There I was in the basement of the Leland Hotel at 2:30am with my patriotism in question. Leland City Club was the home of Detroit‘s late-night, goth-crowd during the 90s. A place I spent more than a little time consorting on the dance-floor with the black-lipstick vampires girls and their clove cigarettes. But why would anyone questioning my red, white and blue credentials? The very idea made me want to jumping on top of the damn art-deco bar and shout Alexander Alexandrov‘s Soviet anthem to the crowd. Maybe pledge my allegiance to the motherland;
Through days dark and stormy / where Great Lenin lead us / Our eyes saw the bright sun of freedom above / And Stalin our leader with faith in the people / Inspired us to build up the land that we love / Long live our Soviet motherland / Built by the people’s mighty hand
I shouldn’t have been so suprised. Their suspicious eyes were on me the moment I began nodding my head approvingly to Laibach‘s anthem, Leben heißt Leben (or Life is Life), as the song pounded it’s way through the club speaker system. I couldn’t help my reaction, as nearly everything about the song was appealing to me. The pounding militaristic march; the metallic, industrial beat; guttural commanding vocal. The music hinting at the unspoken joys of primal-force. Forget the icy coolness of Joy Division. Laibach was amazingly uncool and brutal and intelligent. I understood they were flirting around in potentially dangerous territory. At best, most people would simply misunderstand the band’s motives. And the reaction of my dance-floor vampire-friends was proof enough .
When we get the power / We all get the best / Every minute in the hour / We don’t think about the rest / And we all get the power / We all get the best / When everyone gives everything / Then everyone everything will get / Life is Life –Laibach / Leben heißt Leben.
Laibach was formed as a music-collective in the Yugoslav-controlled region of Slovenia in the early 80s. At the time, they were mostly associated with the growing Industrial music scene that included band’s like Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb and Acid Horse. However, a deeper history and understanding of the band’s origins is vital to a full examination of their purpose. Laibach took their name from the German-wing of the Neue Slowenische Kunst or New Slovenian Art Collective which supports the advancement of Slovenian art and culture. The name Laibach is also the German historical name of the Slovene capital of Ljubljana. A name that invokes some amount of debate among Slovenians as it reminds them of the Nazi annexation of Slovenia during WWII. It’s an important history and essential to appreciate that Laibach, the band, has courted controversy since their inception. Their historical background and geographic location in Yugoslav, Slovenia providing Laibach a unique point-of-view on world events. A point-of-view often overlooked, ignored or misunderstood in most of the West. Laibach drawing inspiration from the parallels between Soviet Communism, Nazi Fascism and Western Capitalism. While much of the world was swept up in choosing sides during the Cold War, in non-aligned Yugoslav Laibach saw the interchangeability between the authoritarian symbolism of all three of the afore mentioned ethos. The band setting out to make music and images that expose the power of symbolic propaganda when mixed with authoritarian governments. Laibach’s music takes us on a journey that contemporary music rarely openly acknowledges. That is, putting a face on the hypocrisies of the western democracy. A view completely censored in most of the west (and particularly in America).
Firstly, there is no denying the power of the band’s music. The militaristic-marches and regimented beats reach something within all of us. And the lyrical content always focusing around war, struggle, conflict and the natural environment. Laibach often sending confusing or ambigusous messages about the political and cultural matters. In addition to the music (and lyrics), Laibach’s on stage use of nationalistic symbols and miltary uniforms takes their flirtation with the “totality” to the next level. Laibach explores and exploits the intentional ambiguity and confusion of their own message. Using our discomfort over sounds and images to ask foundational guestions; are the corporate symbols of capitalism any differnet than those of the Soviets or Nazi regimes? And isn’t the competive nature of capitalism a belief in totality? Facing these questions reveals much about who and what western societies truly have become (Or have always been). For example, the United States has orchestrated conflict and misery across the planet for decades under the pretense of freedom and democracy. Bringing chaos as they offer world order. And all the while remaining critical of other nations for similar or lesser offenses. Laibach takes us one-step deeper. Peeling back the symbols of a corporatized economic system to reveal the authoritarian and fascistic core.
One person, one goal / And an instruction / One heart, one mind / Only one solution / A burning ember / Yes! / One god, one vision / One Flesh, One Blood / Not wrong, not right / We just need / A vision for the world / One Flesh, One Blood / A true belief / One race and one dream / One true religion / A strong will / Yes! / So give me your hands / And give me your hearts / I’m waiting / There is only one direction – Queen / One Vision
To help bring the point back to music, let us consider the example of Laibach’s cover version of the Queen song, One Vision on Opus Dei. In the hand’s of Laibach the track is retitled and reworked as Geburt einer Nation. In this new context, the band uncovers the celebration of power and conformity at the heart of this chart topping song; “One race and one dream / One true religion / A strong will / Yes!”. Laibach’s version cuts immediately to the dark and violent forces lurking under the mirage of liberal social norms. In the West, we have been conditioned to take for granted that these words are ”unifying” and “patriotic”. And certainly never authoritarian or totalitarian However that veneer of packaged-liberalism washes away when we hear Laibach performs, Geburt einer Nation. The lyric becomes the perfect vehicle for Laibach role of seditionists. Is the imagery used by Queen really so different then Laibach? By striping away the pop appeal and packaging of One Vision, the true nature of language and meaning are finally exposed. Are the lyrical images of One Vision harmless or nationalistic slogans? By comparison, during the Third Reich of Nazi Germany, the National Socialist Party’s official slogan was ”ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” or One People, One State, One Leader. The similarities are simply undeniable.
This comparison demonstrates how closely corporate-capitalism flirts with totality in their competitive appeal in a society obsessed with consumerism. And for the record, we are not suggesting the original writers of One Vision had some hidden intention. They absolutely did not. However, the language on the song does tap into an instinct that is always there in a capitalist society. Totality is the natural evolution of the competitive marketplace. The elimination of competition and resistance to corporate success. That is, the capitalist class will always use their economic and political power to win. And that is particularly true in a country like the United States where the appeal to cultural conformaty is everywhere. In 2003, political writer and philosopher Sheldon Wolin described the United States government as using an inverted totalitarianism with many similarities to a fascist regime. According to Wolin, democracy in the US is nothing more than an illusion. The sounds and symbols are powerful tools that corporation, media and politicians use to create the illusion of democratic consent. And those leaders are fully aware of how they can use the cultural, religious, and racial identity when it serves their purposes.
“I cannot be defeated. I defeat all man. Soon, I defeat real champion. If he dies, he dies.” – Ivan Drago
Rock IV is perhaps the most profitable propaganda tool ever made. A genuinely entertaining film that demonstrate how the tools of the capitalist order are manuvered into demonizing the competing economic system. The film is overwrought with Cold-War allegories of the capitalist-communist conflict. Projecting the most horrible stereotypes of racial superiority onto the enemy of the American Capitalism. Equating the language and symbols of the Soviet Union to Nazism. Rocky IV is a distortion of history that was embraced by the American masses because of the appealing packaging of a good film. And despite the obvious nature of the film as propaganda, the public remains unaware of the underlying authoritarian manipulation. Again, Sheldon Wolin, “While the versions of totalitarianism represented by Nazism and Fascism consolidated power by suppressing liberal political practices that had sunk only shallow cultural roots, The United States represents a drive towards totality that draws from the setting where liberalism and democracy have been established for more than two centuries. It is Nazism turned upside-down, “inverted totalitarianism.” While it is a system that aspires to totality, it is driven by an ideology of the cost-effective rather than of a master race, by the material rather than the “ideal”.
Laibach has been called the “most controversial band ever” and, conversely, the “most absurd group ever“. Both descriptions fail to understand the message at the heart of their music. In truth, the band’s mash-up of totalitarian idealogies with a “cost-effective” corporate capitalism is a reflection of the world we now face. The futuristic totalitarian-dystopia has arrived sooner than expected. Packaged in smiling faces with bold, patriotic colors. Western societies have failed to see the colossus grown within their walls. Pregnant with the madness and brutality already inflicted across the globe. To this end, Laibach may just be the most imporant band ever.