Much could be said about Laibach (and has been, here at Counter-Currents). The name is the German form of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city. The language choice references their Austro-Hungarian past, and depending on who you ask, maybe some other era, too. Their sound is one of a kind, as unique as that of Laure LePrunenec. Laibach is best described as an industrial band with heavy martial and totalitarian influences. One notable characteristic of their unique presentation is walking a tightrope between fascist aesthetics and socialist realism.
Because of this ambiguity, what their views actually are is hotly debated. Some of their interviews suggest that the imagery is culture-jamming; others say it’s just their shtick and they don’t mean anything by it. Then there have been statements that it’s a therapeutic reckoning with the past. Lest one be tempted to take them at face value on statements like those, it should be known that taking Laibach at face value on anything is quite a tricky proposition. It’s remarkably difficult to pin them down on much or to confirm where they really stand; it’s necessary to dive into the lyrics and perform deep literary analysis.
They’ve had lots of practice at their masterful plausible deniability, with four decades of experience in flying just under the radar. They were at it from the beginning in 1980, when Yugoslavia was Communist and was still a country. Presumably, ruffling political feathers was still somewhat of a blood sport back then. It’s a good example for those of us learning to walk on eggshells in recent years, after cancel culture became a big witch hunt.
Predictions of Fire
A very unique documentary appeared in 1996, primarily concerning the band itself. Secondarily it covered related artistic ventures, mainly the IRWIN artistic collective. Together, they and some lesser-known pursuits all fell under the umbrella of Neue Slowenische Kunst(NSK, or New Slovenian Art). It’s rather interesting that the New Slovenian Art group comes from Yugo-land, yet has a German name. “NS” make up the first two initials. Sometimes a second “S” is capitalized, contrary to its medial position in a word. See what I mean by flying in just under the radar?
This documentary was Predictions of Fire, or Prerokbe Ognja in its original language. The title is an obvious reference to the cataclysmic multipolar secession then underway in Yugoslavia, obviously a textbook example of how not to redraw borders. Laibach’s most succinct response to the grim tragedy as their civil war dragged on was their cover of “In The Year 2525.” That much was more coherent than my own take which follows.
To me, the horror was palpable even on the other side of the world, as well as rage at the chickenshit United Nations “peacekeepers” who were supposed to be protecting defenseless civilians. As an organization, the UN can collectively go play with a toaster in a bathtub, as far as I’m concerned. After dropping the ball, they punted it to Cupcake and her sidekick Chubby Bubba. (It’s a common theme in modern history that the United States gets lassoed into the UN’s fine messes.) Bill Clinton was an unlikely champion; he was still stinging from getting caught at his cigar stunts in the Oral Office, as well as far more unsavory revelations about where he’d been sticking his POTUS over the years. Was this some odd penance?
But, I digress. Predictions of Fire did make a minor splash back in the day, winning an award at the Vancouver International Film Festival. This came out in my misspent youth, and I caught a screening of it at our local entartete Kunst museum. I’m pretty familiar with Laibach’s repertoire, so this especially was a must-see. I brought an old friend along — the only one I successfully red-pilled in high school. If the museum directors had figured out what a hot little film they were showing, they would’ve swallowed their chewing gum and fainted.
The film opens to the intro of Laibach’s song “Opus Dei.” This comes from the album of the same name, naturally my favorite. (Did anyone else notice the quote from an Ezra Pound radio broadcast in “F.I.A.T.”? Epic!) Meanwhile, a globe spins inside counter-rotating antlers. It’s as if it represents a cosmic attractive force that makes the world go round. Already this tells us something about Laibach’s style. Antlers appear quite often alongside the band’s imagery. (I recall one of their early books going into a long digression about the biological life cycle of stags and all that.) Antlers are quite evocatively pagan, of course. Moreover, they’re a decidedly masculine symbol, which fits Laibach’s style. This is despite — of course — the other connotations of the word “rack.”
NSK really was ahead of the curve in that regard, leaps and bounds beyond what we had in the US back then! Granted, there was a mythopoeic men’s movement over here that was getting hip to symbolism. They went no further than tame pursuits like banging on drums in the woods and books like Iron Belly and Fire in the John, however. Unfortunately, they couldn’t transcend their soy-saturated New Age roots. Although the mythopoeic men’s movement failed to surpass the manliness of the Village People or even Michelle Obama, it was the only game in town as far as America’s masculine revival went. For the few guys starting to compare notes online about Opinion Openers and Shit Tests, their day hadn’t yet arrived.
Next it shows Milan Fras, the lead vocalist who has been one of Laibach’s constant members over the years. Here he’s warming up for a recital of “Entartete Welt (The Discovery of the North Pole)” that was featured on their Kapital album. Then a brief science lecture about combustion appears onscreen, showing a candle being lit. Fras keeps belting out the lyrics in his low, booming voice.
Then the film introduces the Neue Slowenische Kunst concept. The narrator, Matej Rus, explains:
Towards the end of the period of totalitarian control of East and Central Europe, an art movement appeared in a country then still called Yugoslavia. It was named “NSK.” Using the materials of music, theater, and the visual arts, the NSK collective took on the role of a catalyst, revisiting the repressed traumas of European history and expressing hidden mechanisms of ideological domination.
The scene unfolds on a man standing before a red curtain backdrop, flanked by tall banners with Laibach’s “cross within gear” logo. Leni Riefenstahl would’ve approved! The camera zooms in and he announces:
Tribes of Europe! Democracy has destroyed order. The ground is ready. Now we can say: No history has been decided, no nation has ever won thanks to justice. It won thanks to pure physical strength. All civilizations are based on it, all the powers of law will dance to the sound of arms.
Based! At the very least, Ragnar Redbeard would’ve approved. This cuts to a live performance of “Entartete Welt.” The lyrics are in German, including Nietzsche’s famous one-liner that God is dead. (God’s opinion, however, is that Nietzsche is dead.) Whew, what a beginning!
The film continues, dealing generally more with their use of totalitarian aesthetics. The narrator reiterates that the political stuff is the medium and not the message, along with a lot of art theory hoo-hah. The next topic is Laibach’s hometown of Trbovlje, which is kinda sorta downstream from Ljubljana. It’s a mining town which had its share of ideological conflict. (Is it just me, or does this particular fossil fuel tend to bring out hotly-contested politics?) Then it shows a scene inside one of the mines, where the NSK folks put on an exhibition of their grimly evocative paintings. The miners look them over and have a brief discussion. Some take a quick gander at the meaning, but another concludes:
What do we think of the paintings? Fuck ’em. We don’t know what this is all about.
Comrade Tito rolls into town, thanks to some old footage. The word “cleanse” appears in English, with a translation in Yugo. That much is as ominous as hell given the ghastly savagery that was occurring not too far to the east — during which time, of course, the UN peacekeepers were off playing leapfrog with a unicorn. After that, a crew puts up a billboard. It shows a large bullet pointed at a kid with his hands up.
The message below, ustavite paračloveka, is translated as “Stop the parahuman.” It’s probably for shock value, but to what end? Who the hell knows? Moreover, what’s a parahuman? I dug deep on that one, and it seems the billboard was intended to advertise a concert at the Cankarjev convention center in Ljubljana, including the actor Radko Polič (today recently deceased), who went by the stage name Rac. If anyone remembers that show, drop me a line in the comments section and let me know what the hell the angle was on that.
Slavoj Žižek, surely one of the most famous Slovenes, gives a little speech under the evocatively grim billboard. (Maybe he’s the parahuman? More seriously, he’s considered the number one Marxist intellectual after the demise of Louis “Comrade Bluebeard” Althusser.) In fact, he’s my favorite pinko — for reals! The dude is looking pretty young here. Lately, he looks like he crawled out of a trash can like Oscar the Grouch.
He covers more or less the same ground as other commentary regarding Laibach’s political imagery. He finishes with an interesting twist, speculating that their strategy represents the most purely authentic subversiveness, “to take the system more seriously than it takes itself.” Such a plus royaliste que le roi approach done with disguised irony is a distant relation to phenomena like concern trolling and black propaganda.
Then Rastko Močnik appears — his associate, another beardo, and another Filozof — to throw in his two cents about Laibach’s political imagery, like everyone else has been doing so far. Then it’s back to Comrade Slavoj again. This time, out of the blue, he goes off on a weird tangent. It’s not one of his better moments. He opens with, “For example, for ze American public, let’s recall a typical town in ze South of United States in the ‘20s.” Then he starts rambling about Fraternity Tri-Kappa and “lynchings, ze beatings of ze blecks” and so on. It’s something about hidden transgressions unofficially approved by the white power structure and so on. I suppose there was a point in all that, but it was a bit hard to follow. This was especially so when I was watching it in the museum the first time. My friend and I were cracking up about this pinko from Yugoslavia who made himself such an authority on Dixie.
Mercifully, the Rastko-Slavoj duet is over soon. An ominous educational animation follows about the spread of fire in a neighborhood. Other clips appear, bringing us up to speed on the local modern history. Then it cuts to some elementary school kids whose little heads have been stuffed full of propaganda. At least they’re learning about the glorious partisan martyrs rather than radical gender theory and critical race theory. Communist indoctrination in classrooms really went to shit over the last three decades!
Finally, it looks like we’re about to get a full music video at last: “Leben – Tod” from Opus Dei. Then the narrator just had to talk all over it. Argh!
Fun in Russia
We then see some members of NSK’s IRWIN group arrive in Moscow. They go to Red Square and unfurl an expanse of black cloth on the pavement. One of them announces, “This is a Black Square on the Red Square.” That was good for some chuckles. Anyway, it’s hardly the worst publicity stunt to take place there. Someone explains to an amused cop that it’s in the spirit of their painter Kazimir Malevich.
The next act is to set up the NSK Embassy. Neue Slowenische Kunst is primarily an artistic movement, yet it’s also a virtual country calling itself a “state in time.” Rastko Močnik shows up again to deliver the usual sort of commentary, this time dragging on a bit.
Then a pinkette complains about her favorite statues being knocked down. These were the blood-crusted thugs Yakov Sverdlov (certainly not a credit to his noble Hebrew ancestors) and Felix Dzerzhinsky. Well, then, she can visit Seattle, where they still have a statue of Comrade Lenin, even though George Washington got cancelled down the road in Portland. (For that matter, the “peaceful protesters” got Abraham Lincoln — what did he ever do for the precious People of Color anyway? — and Theodore Roosevelt, too. They were a drop in the bucket of the statues vandalized after some drug-sodden career criminal overdosed in police custody.) She’s discussing this underneath a shoe of the gigantic Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue. That’s from the Communist days, too, with symbolism on full display, but is still standing because it’s not commemorating any hatchet-men. What’s this lady complaining about?
After the pinkette had her say, we see a crowd of unreconstructed commies demonstrating in Moscow. They look amazingly normal; not a single facial piercing, bad tattoo, or unnatural hair color anywhere! I see no evidence that any of them had a soap allergy, either. What, no ugly squidlings, nobody who looks like zim/xir/hen stepped off of a UFO? Wow, they sure don’t make pinkos like they used to!
With the help of a farm tractor, the IRWIN guys then assemble a replica model of the Tatlin Tower. That was cute, given the history of this megaproject which was hyped to the skies but went no further than a pipe dream. I say these guys are poking fun at all that.
Enough of the commentary already!
Meanwhile, another Laibach tune plays, “Herzfeld” from the Krst Pod Triglavom – Baptism soundtrack. If you have the extended version of the Opus Dei album, it’s there, too. The harsh and repetitive sounds for this one are sampled from the second movement of De temporum fine comoedia. That one was by Carl Orff, best known for Carmina Burana, which you’ve surely heard on some movie soundtracks, which is rather remarkable since it was written back in the good old days. The movie doesn’t explain all this; I’m just a classical music nut that way.
Briefly during all of this is a clip from the drummer-boy act in Triumph of the Will. Then we see a percussionist likewise swinging the drumsticks deeply in time to “Herzfeld.” Someone on an odd, elevated rotating platform provides commentary, describing this as an example of retrogardism; the usual sort of art theory hoo-hah that we’ve been hearing all along. I’ll add that later on, Laibach has brought other percussionists into their lineup — the stunning ladies Eva Breznikar and Nataša Regovec — who carried out a similarly energetic style during their performances. Sometimes the costuming and presentation makes them seem a bit butch, not that I’m complaining!
After that, the film shows archival footage depicting a gallery of Arno Breker statues — and guess who’s visiting the museum! Then there’s a model of Germania from back in the good old days, intended to be a reconstructed downtown Berlin. More Riefenstahl footage follows. More art theory follows, including discussion of rituals.
NSK’s Noordung theatrical troupe features in this part. (It’s named after an early rocket scientist of Slovenian ancestry, most famous for his part in developing the space station concept similar to the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey.) First they’re rehearsing, then they’re performing to the sound of Laibach’s “Le Privilege Des Mortis” from Kapital. More art theory follows — argh!
After that, an IRWIN exhibition is on display in New York; their gloomily evocative paintings, animal heads, and all that. The art critic Kim Levin makes an appearance. (At the time, she was a regular correspondent for our good friends at the Village Voice.) Like all art critics do, she was telling us what we were seeing and giving us the art theory angle on that:
When I walked in here today, I sort of glanced at one of the paintings on the wall, and all of a sudden there was the ghost of [Victor] Vasarely as a kind of patterned background on it, and mixed in with that there are remnants of [Joseph] Beuyce, and [Kazimir] Malevich, and [Marcel] Duchamp, and all the kitsch Slovenian images that the IRWIN members probably grew up with, and all the pictures they probably saw in church. It’s not about so much the old idea of what things should look like, and when I say old I mean modern.
There’s a lot more where that comes from, but I’ll cut it short here. I’ll give her credit for trying, but I must confess that this was kind of a groaner. As for my friend, when he was watching the art theory lecture his expression was rather like that of a junkyard dog eyeing a burglar covered in barbecue sauce. Ms. Levin’s overall bearing was a bit too (ahem) tribal for his liking.
The end of history (or not)
The narrator explains that Communism in Yugoslavia essentially ended with the death of Tito. (I’ll add that he was an interesting character. He had his asshole dictator moments at first, but tried to tone it down later on. All told, he was quite an enigma, since the grapevine has it that he was using an assumed identity and nobody knows for sure who he really was.) Later on, Milošević came to power. (I’ll further editorialize that Slobbo’s unnecessary demagoguery touched off one of the evilest chapters in late twentieth-century history. His actions prevented any hope of coming to terms by negotiation or peaceful separation.) The film describes some of the demagoguery, such as years of atrocity propaganda on TV.
To this climate, Laibach did contribute a rather badly-considered speech in Belgrade which wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that would encourage general tranquility. The commentator was pointing out irony, but that much is arguable, and I doubt too many people were taking it that way. (Let’s suppose that subtle irony was indeed the object. That’s still sort of like trying to deescalate BLM rioters by throwing them bananas, thereby making them ashamed of acting like monkeys. The gesture isn’t likely to come off the way you intended.) Although a speech like that when tensions were at the boiling point was an error in judgment, I doubt it affected the outcome.
Then the war was underway. One of its first targets was Slovenia’s TV transmission towers. The voiceover, finally taking a break from art theory, makes an interesting observation:
If history increasingly consists of images, those who control the images control history. By the end of the century, the mass rallies of the ‘30s were largely unnecessary. With the precision of a guillotine, film sliced history into 24 frames per second, transporting it into the future.
Indeed, this fifth generation warfare stuff is where it’s at, we get it. . . Then the narrator discusses a TV appearance in which the band pwned the interviewer big time:
. . . Laibach revealed the way state-controlled media work by externalizing both its methods and its codes. Although interpretable now as a kind of failed inoculation, Laibach’s action anticipated both the visual appearance and the televisual method that would later be used to trigger dormant nationalism within the Balkans.
Among other things, one of the band members adds the following:
Television. Within the industry of consciousness the television medium is, besides the school system, the leading molder of uniform thinking. Television programs are basically centralized, with one transmitter and many receivers. No communication is possible between them.
The TV talking head who was interviewing them probably turned green at that point.
It seems that things are just the same here as it was in Yugoslavia, how about that? There’s only one difference: There, the Communist Party put the propaganda on the idiot box. Here, that’s done by gigantic corporations in lockstep with the régime’s ideology, sparing the government the effort and making the arrangement seem less heavy-handed, while creating the illusion of choice for the rubes. Monopoly capitalism is so much better!
At the end, the band begins playing “Geburt Einer Nation” from Opus Dei while on tour in Greece. I thought we’d get an uninterrupted music video at last, but it was not to be. Comrade Slavoj is back, discussing the well-worn “Are they or aren’t they?” question about their politics. At least he stopped talking about “ze beatings of ze blecks” in Dixie.
My only complaint, of course, is that maybe they should’ve let the band’s music speak for itself a little more. Art theory does have its place, but Tom Wolfe proved that it can be fun rather than excessively repetitive. Besides, much of that seems rather defensive, lengthily explaining why Laibach’s use of fascist imagery doesn’t necessarily make them fascists. Well, if they are, then what’s the big deal? To hell with all the pearl-clutching. Can’t we just enjoy the show, for Kek’s sake? So long as Laibach keeps up their unique style, I wouldn’t be too troubled even if those guys secretly have a crush on that fetching damsel Nancy Pelosi.
If I had a nickel for every musician who is a bedwetting liberal or worse, then I sure would have an impressive heap of nickels. Still, all those Lefty poseurs aren’t expected to explain away their moldy politics, now are they? For that matter, since the 1980s, there have been rock stars who play with Satanic imagery and don’t feel the need to apologize for it. Even for that, nobody flips and trips about it — except maybe in ze South, where ze Klu Klux Klen beats ze bleck men.
Don’t let a few cringe moments deter you. If you’re a Laibach fan, then Predictions of Fire will be a wild ride.
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