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Laibach (live at Le Trabendo)

Laibach - live at Le TrabendoParis
8 March 2014

Le Trabendo lurks next to a not-quite completed concrete behemoth which squats at the side of the Périphérique ring road around Paris, part of the ever-expanding Parc de la Villette with its promenades and exhibition centres, its music and (almost) out-of-town cultural activities for a city always in search of entertainment. It’s reached down a winding path through the woods and into a multi-level blockhouse of a venue where modernism rules and the sightline to the stage shows that this is a place more suited to club nights than live music – and there are also different drink prices depending on whether there’s a band booked or a disco underway.

A pre-recorded brass fanfare heralds the arrival onstage of Slovenia’s most infamous political and cultural provocateurs. Two tousle-headed and (semi-)bearded keyboardists – though still smartly turned out in shirtseleeves, as this is Laibach after all – are positioned on either flank, the balding powerhouse of a drummer bringing up the rear.  It’s probably happenstance which has yellow and blue lights – the colours of Ukraine’s flag – sweep across Laibach and their audience as the ever-gruff Milan Fras intones the opening words of “Eurovision” over the ominous bassline: “There are crowds in the street/they are crying to be heard/I hear echoes of voices.”

It’s this sort of synchronicity which means that this most politically acerbic of bands are on tour promoting their new album Spectre (and launching their own political party of the same name) while just beyond the borders of the EU a post-revolutionary crisis is surging into a renewed orgy of propaganda-fuelled east-west confrontation and posturing. “Europe is falling apart,” Fras warns apocalyptically as a series of fractured visuals parade across the backdrop, soon flowing into images of goose-stepping through the decades and differing twentieth century dictatorships as Laibach’s speech-synthesized compère makes the first and most bizarre of its quirkily rock’n’roll-baiting announcements of the evening: “Hello Europe. Hello Athens. We are so happy to be here.”

Laibach - live at Le Trabendo

“Stop hanging around,” sings a sternly-suited Mina Špiler, like she means it. “Walk With Me,” she pronounces, and suitably enough for a gig co-incidentally taking place on International Women’s Day, there are many women marching on the videos too (and on every other day in Laibach’s world). Video has always been important to Laibach’s live shows, and the current set is particularly impressive. When Fras advises that “If you wanna change the world, do it with the feeling,” as the techno steps up a beat on the breakbeat-flecked “Americana,” a parade of manly musculature is flexed behind him by a bodybuilder bearing something of a resemblance to California’s most famous former Austrian-American governor among a welter of twirling stars’n’burgers and revolving revolvers. The startling progression of imagery takes the dancefloor aesthetic and superimposes Laibach’s self-consciously industrial branding and weltanschauung over every available surface, a job once (and still occasionally) undertaken over the years by huge swathes of fabric marked – in the fashion of totalitarian states and business conventions alike – with a constantly-evolving series of logos.

Laibach - live at Le Trabendo

“Eat Liver!” demands Špiler over a heavy bassline while doing her best Grace Jones impersonation. It’s interesting the way in which the male-female duality has become more and more important to Laibach since Špiler has risen to joint prominence with Fras as the face of the band. She dominates the stage as the music becomes the most electro Laibach have been in years, synth bass surges whipping up the crowd into… a spectacular absence of dancing.  When the tempo hots up for “Bossanova,” the beat even gets one headbanger going at last among what seems like an audience somewhat stunned by the presence of a new, shinier and stridently re-invented Laibach. “Run for your life!” implore Špiler and Fras, a command emphasised by the projections behind them while the crowd barely nods its collective head. Perhaps they are distracted by the consumerist imprecations to “Feed my lust… Feed my ego with luxury!”

Laibach - live at Le Trabendo

“You are the best audience. We love you” ingratiates the Voice of robo-Laibach – not particularly convincingly – as a black cube unfurls on a cyberspace landscape for “Koran.” Špiler  croons softly, “I Believe In A Better World,” before a vast panorama of green space nebulae and digital stars which set the scene for a slow dance interlude (but no-one in the crowd does that either). Stirring and at the same time almost sparsely sentimental, the tackiest-possible progressive house-style FM synth apreggiations rippling as the singers pronounce: “Words are nice… the future is invisible… Words are something which remain, they are weapons of our mind” – so this is of course when the crowd decide it’s time for a bit of social chitchat rather than reflection on the wider profundities. “Huh Huh Huh” choirs introduce more soaring modalities, with Laibach in stadium pop mode again for the peculiar male-female duet, “We are Millions and Millions are One,” a song which wouldn’t seem out of place as the theme music to a Bond film (as re-imagined by the producers of Iron Sky, perhaps).

Catchy and persuasively different as Spectre is on record, Laibach demonstrate that it makes so much more devilish disco sense live and loud, its pompous circumstances making for political sloganeering opportunities par excellence. “No History” is a rallying cry gone very, very wrong to the accompaniment of soaring chords and scrolling imprecations behind the band; “Are You Frustrated?” asks the recorded announcer at the introduction to the electro-funk blizkreig of “Resistance Is Futile” – which gets at least one head banging – but sadly no lighter waving is forthcoming during the autotuned moments in between the harsh mechanical rhythms. It’s only “Whistleblowers” which finally sparks the room into clapping along and in some cases even dancing, though a crowd-pleasingly triumphant moment comes at last when unfurling flags prompt a huge roar from the audience, which fades gradually into uncurling tendrils of smoke and strobes as the Spectre set finishes.

Laibach - live at Le Trabendo

A speech synth is left repeating “Laibach… Laibach…” over failing drones which herald an intermission (with handy on-screen countdown) before the return of the band is introduced with a sardonic, “And now for something completely different.” Part two of the show harks back to their recent NSK retrospective gigs (as deployed so successfully at the Monumental Retro-Avant-Garde show at the Tate Modern in London), and the set soon gets the fists of the no doubt refreshed crowd punching the air to the martial drumbeats.”Do you feel the courage?” asks Fras as “Brat Moj” makes its synth-heavy bassline and somnolent beats slow and sombre before the stirring chords kick in and the drum machine stutters in echo of an Eighties industrial Laibach sound long since evolved but obviously not forgotten.

With all that and the chordal keyboards, the atmosphere gets a bit more like the political rally which Laibach are renowned for pastiching so accurately – or perhap’s it’s now a Spectre Party disco congress. Sometimes it seems that if only the Yugoslavian Communist Party had embraced rather than banned Laibach, maybe they could have kept an aura of cool if maybe not their country, instead of marching to a different martial beat untimately into a war which engulfed the Balkans. But totalitarians states rarely have such a sense of comedic self-awareness; unlike Laibach, who retain a collective straight face at every turn.

Speaking of knowing their audience, “No Seig Heiling, please” is the mocking instruction as footage from Iron Sky  heralds a storming rendition of “B Maschina” (in English on this occasion) backed up by a spectacular smash and grab of space battles and moon-based Nazis, followed by the lilting closing ballad from the film, “Under An Iron Sky.” “Put Your Hands Up” orders the machine and many oblige to the strutting thunder and martial funk of “Leben – Tod,” which here is accompanied by an oddly pleasant series of projections of a primary colour kaleidoscope unfolding while shouts of “Hey” echo and the guttural refrain “Ja, Ja! Nein, Nein!” rings out in devil-horn provoking fashion.

Laibach - live at Le Trabendo

Then it’s back to covers time for Laibach, with “Warme Lederhaut” revisiting the Grace Jones references as The Normal‘s sleazy anthem is turned into a buzzing electro monster of stentorian industrial stadium schläger. “Raise Hell,” invites Fras during a rendition of Bob Dylan‘s “Ballad Of A Thin Man” with extra added sturm und drang, Dylan’s visage flickering across the screens as spasmodic synth bursts and improv piano runs mix in with staccato drumcracks. But it’s Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” which is rendered to a blooming, throbbing rhythm which really – finally – gets everyone moving to Laibach’s heavily catchy take on crushing industrial folk blues. Likewise, “Love on the Beat” comes on in crashing, crushing style, pictures of Serge Gainsbourg whipping up the home crowd for the song into a suave non-frenzy as Mina Špiler’s shrieks pierce eardrums everywhere in a stunning display of her vocal range.

“You are so great” announces the virtual voice of Laibach at their return for the first encore. “You are a fantastic audience,” it declares with all the sneering, louche sincerity of the announcer in Cabaret, before leading the crowd in a call and response of “Let me hear you say Ho! Ho!” and “Everybody on the left say Ho!” All of which whips up a storm of catcalls for “Francia,” their sardonic version of “La Marseillaise” from the Volk album of national anthems (and yes,  Laibach do perform the appropriate tune depending on which country they play on tour). Ironically, as on much of Volk, Laibach sing the French national anthem in France in English – and it would be interesting to see what reaction they might get to performing “America” (AKA “The Star-Spangled Banner”) in the USA in, say, Slovenian, given the recent furore when an advert using a rendition of “America the Beautiful” in several different languages was broadcast during a commercial break in the Superbowl coverage this year.

Laibach - live at Le Trabendo

But it’s left to “Tanz Mit Laibach” to really get the collective audience juices flowing and their feet pumping, boots stomping on screen, on the floor and metaphorically on whatever applicable ideology’s face forever – or until the end of the gig, anyway. “That’s all folks” says roboLaibach, but the crowd have their own demands of the band, their shouts of “We want Laibach!” crashing off the concrete walls and poorly-placed pillars of Le Trabendo.

The group mysteriously manifest into view one more time to play a surprising and lovely rendition of The Beatles‘ “Across The Universe,” one of their covers which is so effectively affecting that it instantly tramples every industrial jackboot cliché underfoot as effectively as “Tanz” took those same tropes to their logical hardbeat conclusion. Mina Špiler’s voice is multi-tracked to the tinkling electronic melody, and it’s at this moment that someone in the audience even produces a glowstick to wave gently as the song roll sout in a wave of harmonious serenity to the backdrop of yet more moon footage. And so, following a stormy rendition of “Das Spiel Ist Aus” – here wrapped in extra-swirly synth squiggles – it’s all over, leaving the audience to file out to a sprightly techno remix of “Whistleblowers” playing over the PA as the lights come up.

-Richard Fontenoy-

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