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Laibach (live at The Tate Modern)

The Tate Modern, London
14 April 2012

Picture: Pete WoodheadIn the days following the Laibach “We Come in Peace” show at The Tate Modern it is Mina Špiler’s singing of “Across the Universe” that stays on permanent replay in my head. Such a beautiful nearly acapella lullaby she made of the ominous lyrics, both promise and threat that nothing is ever going to change in this or any universe. Her clear little voice a fantastic bell ringing softly in contrast to the super power sound of the rest of this gig; she so delicately poised over her little keyboard and slightly trembling. Not one other Laibach song of the evening impressed itself upon me so, or equalled the nervous tension, the fragility of music, life as we know it or these trying times.

The Tate Modern has all its veils up tonight, robed in black and with lurking confusion. The mighty turbine hall is kept closed until showtime and the bar is filled with slightly whiny people. It’s not easy to get here. It’s not easy to get a drink. It’s not easy not to recognize the cheerful if moany goth contingent of London who almost by local law must attend, nevermind that it’s Saturday and night two of obligatory hangovers and what to wear dilemmas. I expected there to be more installation surrounding this show as I’ve been told it is in conjunctive support of a film and art project. There is nothing of this sort, just a general black out of all familiar parts of the Tate Modern, keeping all in anticipation until a very regimented on-time show start.

There is the stag’s head, in shadowy silhouette fronting the stage. That’s it, all that would mark out the Laibach branding. There is a beginning with some rather chirpy klezmer-type music being played whilst a giant screen behind shows us grainy films of frightened gypsy families, unwashed children backing away in obvious fear from a threat we can only imagine. Cheerful music fading away to a reveal of dark militaristic march beats and images of the weak fading into symbol heavy propaganda type flashes of what most of us will associate with Nazi-style promotion, clever to never be specifically this or that. I think, “OK, here is the Laibach I recognize, here comes the showy part.”

Picture: Pete Woodhead

But no. Apart from the relentless video rolling between what I presume to be clips from this film they have soundtracked (Iron Sky: space Nazis, need I say more?) and the rather Laibach brand-ish confusing propaganda blank world order mind control videos, there is really only sound and shadow. This show is only economy Laibach, relying smartly on voices, real and pre-recorded music and the grand shadows that might only present well in this vast galleon of space which the Turbine Hall offers. The shadowing becomes more and more important as the night bangs on; these giant looming casts of colourless imprints against the sky high walls and ceilings in 360° view feel more menacing than even the video feeds Laibach love to project which I think are meant to make us either get the irony, or feel Nazi-er-ized. The shadows themselves really impress on me my smallness against powers that may be, my insufficiency to do much but watch, listen, suffer. And of these choices, the listening becomes so important as to eclipse the watching, and to alleviate the notion of suffering; the sound is as enormous as the monolithic shadows throwing themselves steadily around me. The sounds here tonight, the growling, pounding, and actual raw vocal singing are proven to be much more melodic and beautifully clean than I would have ever anticipated Laibach capable of. This makes me satisfied.

Picture: Pete WoodheadDuring the performance there are other aspects, familiar old Laibach anthems, sing-a-longs- with and without stomping, the pig-man with his fierce grunting oddity, clips from their films and the one they’ve sound-tracked. Again and again I think of the responsibility Laibach shirks in their attempt to either promote or squash fascism, one can never be sure where they are really coming from and I get the impression they like it like that. Are we supposed to be indoctrinated into evil through all the forthright and subliminal messaging systems or is it all to be diffused into insignificance by sheer boredom of repetition? Should we be concerned about the impressionable youth who might attend and take it all to heart or worry for ourselves who may be too old and blasé to recognize the infiltration of our tired minds? “Times are changing, memories are fading. Another chance to tell you belong to me.”

Well, while history is busy with its ever repeated foul-ups in politics and socio-economic misfitting,not to mention austerity to the hilt, Mr. Laibach is slightly stripped down in his own gauntness, looking like the lean years he’s growling at us about but as familiar as always in his flappy hat. In fact he is so skinny, his big Laibach belt buckle is noticeably sunk into his concave belly. Another irony perhaps when there’s quite a little commotion around Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” and its accompanying video, satisfying the tradition of Laibach covering the completely inappropriate.

Finally though, it is the quality of the pure voices, his and hers which have impressed me. I am still humming that tune. Still the stag’s head stands.

-Words: Maryna Fontenoy-
-Pics: Pete Woodhead

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