Sunday, May 15, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Laibach

This week’s Weekend Diversion is a little different. Last week I wrote:
“In the 1980s, I liked a lot of music that no one had heard of. It was mostly still pop music of one sort or another, with some exceptions, but some of it remained outside the mainstream.”
The song in the video above is one of the ones I was thinking of. It’s by Slovenian avant garde band Laibach (their name is the German name for Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana), who were an aesthetic grouping as much as a band. They were criticised for the appropriation of authoritarian imagery, either fascistic or Stalinist, depending on one’s ideology.

I admit they confused me at first. My boyfriend at the time introduced me to them after he’d heard their 1987 single, "Opus Dei" (the song in the video above), and bought the album of the same name. The label of the LP had hatchets lashed together at the handle to make a kind of swastika. I later found out that they also used Soviet imagery, but at the time—before I knew that—I was concerned they were some sort of neofascist group. Once I “got” them, it was kind of fun to see the same confusion on the faces of other people when we played the album for them.

Laibach excelled at de-constructing other people’s music and reinterpreting it an unusual—and often very unexpected ways. "Opus Dei" was a reimagining of a song called "Live is Life" by Austrian arena rock band Opus (which apparently inspired the song name). I’ve included a live version of the Opus song below to make it easier to see what Laibach did with it.

Actually, Laibach did two versions on their Opus Dei album: the title track and single, along with a German version called "Leben Heißt Leben", which opened the album. The Opus Dei video was played on MTV, though I don’t remember having seen it at the time.

The Opus Dei album also featured a reworking of Queen’s "One Vision", which Laibach did as "Geburt einer Nation" (“Birth of a Nation”).

The group’s music and aesthetic was an inspiration to German group Rammstein, and Laibach eventually covered a Rammstein song, kind of bringing it full circle. Laibach is still working, which is unusual in itself.

Opus Dei is about as far out of the mainstream as I went, which is a relief or disappointing, depending on your point of view. But it was a fun time.

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