If Laibach Is Fascist, Hitler Was a Painter
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you need to hear art this resolutely irresolute. At least once.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“We are fascists as much as Hitler was a painter.”
You can feel a slow smile spreading on the collective faces of Slovenian “industrial” band Laibach. Smiles and not a little mockery via their position statement response to allegations that their stylistic use of sometimes explicitly (crosses, hammers, axes in the shape of a swastika created by a noted anti-fascist artist) and ofttimes implicitly implied (uniforms, boots, strident hand gesturing) fascist iconography might be a case of where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
And yes, we know we just used the word “fascist” three times just now. Four if you count that last one.
Laibach is arch and huge, and never breaks character.
But Laibach, named after the German occupation of the Slovenian (formerly Yugoslavian) city now known as Ljubljana, is probably, possibly very pleased, as it is hard to believe that this wasn’t the group’s intent from the get-go. Getting a gander at some of their other art actions — the creation of their own state, complete with passports; the multimedia conflations of images of penises and Josip Broz Tito, which got them banned for a period of time; and their use of military-grade smoke bombs instead of stage fog during their shows — it certainly seems so.
With a collective of collaborators that sometimes swells to include symphony orchestras, Laibach’s single-named founders Dachauer, Eber, Keller, Saliger and the man with the great face, tomb-voiced vocalist Milan Fras, seem to be singly pursuing a generalized theory of art as politics. And tangling with some of the 20th century’s most sacred of cows in subverting the idea that might makes right while making mock of the same.
Which is pretty perfect when you’re considering the actual music. Whether they’re covering “Hands Across the Universe” by the Beatles, complete with timpani, kettledrums and a military swing, or similarly their multiple versions of the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil,” Laibach is arch and huge, and never breaks character. Songs with innocent character, like the McCartney-Lennon line “Nothing’s going to change my world,” take on a whole new and darker shading when illustrated with arrows, field stags, marching and the basso profundo Fras intoning the very same words.
“You don’t have to be a fan of Laibach’s music,” says Ivo Poderzaj, bass player for Zoambo Zoet Workestrao and former organizer at Slovenia’s Menza Pri Koritu art space, “to be able to really appreciate their art.” A kind of art that pretty perfectly runs the dividing line between laughing at us and laughing with us.
“Or not laughing at all,” Poderzaj laughs.
So, forthwith, the song that broke them big back when they first crested consciousness in the U.S., their first bona fide hit and what we think of whenever we thing of Laibach: 1987’s cover of Opus’ “Life Is Life.”