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Laibach (live at The Forum) and The Ex / Bamboo (live at The Hope And Ruin)

London, 12 April 2016
Brighton, 13 April 2016

Laibach live at The Forum April 2016 (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)I went to two gigs in two days for Freq. They were unrelated, possibly, but worth pointing out that gigs are experiential things — it’s often more about the being there than what was played and such. That or I’m too lazy to write two separate reviews, so collapsing them into one with some spiel about commonalities is a rhetorical feint.

But before I do that, just a quick couple of lines on The Ex‘s support, Bamboo — not a band I’d come across before, but doing a fine line in big pop numbers with synth, heavily-effected banjo and drums. Their drummer for the evening, Andy Pyne, did a fine job of holding down the rhythm, despite apparently only a single rehearsal. The music itself had a nice mix of things — a few pentatonics, a reference to what I think is a Chinese folk tune, big melodies and thick synth sounds. They felt like the kind of band who’ll be much bigger than opening for The Ex, so if you’re into smart synth-pop you might want to start saying you saw them in 2016 now.

Bamboo live at The Hope And Ruin (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

The link between Laibach and The Ex that I had in my head was something to do with politics, time, and space. So they’re two different parts of Europe, two different responses to Europe, two different responses to a musical culture riding on the back of punk, resistance, political articulation. Laibach are definitely liberal-baiters — I’d argue The Ex are too, regardless of their ambiguous relationship to orthodox anarchism. A quote from Daniel Spicer‘s article on The Ex in The Wire: “We went to [Crass‘s] house twice […] We got a kind of interrogation into how politically correct we were. We were really the opposite!”

Laibach live at The Forum April 2016 (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

So the point there is that taking an orthodox approach to political commentary isn’t something either band are keen on. And so to our Tuesday band, Laibach. They play for a long time. There is a light show. The outfits are very good. The backing projections are very well co-ordinated. Keyboard stage left does some great open-palm hammering of keys. Drums are triggered and that’s appropriate. I had a bit of an awkward moment with some blood and soil type lyrics.

Laibach live at The Forum April 2016 (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

Half of the set was newish material, half was from The Sound of Music. I laughed out loud when they did “Do-Re-Mi” and Milan Fras did every note of the solfege at the same pitch as “Do”. Our intrepid photographer Agata was chuffed to hear them do “Warszawskie Dzieci”, a song associated with the Warsaw uprising. I was, unfortunately, absurdly pissed come the end, so my memory is of being very enthusiastic that Laibach are the best band ever. Which is a much more forgiving category than you’d realise once you’ve had a skinful of shit, overpriced lager.

Laibach live at The Forum April 2016 (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

I’m a big fan of interpretations, standards and whatnot. It’s kind of a theme that runs from, like, Dukey through Ayler to Galás and beyond. That principle of taking a theme and using it for different means — Laibach do that really well. “My Favourite Things” with a backing of tacky, cartoonish images of “things”. Warhol tins of beans with My Little Ponies. Not a joyful song, but not quite a critique of consumerism — more a recognition of the power with which consumption arrests us. “Warszawskie Dzieci”, more mournful ballad than anthem — something of stealing the revolutionary zeal from a song of celebration. Or possibly not, I was very pissed. Plenty of liberal baiting, which is good and right… I should probably go back and check the context of the “blood and soil” quote, but I’m going to assume it was a pastiche of something or other (some good and thorough political journalism right there).

The Ex live at The Hope And Ruin (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

The Ex, meanwhile, aren’t necessarily co-ordinated in clothes- – or rather, the guitars are t-shirts in red, red and black while Katherina Bornefeld is wearing a delightful blue number. No light show, no projections, a minimum of effects. There’s a degree of ritual — the strange game of pokey guitary persists and many songs seem to close with Terrie Ex‘s bass holding a motif just that little bit too long. Katherina’s drumming is probably the best of anyone. I mean that, I can’t think of a drummer in a rock-ish setting that does drums quite the way she does. Such odd stresses, but a completely unpanicked sense of negotiating her way through odd rhythms. There’s a few bits where you can more easily discern the time from the guitarist’s muted strumming. One of my favourite bits is where the whole band speeds up a bit and the three guitars stop moving about so much to concentrate, drummer seemingly amused and definitely unfazed. Short of Jaki Leibezeit, I can’t think of a better drummer in the rock world. Yup.

The Ex live at The Hope And Ruin (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

The set they play is similar to the one I wrote about last time, so it might be that they’re playing a warm-up set for their ATP show this weekend. Have to say, I was a smidge disappointed that it featured probably a majority of the same songs as last time I saw them; but, honestly, they’re a band that’s worth seeing whatever they’re playing.

The Ex live at The Hope And Ruin (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)

And back to that Laibach comparison — so it’s not the strongest one, but I’m sticking with it for the purposes of a review — there’s a couple of lyrics that seem to be fascinated by dates and numbers, the markers or bureaucracy, offered (often) without any particular sense of narrative; we’re lead to states of assuming it’s critical, but The Ex’s politics seems more oblique than explicit decrying of state machinations — too aware, too postmodern perhaps, to play that dialectics game of anthemic shouting. Laibach, on the other side, using anthemic shouting to define the impotence and latent totalitarian-ness of rock music.

Laibach live at The Forum April 2016 (Picture: Agata Urbaniak)I’m going to be honest with you, that caprice has already worn quite thin. But the point, ultimately, is that over the course of two nights I saw two bands who really are at the top of their game, both very much worth watching for entirely different reasons. Chatting to a very seasoned sax player the week before, we were saying that the tragedy of modern times is that it’s much harder for un-established bands to play out with the frequency that Laibach or The Ex do — sure, it’s possible, but it’s made very difficult without a degree of capital (whether that’s cultural, financial, or social capital). Subsequently, bands which have managed to become incredibly seasoned and (for want of a better word) “professional”, but are still critical of the process of capital are worth holding up as international treasures. So yeah, be sure to see both next time they come around.

-Words: Kev Nickells-
-Pictures: Agata Urbaniak-

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