape in Hell" venue. Laibach then returned back to Ljubljana to start work on the "Opus Dei" album. Recording of the record began in November; mixing occurred in December with Rico Conning in London.


1987

On January the 20th, "Mute Records" released the 12inch 45 "Geburt Einer Nation". This was a German language cover version of the rock group "Queen"'s song "One Vision", stylistically transformed into a militaristic nationalist revolutionary anthem. Western opinion up until now had viewed Laibach as hardline Communists (if not actually Stalinists). "Geburt Einer Nation" changed this view. The "Mute Records" Laibach LP "Opus Dei" was released in February and elicted further questions regarding the aims of the group. Inner sleeve artwork featured the stylized swastika (Blood and Iron 1934) photomontage of German artist Helmut Herzfelde (John Heartfield). Similarly, uniforms that the band wore on promotional video that to the uninformed eye appeared Nazi were in fact traditional Slovene hunting clothes. Meanwhile, Yugoslav's outside Slovenia were promulgating the theory that Laibach were, in fact, a puppet of the federal state. In reality, the communist authorities were always unsure how to react to Laibach who presented themselves as a totalitarian organism whose zeal for authority far outstripped that of the state and whose work often mixed elements of national socialism and socialist realism. The fact that it was difficult to interpret one way or the other showed that Laibach were masters of paradox. Within Slovenia, Laibach's political difficulties were ending. The thaw began in 1986 when the "Youth League" began to support them and Laibach were allowed to perform the "Bloody Ground - Fertile Soil" concert at Hum, near Novi Gorica Slovenia on April the 5th. This was Laibach's first official concert on Slovene territory since 1983. On February the 17th, 1987 they performed the first authorised concert in Ljubljana at "Pionirski Dom". On March the 16th, they began their "United States of Europe" Tour in Vienna, and entered Britain in April for four concerts before returning to the continent to finish the tour. While in Britain they recorded another Peel Session (the three tracks were "Leben-Tod", "Trans-national" and "Ti Ki Izzivas".) On May the 1st, Laibach's second Yugoslav LP "Slovenska Akropola" was released with the name "Laibach" on the sleeve. The sleeve artwork included an outline of the Slovenian parliament that had been designed by Joze Plecnik around the mid 1920's.
A similar example of the subversive methodology of NSK was demonstrated in what became known as the Yugoslavia's "Youth Day" scandal. "Youth Day" was celebrated on May the 25th, the late President Tito's birthday. Earlier "Novi Kolektivizem" had entered a competition to design the poster advertising the event. Their entry was based on Richard Klein's work 'The Third Reich" produced for the Nazis fifty years earlier. The Nazi poster was a marching, bare-chested Aryan youth holding a torch. The Nazi flag behind him was changed to a Yugoslav flag, they changed the torch design to a blurred Slovenian parliament, the eagle was changed to a white dove of peace and changed a few other small details, but it was basically same poster. It was then submitted to the competition and awarded first prize. It was reproduced in a newspaper where an observant member of the public spotted the similarity. The embarrassed authorities immediately replaced it with the runner up. The works of the NSK often revealed fascism, communism and religion as different reflections of the same totalitarianism. The Yugoslav authorities were attracted to the poster by its fascist elements. The Slovene authorities distanced themselves from the poster but resisted demands to jail the members of "Novi Kolektivizem".
On May the 6th Laibach returned to Britain to perform with Michael Clark and Company for eight performances of "No Fire Escape in Hell". The entire NSK was invited to the festival "Amsterdam - Cultural Metropolis of Europe 1987" in July, where Laibach performed a concert at the "Paradisco Hall" on the 18th. "Life Is Life", the second single from "Opus Dei" was released on the 21st of July. In September, Laibach performed with "Michael Clark and Company" at the "Los Angles Festival". Laibach had split into two groups, while one half was in the United States, the other half was in Germany performing "Macbeth". They were commissioned by the "Deutsches Schauspielhaus" to provide musical accompaniment to their production of the Shakespeare play. They actually joined the acting cast, and stood two abreast on two halves of a large cross which was divided, playing their music. At the end of each act, the cross joined up at the centre and Laibach stood together. After appearing in Los Angeles, Michael Clark took his production to Belgrade for a festival but had to perform without Laibach who were banned. On November the 12th, "Opus Dei" was released in Yugoslavia under licence by "Ljubljana ZKP RTV", who were the same group that had cancelled Laibach's scheduled debut album in 1983. A few days later two independent record companies "Walter Ulbricht Schallfolien" and "Sub Rosa" jointly released the double LP "Krst Pod Triglavom". Laibach appearred at the "Trans Musicales Festival" in France were they caused a bit of controversy at the pre-concert conference where they had blamed lobbyists for the boycott of their videos in the United States. Laibach ended the year with a short German tour starting with Stuttgart at the "Longhorn Hall" on December the 20th, and ending after six concerts in Bielefeld on the 27th.

1988

Laibach started work on their next album "Let It Be" and the "Sympathy For the Devil" project. They contributed two tracks (originally found on Ein Schauspieler) to the thematic compilation released by "N.L. Centrum/Play It Again Sam", which was released on March the 4th. Also in March they took part in the "Divergences Festival" in Bordeaux. On June 4th, they performed at the "Wiener Festwoche Festival" in Vienna. Laibach recieved permission to play their first solo concerts in the United States on the 24th and 25th of June, for the "New York Festival of Arts" at "The Kitchen" in New York City. Members of the audience were interviewed regarding their reactions to the performances. A representative sample included a very angry individual who dismisses Laibach as 'art fags'. This and some of the other reactions can be seen in the Bravo film. In August, BBC's "Rough Guide To Europe" featured Ljubljana with a large amount of coverage for Laibach and the NSK. While showing a clip from the "Geburt Einer Nation" video they mentioned that Laibach had a large "National Front" following in Britain. They were threatened with legal action regarding the accuracy of the statement, and it was replaced in subsequent repeat broadcasts. The program gave the British viewers a glimpse of the slide towards disintegration within Yugoslavia, including a report about the show trial of the journalists of "Mladina" magazine. "Mladina" was established in 1943, as a paper of the "Communist Youth Organization" in Slovenia. After the war, it remained the official voice of the "Socialist Youth Alliance of Slovenia". Not long after Tito's death, they gradually became more critical of the regime, and becoming very much a voice of dissent. In 1988 they went attacked the privileges of the army, specifically those of the defence minister, and the army chiefs decided to prosecute. Three of "Mladina"'s journalists including the editor in chief were sentence to jail on the charge of stealing military secrets, amid protests from most of Slovenia's media. Though the appeal court upheld their sentences, they avoided serving them due to legal technicalities. On September the 16th, Laibach took part in the NSK visual presentation "Observatory Red Pilot" at the "Equrna Gallery", Ljubljana. The following week "Sympathy For The Devil I" and "II" are released. The two maxi singles containing six different versions of the title. The releases are completely unrelated related to the album "Let It Be" which was released on October the 24th. Laibach used the last "Beatles" album to mirror the events of Yugoslavia's disintegration. A complete cover of the "Beatles" album minus the title track is, arguably, their most complete unified artistic accomplishment. It was released on December the 10th 1988. Two days later they began the "Sympathy For The Devil" tour at the "Town and Country Club" in London ending the tour at Aachen, Germany on December the 21st.


1989

Laibach mount their first full tour of North America, starting in Boston at the "Axis Club" on February the 2nd, and, within the month had toured across the continent, performing sixteen concerts.
On March the 3rd, a large NSK exhibition took place in Dusseldorf organised by "Irwin" with Laibach performing at the "Zakk Club". While Yugoslavia continued towards disintegration, Laibach conducted a Yugoslav tour, which kicked off in Ljubljana on March the 30th. The next two concerts were in Bosnia-Herzegovina on the 7th and 8th of April at the CDA Youth Hall in Sarajevo. They had never before been allowed to perform in the republic. On tour they entered Belgrade where they had not performed since February 1987, the year Slobodan Milosevic came to power. Slovenia was now openly moving towards becoming an independent state, antagonising Serbia, who responded by announcing an economic boycott of the republic. Across Yugoslavia feelings had been running high, occasionally spilling into violence. Laibach made the risky decision to play two concerts in the centre of Serbian nationalism. There was strong suspicion that Laibach were sponsored by the Slovene authorities. Their work in the last few years had displayed strong Slovene identitifiers: clothes, symbols (Triglav), and images of red deers, the Alps, Slovenian architecture etc. At the concert, the German propaganda film "The Bombing of Belgrade" was shown together with inserted clips of a Tito era film "First Official Meeting of the Non-Aligned countries in Belgrade". Before the concert began Peter Mlakar read out a speech in Serbian and German warning the audience the danger of Milosevic's agenda. The Yugoslav tour ended at Maribor's "Sports Centre" on May the 10th. The next day the Austrian tour began in Graz at the "Haus der Jugend Hall", followed by the continuation of the "Sympathy For The Devil" tour across Europe until August the 12th where they ended the tour at Stockholm. Laibach then went into the studio in Ljubljana to record "MacBeth", the soundtrack they had performed for "Deutsches Schauspielhaus" in 1987 and 1988. Eastern Europe was now undergoing a massive change as communism began collapsing with little resistance and on November the 9th the Berlin Wall fell. Mute re-released the single (from "Let it Be") "Across the Universe" in December.

Written by Donald Campbell ("...very little of this information came from Laibach directly, the bulk of it was from a large collection of press cuttings, eyewitness accounts and various other sources. Laibach do like to keep things a little mysterious or hazy. I'm sure it will be part of their pension plan when they bring out the autobiographies..."). Edited February 2005.