Laibach shows extensive range with performance in three parts
It seems as if Laibach is busy with several tours at the same time. We recently saw a masterful performance of ‘Alamut’ in Frankfurt, and just two weeks later we booked a ticket for a performance of the ‘Love Is Still Alive’ tour in Heerlen. In the Netherlands, but close to the Belgian border. In the meantime, the Slovenian avant-garde band has also announced an ‘Opus Dei’ tour, of which a few dates have already been revealed, and which I would also like to attend.
‘Love Is Still Alive’ is an EP released in early 2023, based on a song Laibach recorded for the film ‘Iron Sky II: The Coming Race’. This will be the material for the first part of the concert.
Marina Mårtensson – who was given the extremely difficult task to replace the beautiful Mina Špiler, who had been a fixture at Laibach performances for a more than a decade – performs alone on stage, accompanied by a folk guitar. Like a true singer-songwriter, she strikes a few chords while the other musicians enter the stage.
Then we get the official country version of 'Love Is Still Alive', based on the same simple chords, of course. Milan Fras comes on stage in a glittery vest and a gigantic white cowboy hat and sings: ‘My English is no heaven / My German's even worse / But I can drive the spaceship / Across the universe’, in his well-known gurgling grave voice. It is clear that Laibach is making fun of itself again, which may have been the whole point of participating in the two ‘Iron Sky’ movies.
The idea behind the ‘Love Is Stille Alive’ EP is to present the song in different musical versions, always based on the song's simple chord progression. Milan remains on stage for a moment, nodding his head to the rhythm of the second version of the song, which is actually an instrumental version of the original, but then leaves the stage.
Marina continues to provide some background vocals and play tambourine on the third, techno-style version. Luka Jamnik, the electronic effects man, provides the distorted robotic voice that regularly repeats ‘across the universe’. After Marina has also left the stage, the four-piece group continues instrumentally, with versions of the song that first lean towards trance, and then towards lounge (with a nice nod to 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond').
When guitarist Vitja Balžalorsky reaches for his bow to start the ambient version, Marina returns to the stage to provide the song with some angelic vocals. Later Milan also returns, to sing along on a slow version with tons of drum rolls and background vocals.
I had some doubts about the idea of performing the ‘Love Is Still Alive’ EP in its entirety, because I saw this record more as a side project than as a serious Laibach record. But now I have seen the performance, I think the idea is excellent, especially because it is presented as one extended song that guides listeners through very different atmospheres in a short time, all excellently performed by the band.
An intermezzo of exactly fifteen minutes follows, with a countdown clock. The title ‘We’ll Be Back’ appears, along with images of the Indian Winnetou riding his horse through the mountains. Winnetou is a character of the 19th century German writer Karl May, and caused a controversy in Germany some time ago because two Winnetou books were withdrawn from the market due to racism and cultural appropriation, coupled with the outrage about so much woke madness and cancel culture. I guess the fact that some Winnetou-movies were filmed in Yugoslavia was also important in the choice of the images.
The second part starts with songs from ‘Wir sind das Volk’, which is perhaps my favorite Laibach album of recent years. The record was made for a theatre performance based on texts by the German writer Heiner Müller, known for his sharp observations of 20th century Germany, and I still regret not having been able to attend a performance of this.
‘Ordnung und Disziplin’ and ‘Ich bin der Engel der Verzweiflung’ are two songs from that record, based on dissonant sounds and unruly rhythms, which are more typical of the pure industrial style that Laibach has developed over the years. There are beautiful background images, which are the work of Laibach's chief ideologist Ivan Novak, although it is a mystery whether the man is also present today.
Afterwards we get two songs from another record that Laibach made for a stage performance: ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, which is possibly also my favorite Laibach record from recent years. In ‘Das Nachtlied I’, Milan Fras declaims how dark the night is, and with ‘Als Geist’ he continues in the same dark and tormented spirit.
Laibach clearly wants to play songs from the excellent last albums, because it continues with two songs from the fantastic ‘Sketches of the Red District’, which was released early this year and is probably my favorite Laibach album of recent years. The album refers to Laibach's early years in the industrial communist stronghold of Trbovlje.
The record retells the tale of the battle between communists and fascists in Trbovlje in early Yugoslavia, but also recalls Laibach's first banned performance in their home town in 1980. The music returns to the industrial music that Laibach produced in the early eighties, and the songs ‘Glück Auf!’ and ‘Lepo – Krasno’ (Beautiful – wonderful) are again accompanied by beautiful images of falling hammers and red-white films of Trbovlje.
We continue with even more references to the early days, as songs from Laibach's first two records from 1985 and 1986 are played, but in the ‘Revisited’ versions that were released in 2020, and which certainly form one of my favorite Laibach records from the recent years. The debut album was released in 1985 without a name because the name Laibach was banned in Slovenia at the time, as a result of several scandalous performances by the group. (You can read the full story here.)
The songs start with pure noise and piano chaos, which culminates in an excellent and more structured version of ‘Smrt za Smrt’ (Death for death). It is striking that Marina is not asked to provide background vocals, but that recordings of former singer Mina Špiler are still used, which cut through to the bone. Mina can also be seen in background images. We wonder if she'll ever be seen on stage with Laibach again, because she just took a break to make a baby, and seems to still be on good terms with the band.
We dive deeper into the darkness with ‘Krvava gruda - plodna zemlja’ (Bloody soil - fertile land), with a German-language speech to soldiers as an intro, and later an angel choir in which Mina appears again. Perhaps we should also mention here that the 1986 album ‘Nova Akropola’, on which the song was originally featured, will soon be reissued with two additional albums with live performances of the songs. We end with ‘Ti, ki izzivaš’ (You who challenge), which is always a dark highlight of performances.
It is clear that old hand Milan Fras was given the lead role in the second part of the performance, which mainly consisted of dissonant and brutal industrial. As the group leaves the stage, ‘Maybe We'll Be Back’ appears on the screen, with images of Winnetou waving at us.
After a short break, the band returns, this time with both Milan and Marina. They perform Leonard Cohen's song 'The Future' as a duo, a song that could actually have been written for Laibach: ‘Give me back the Berlin wall / Give me Stalin and St. Paul / I've seen the future, brother / It is murder’. The next song also seemed tailor-made for Laibach, and has been part of the Laibach-repertoire since the late eighties: ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. As you can guess, the audience goes crazy during this classic.
The first encores conclude with ‘The Coming Race’, which was the main song from the film of the same name that inspired this tour, and the soundtrack of which has just been released by Laibach. It leans towards soul and R&B, but certainly should be a part of a performance of ‘Love Is Still Alive’. At the end of the song, Milan signals that we should be silent, so that he can conclude with optimal effect with the slogan: ‘Let's Make Earth Great Again’.
The group band the stage again, and this time the message ‘Maybe Yes, Maybe No’ appears. Winnetou prepares to disappear. Yet the group returns to sing their last single: ‘The Engine Of Survival’, a beautiful ballad that once again takes the form of a duet between Milan and Marina.
It was an impressive performance with three clearly distinguishable parts. The first part was a freely accessible experiment to perform a song based on a simple chord progression in very diverse ways, in a stretched out and catchy composition. In the second part, we got raw and inaccessible industrial, and you probably noticed that this was the highlight of the performance for me. In the closing part – the encore songs – we got covers and more poppy songs.
And although this may seem very diverse, it was a masterfully designed whole, in which Laibach displayed the scope of his skills in all its facets. I recommend everyone to attend this show. Laibach is till touring with the program through Europe. We enjoyed another successful performance and look forward to what the future will bring.
Post-apocalypse : Love is Still Alive I (Moon, Euphoria) / Love is Still Alive II (Venus, Libidine) / Love is Still Alive III (Mercury, Dopamine) / Love is Still Alive IV (Neptune, Oxytocin) / Love is Still Alive V (Uranus, Prolactin) / Love is Still Alive VI (Saturn, Insomnia) / Love is Still Alive VII (Jupiter, Tristitia) / Love is Still Alive VIII (Mars, Dysphoria)
War : Ordnung und Disziplin (Müller versus Brecht) / Ich bin der Engel der Verzweiflung / Das Nachtlied I / Als Geist / Glück Auf! / Lepo – Krasno / Smrt za smrt / Krvava gruda - plodna zemlja / Ti, ki izzivaš
Repent : The Future (Leonard Cohen) / Sympathy for the Devil (The Rolling Stones) / The Coming Race
The Engine Of Survival : The Engine Of Survival