Experimental Set

published in The Wire No.433, London, 2020
Laibach - Mona Foma, Launceston (2020)


The afternoon after Laibach's main-stage headliner performance at MONA FOMA in Launceston, they performed what was billed as an "experimental" set. That word is always problematic; here fascinatingly so. How does a band notorious for its dialectical embrace of fascist-aligned semiotics present a counter voice to its own problematizing practice? Their most recent touring of the complete The Sound Of Music exemplifies this unfit: pummelling dirges, corporeal sonics and saccharine yet po-faced Romanticism squirm like water and oil dancing in free fall. So what then would they experiment with and how?

The answer was simple. They performed a ‘reconstruction’ of their original 1983 performance at the Cultural Centre in Zagreb (the one of lore, which resulted in their initial banning by Slovenian officials). It was performed by a quintet assembled from their current membership. Superficially, it sounded like a time-warped echo of the angsty, noisy, thin-limbed noisemaking beloved of early 80s Industrial duos and ensembles. Those turgid macho performances were mostly about posture (hence their lack of difference from essentialized ‘rock music’), and arguably remain flatulent expressions of naïve social criticism gushing with nihilistic ejaculate - despite being incessantly championed as radical musical commentary.

Crucially, Laibach remained unreconstructed with their performance. The performative tropes of this assumed radicalism were all present: guitar savaged by a bow; voice barked through a megaphone; piano struck with madhouse fists; backing tracks of distorted drum machines. The resultant noise-making was mostly unresponsive to its output. The overall soundscape was marred by being divorced from the favoured contemporaneity of revisionist noise-making that has streamed from (for example) Farmers Manual and Wolf Eyes through to Puce Mary and Moor Mother. But by being ‘stuck in its era’ Laibach's performance also demonstrated not simply how the more things change they remain the same, but how the specificity of political momentum and transition in the now-dissolved Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was and remains central to Laibach’s politics and locative sourcing.


Text © Philip Brophy. Image © Dave Brown.