By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Aleksander Remec|
God has one face, the devil infinitely many. Laibach is the return of action on behalf of the idea.
THROUGH THE WAFFLING BUZZof a long-distance telephone line to Ljubljana, Slovenia, I futilely attempt to reach an understanding with Ivan Novak, founder-member of and spokesman for Laibach. The garbled transmission isn’t the only thing making it difficult; it’s trying to get a handle on the central point of this group — or should I say "nation-state/arts collective/agitprop/techno-metal-disco kings." They don’t make it easy. That must be the point.
Some history: Laibach formed in 1980 in Trbovlje, a revolutionary mining town in Slovenia, shortly after the death of Marshall Tito, Yugoslavia’s leader, who also established principles of nonalignment within the communist world. Laibach, in the wake of the confusion resulting from the power struggles between Stalinist hard-liners and more liberal politicians that eventually fractured Yugoslavia into separate warring republics, appeared on the scene as a totalitarian "organism" with a fervor for authority exceeding even that of the state. They announced themselves through National Socialist and Social Realist propaganda-inspired poster campaigns around Trbovlje and Ljubljana. Slovenes were shocked, reminded of their own wartime past under Nazi and Italian occupation, and the postwar era of rigid communist rule. Laibach made a few attempts at public performance, after which they were denounced as reactionary troublemakers and banned from performing in Slovenia. So they took their show on the road throughout Europe. They were eventually signed by Mute Records in England, which procured international distribution for their albums, and they returned to performance in their home country after an absence of four years, still to much resistance and outrage.
In 1984, Laibach formed the visual-arts collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) with the art group Irwin, the theater wing Scipion Nasice, the graphic-design department NK and a department of applied philosophy. Through NSK, most notably via the theater presentation Baptism Under Triglav, they began addressing the nationalist aspirations surfacing in Yugoslavia. Ultimately, they declared NSK a nation-state and began issuing passports, proclamations and stamps at embassies and consulates in Ljubljana, Berlin and Moscow.
Laibach have released 15 albums and innumerable singles, while also doing extensive theater work in England and Slovenia. They absorb and reject both high and low art; their albums have included reworkings of the Rolling Stones’ "Sympathy for the Devil" and the Beatles’ Let It Be. In recent years they’ve steered their themes away from totalitarianism specifically, toward religion, petrified economic systems, weak-kneed peacekeeping institutions, the pure beauty of technological evolution, and the "negative utopia" of the obsolescence of humanity.
But when Novak speaks of totalitarianism — and when that’s combined with what most audiences are likely to see as fascist imagery — it is a subject that has not dated; it still produces if not anger then a lot of consternation and head-scratching among Laibach’s audience. Surely, though, Laibach is more than just a group of provocateurs.
"We are questioning many things," says Novak. "But one of the things we are questioning is totalitarianism. And fascism — what is that? People might think fascists might not be relevant anymore, but we look at it in a historical form. If you look at Italy even now, fascism is obviously something that has returned, evolved. It’s grown, like a virus — it’s changed forms. As soon as something gets systematized, organized, different forms evolve out of it. That’s why using it is relevant. The most totalitarian thing is our own way of thinking, our own minds."
Ivan Novak (the Slavic equivalent of "John Smith") says the nameless Laibach members work as a collective unit, "according to the principle of industrial production/totalitarianism. We reject individuality as meaningless for the evaluation of our work, which we believe should be examined only on the basis of the laws of which it is made. We do not believe in the originality of authorship either, and we claim that plagiarism does not exist. Why then names?"
Laibach is an organism the names of whose individual -molecules it’s possible to find out, though it hardly seems to -matter. One of the more provocative things this organism has proclaimed is that there is a "triumph of anonymity" in technological advance. A triumph? Is anonymity a necessary part of human evolution?
"In a way, it is," says Novak calmly. "Because one has to be a strong individual to decide to neglect his own narcissistic side. Of course, we all believe in individualism, but at the same time we created a society which is strongly collective. American society is a very collective society, nevertheless it carries the banner of individualism.
"We are all much less individual than we would like to think. In the end, we all follow certain rules of functioning. And in a certain way, ‘individualism’ is a fake, something which belongs to a different century, when romantic poetry expressed that sort of thing. Most any kind of artwork is the result of a collective spirit. Pop songs, they are produced by many people, it is not just one person, usually."