It was, as industrial pioneers Laibach noted, “a small step for Laibach [but] a large step for humanity.”
The group, much maligned in the West, certainly by the press, were commenting on their trip to North Korea, a brief sojourn that earned them the distinction of being the first modern rock n roll group to visit the territory.
That trip is documented in Liberation Day, a film put together by Morten Traavik, a Norwegian director whose input helped Laibach attain the accolade ahead of other Western acts who you might have assumed would be ahead of them in the queue.
The trip earned them opprobrium and scorn from across the board, as commentators, notably chat show host John Oliver, unceremoniously took the mickey out of them and the North Korean's when the news emerged. Footage of his thoughts, funny but arguably misguided, appear in the first part of Liberation Day.
Those with more than a working knowledge of Laibach and their 30 year plus history will have at least understood how North Korea was a logical next step. Both band and the country have been criticised for their politics over the years, with Laibach, from former Yugoslavia (the bit that is now Slovenia), under fire for flirting with fascistic and totalitarian imagery since their inception.
Check their promos and songs for evidence, their covers – the band are notable for their own takes on songs, turning feelgood ditties such as Queen’s 'One Vision' and Opus’ 'Life Is Life' into proto-fascist anthems, the perfect playlist for your own Nuremberg Rally in the comfort of your own home.
It is, I suggest to the band, a logical choice. What did they think? “In fact, [we perceived it] as you did; it couldn’t be more logical.”
I was “speaking” to Laibach via email, which, given the band’s tendencies, is perfect. I just wish the document containing the band’s answers could have been labelled Laibach Communique, or a similar kind of header. It could have gone either way – short, monosyllabic answers, or lengthy treatises on the nature of pop and propaganda, of fanaticism and fascism, of touring and totalitarianism. What actually turned up was somewhere in between.
Like much of Laibach’s work, it’s laced with dark humour. I’ve always had more than a passing interest in the band, for their imagery and ideas – I’ve always been a sucker for a band with an overriding ethos or manifesto, something they’ve never been short of. Their totalitarianistic tendencies have always meant their music has been relegated further down, but their imperious covers of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil are worth the price of admission, there’s at least one pre-1988 proto-house banger in there too.
Were they pleased with the way the film went? “Yes we were,” say the band (there is no identity or individuals quoted here, which is just how one might hope they’d reply), adding the Traavik directed picture was a “very faithful” record of the trip.
The film follows the lengthy, and at times protracted negotiations over their set in the country. “Most of it, what the camera was able to get, is there - and the camera was able to get almost everywhere,” the band say. “Of course, there were a lot of negotiations about Laibach getting into North Korea beforehand - between Morten Traavik and the North Korean authorities - that were not documented, but you can imagine the extent of those.”
The whole experience, particularly the live concert, makes for some rather unusual viewing. Footage from North Korea, even under supervision, offers a fascinating glimpse into a rarely seen world. What did the band learn from their experience? “We learned that we don’t know nothing about anything and that reality is surreal.”
The links between the isolated state and the band were clear, the similarlities easy for Laibach to spot. “Yes, we do [see parallels]. We both don’t care much how we are interpreted.”
The negative publicity before, during and after the event was nothing new for the band. All it does, they note, is affect them “positively”, the coverage, even the column inches branding them fascistic was “inspiring”. The North Korea visit should have changed the perception in more democratic climes, but it has done little of the sort. “It should [have changed], but we don’t care.”
Was it an experience they’d repeat again? “We would love to do it again, maybe with their symphonic or military orchestra. Or together with the Moranbong pop band. That would be a knockout.”
Perhaps the highlight of the film is the reaction of the crowd to the concert, it’s muted, with those attending, many in uniform, not being entirely clear how to react. It’s as Laibach as it gets. “The audience was perfect,” they say, “this was one of the most Laibachian concerts ever and it could hardly have been better – the audience not being allowed to express their enjoyment (even if they maybe did enjoy). We are suspicious when an audience enjoys.”
As one spectator notes in the film: ““There are all kinds of music. Now we know there’s this kind of music too.”
So what next for Laibach? The North Korean trip and film seem to have given them fresh impetus. “We played a lot of shows, we had exhibitions - at the moment there is a big Laibach & NSK exhibition in Madrid’s Reina Sofia - and we are working on several new projects. We are particularly proud of the concerts that we did together with diverse symphonic orchestras (in Bruxelles, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Poznan) and we intend to develop this in the future.”
Later this year, there will be a London appearance too. “We will perform a new album 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' and we don’t yet know exactly what to expect. Maybe the audience should expect nothing and it’ll get a lot.”
We close with, and to use the phrase they have, the most Laibachian answer you could ever get to a question from Laibach. Do they feel, I proffer, that their influence on music since their early 1980s inception in Tito’s Yugoslavia, not just in terms of music, from industrial to techno and back, as well as imagery, often replicated in similar styles and genres, has been underplayed?
“Would it be a problem,” the answer came back, “if we said we don’t care?”
•Liberation Day is released exclusively on iTunes on Monday July 17th. Head HERE to pre-order.