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