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LIVE REPORT: Laibach
David Bennun , April 2nd, 2015 12:24

Laibach sally forth once again to conquer Europe with their arch and deviantly humourous electronic rock. David Bennun is on hand to offer fervent praise

Laibach photograph thanks to Claude Le Roux

A Spectre is haunting Europe - and it's Laibach's latest album. Twenty years ago, it was unimaginable that the Slovenian satirists would be relevant today. That was because we lacked imagination, something of which Laibach themselves could never be accused. The most ingenious, unnerving, sinister, subversive art-pop band of that time and this are back, and back because we need them.

It has all played out just as they envisioned. We thought they were enacting a grotesque mockery of the past. And they were. What they understood, and we did not, was the turning wheel of history. The Slovenian capital Ljubljana - "Laibach", as its German overlords had it in 1943 - has long been uncomfortably close to its hub. Theirs was and is a Mitteleuropa trampled for centuries by the march of bootsteps. They knew all along that ever-present ghosts may assume flesh at any moment, and that even in a briefly tranquil Europe, war is just a shot away - as are fascism, genocide, Nacht und Nebel. They were swiftly proved right on that one.

Sounds a laugh? So it is. Their current show is dark, dense, thrilling, hilarious, a spectacle in a way precious few of the theatrical arena performances of our day so much as approach. Their sympathies have been long questioned, and never entirely clarified ("We are fascists as much as Hitler was a painter"), but their wit alone affirms what they deliberately decline to: they are not Nazis, but Naziesque.

Laibach aren't here to play the hits... other than other people's: Queen's 'One Vision', which requires scant tweaking to become the Nuremberg rallying call of 'Geburt Einer Nation'; a fabulously deranged free-jazz/industrial 'Ballad Of A Thin Man', as great a Dylan cover as I've heard in decades; the show-closing (and stopping) 'Anglia', their, um, hommage to the original God Save The Queen, wherefrom drips a savagery exceeding even that of the Sex Pistols'. Other bands tell you it's great to be in your town. Laibach have in reserve a vicious travesty of the national anthem of most places they visit. If they aren't the favourite act of both The Big Lebowksi's artists, and its nihilists, they ought to be.

Chiefly, this set is heavy-duty 80s electrop - damn fine heavy-duty 80s-style electrop, at that - with the ludicrously charismatic Milan Fras's vocals not so much guttural as dredged from the drains, and his (equally ludicrously beautiful) foil, Mina Spiler, cast as the perfect Teutonic, operatic ice-queen soprano. They assemble amid the sound of howling wind and slow percussive menace, as Riefenstahl searchlights rise from the stage and a skeletal constructivist tower weaves itself from lines of light across the backdrop screen. They might be on a podium. They might be on a balcony above a public square. They might be anywhere but in a room with a crowd - too small a crowd for this extraordinary show - acknowledged only through brief nods, and the sardonic medium of a German-accented computer-generated voice, Major Arnold Toht via Stephen Hawking: "No Sieg Heiling, please"; "You are the best audience. We love you."

We're not the best audience, truth be told. As at a classical concert, in order not to interrupt the flow, one should really applaud only between the movements. Then again, how can one not cheer like the mobilised masses at Eurovision, set against which 'This Corrosion' would seem a twee acoustic advert cover of itself; or at the horrific glory of 'Walk With Me' ("Walk with me, monster of uncertainty!") with its thumping, boot-boy tread; or at the disturbing martial jauntiness of 'The Whistleblowers'.

Laibach have never stopped evolving and adapting, yet remain at core what they always were: a wondrously funny solemnity, an intensely serious joke. They even have the best merchandise stall I've ever seen, stuffed with cod-Totalitarian artefacts, a bunkerload of ersatz ephemera. (I particularly like the red knickers marked over the crotch, in Gothic letters, "RAUS!")

I am told Laibach wished me to know that for technical reasons, this venue does not permit the staging of their "full" show. I can only guess at how great that is, because this one was magnificent.

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