THE ARCHIVE ORGAN INTERVIEW... 1996                                 HOME
Issue 50 November '96

LAIBACH time, the band are in town to coincide with the second coming of Jesus Christ Superstar.

"Let everyone submit themselves to the Higher Authority" (Laibach, Romans) 

History, Marx  said, repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Having  replaced  religion as the world's dominating force, Hollywood and the culture   industry have been priming the apocalyptic tone dominating the approach  to the millennium. In the new gospel according to Hollywood, the second coming will not be a God made of flesh and blood, but God as a cyborg  man-machine - Deus ex machina indeed - Jesus as Robocop or Judge Dredd settling up everyday as judgment day and dispensing instant justice in  the process. At their inception in 1980, Laibach set out to expose the true workings of control systems, be they political or cultural. Now with their eighth official album - not counting live sets or compilations - called Jesus Christ Superstar, Laibach tackle the role  of religion, its uses and misuses at the tail end of the 20th Century.  Musically, Laibach's religious calling with a cyborg mix of machine rhythm and heavy metal, bound together with Laibachised arrangements and  choruses. 
     “Heavy metal is an article of faith”, Laibach say, "It's the closest rock has come to establishing itself as an ethical force.  Further, it has done so by ignoring the scorn heaped on it by the novelty- obsessed media, and by remaining true to itself through it's 25 year existence." 

Laibach aren't an easy subject, snippets of information come in from here and there, they're evasive, they don't like to explain too much... it can lead to a lot of  confusion. "Music" said Jacques Attali, author of Noise, "prophesies the future."

"From the vantage point of the present, Laibach take no satisfaction in the fact that they've seen all their predictions come to pass."

"From the start, in 1980, Laibach rehearsed the break-up of  Yugoslavia and the Soviet block. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that signaled the final collapse of communism in Europe, their work shifted focus to a world where utopian dreams have been replaced by  the cynical values of the market place."

So we're in a suitably bleak, small, white room over at the Mute offices on the Harrow Road in North West London, and we’re trying to dig around a little, find out why Laibach exist, where they're trying to go, how they want to use the mass media... and indeed what do people make of them?

You have a new album out, do you want to tell us about it, or is your aim to confuse?

I think maybe it will confuse people, but we basically making the same sounds that we were making in the very beginning back when we started in 1980.  We've been through a lot of phases since then, different political atmospheres, and in a way I think it's a quality that we manage to  retain that ability to  surprise people every time. I find that new people are reacting in very much the same way as they did then, fifteen years ago, and that amuses me. 

Do people who have been with you since the start still react with surprise,  surely  nothing could surprise them now?

We try to keep them in a certain state, but then on the other hand there is a certain characteristic within the group, a sound that we have developed and I think is very recognizable.

Do your themes evolve, are you jumping from one point to another?

Yes, there usually is a connection from one record to another, even if people sometimes don't  realise straight away. Yes, you can find links. The new album actually  goes back to the first record, there's a remake of one of our old songs  that was originally on the first album. We were dealing with religion  back then - as we are now, maybe not as such a concentrated way as we  oing with this album...

Did you feel you had to expand a lot more on religion now with this album because of  where we are in the world and the end of the millennium.

Yes, as we get further towards the end of the twentieth century, religion is becoming a very hot spot again. I mean, it's very logical: in the sixties there was a big move towards counter religion  and now there's a huge New Age movement which even if these counter religions are opposed to the prevailing religion line, are still very much about religion.

So what are Laibach saying about religion? Is it something you see as dangerous?  Something that people should take on board?

No, we're not saying that religion is a dangerous thing, of course it can be dangerous, as everything can be, but religion is definitely a subject which of course is worth us thinking about and making certain stand points about or whatever.

 Don't you see a lot of people completely turning their  back on any form of religion, replacing it with other things, which in turn becomes their personal forms of religion? Heavy Metal for instance?

Well I think that all these phenomena who are actually creating our lives and so on, we can't just  take them as something that's there, we should basically confront them,  we can't turn our back completely on religion, everything has to be  questioned, some more than others.

And you think these are the sort of things that should be communicated and questioned through mass appeal music?

It's not that it should be, it's that it actually is,  religion is very much there, the subject of popular  culture.

Is pop/mainstream music a  religion itself now, I'm thinking about people like Michael  Jackson?

Absolutely, Michael Jackson is appearing to portray himself as the new Jesus Christ, in his latest guise he's certainly not denying it, then you have Madonna and her immaculate conception, Prince is obsessed with himself as a spirit of the dark side, a vanishing symbol or something - there's more of them emerging I'm sure, present themselves as sons of God, spirits of  God.

Do they worry you? How do you feel about them?

Well Michael Jackson is the most obvious, but it's not only him, it's obviously something that's seen as a need within the entertainment industry. I mean the entertainment industry must feel it need to produce images like Michael  Jackson. Michael Jackson is basically not far from a cyber-figure, which is a very hot subject at the moment, not only with Hollywood films with  subjects like Terminator, Robocop, Judge Dredd, you know their names,  Michael Jackson is one step further on...

And you're addressing these things as Laibach? To a lot of people Laibach are a strange phenomenon - how would you explain Laibach  to someone who hadn't come across you before?

Yes, that would be difficult - it's not that it's difficult to explain if we wanted to, it's just that we don't really intend to make it very clear. It's not something you can define and  describe and say "this is it and there's  nothing else."

Do you like the fact that it can't defined?

It's not that we like it, it's more that it has become a necessary thing. If we were doing something  that was obvious and clear to you then there would be no point, it has  to be a little deeper than that... it's like a book that has to work every time you open it like it worked the first time.

And different people will read different things in to what you are saying...

Absolutely, that's very important , people from different religious, social, political  backgrounds are going to identify with different  points...
Would you say that you encourage confusion then?

I wouldn't say we encourage confusion, we encourage, shall we say, a certain process of awareness, we do provoke questions, and that's very important. We can not really give you the answers but we can create awareness, we can provoke questions... in different ways I must add.

And then you like to go and contradict those points you have provoked.

Yes, we like to contradict ourselves, yes.

What about NSK state? Would you like to explain that?

NSK state is actually a kind of social organism that we created. It doesn't have any real pragmatic value but the fact is, the passports that we issued are  working - pragmatically in some cases - such as in Sarajavo for  instance. We did some concerts in Sarajavo during the war and we gave out 350 passports to people over there and some people succeeded in using our passports to get out, they used the NSK passport because the Bosnian passport wasn't recognized as a very good document and it seems that the soldiers basically didn’t know what they with when they saw the NSK diplomatic passport and so they let the people out. I mean in those terms we are pragmatic but the fact is that the idea of the state is more symbolic, visual, virtual - it allows us ourselves not to be  symbolically connected to any existing state, so we don't represent any  political option or any economical force, we are not in the service of  any existing state, we belong to our own state... which in turn is a very virtual thing.

Why did you feel a  need to do that? Do you need to distance yourself from everything around  you politically and nationally? Did you feel the need to break away?

No, but simply, there was in ex-Yugoslavia a strong process of forming a national identity around new  born state and in a way the connection between us and Slovenia was getting a little too strong and we felt that wasn't very fertile, it didn't really create a creative process and it's important that we stay,  in our own way, independent, it's very important. And also we believe  that the basic relationship between - and I really hate to use words like 'artist', but I can't really think of a suitable substitute yet - between the artist and his/her work does not relate to anything but  itself. Anything else would be morally and politically incorrect. 

You've just released your rather expressive and powerful version of Jesus Christ Superstar as a  single - where do you expect that to be played? What do you want to achieve?

Well actually I've just been reading the reports from British DJs and dance floors, the response sheets from the people who are sent the records to play, and I must say the reactions are far more enthusiastic than would have suspected. It was a bit of a surprise to us, we didn't really launch it as a dance thing, I was very surprise to read the positive reaction, we didn't expect it...

But surely you don't expect it to be played on the radio and such?

Maybe not the mainstream, especially here in the UK, but then if I was a DJ and I was sent a record such as ours I'd certainly play it simply because it isn’t the kind of thing you hear everyday. I thought it was a good time to put it out, especially as  Andrew Lloyd Webber is re-establishing his stage  production of Jesus Christ Superstar over here soon.

Has he reacted to it yet?

No, not yet.

I asked you where you expect your records to be played because really a young person just discovering the world of music, they're going to start with something really commercial and mainstream and then maybe they'll start digging a  little deeper and  really they're going to have to dig pretty deep to find 

It's not something you're going to hear on a radio or find on your TV screen very often, you're not an easy band to find anything out about.
Yes, but then we never really expect our releases to be huge or for us to be really popular act... Our  position does allow us access to certain situations - we're able to  enjoy our independent position.

You mean you enjoy being away from the pressure of commercialism and thus are allowed to get on with whatever you want?

Yes but then of course I don't want us to be seen as elitist or something.  We are not obsessed with vast success. When we were recording this record, we weren't thinking in terms of dance floors  or radio play or stock markets.

So  word of mouth is an important thing?

Yes, but the situation is a little different here in England than most  places in terms of mass media. In England the media is very narrow minded, closed unless you are conforming to a certain style or sound..

Is it that different anywhere else?

Well not very much different but in England the music industry is indeed the most industrial if you like, it's a very big business, it follows certain  rules that have been created from the inside, and its very pragmatic of course  - there's a structure of people working with the industry who  have to survive on the basis of what they actually say or sell and they are going to look after their own interests rather than the arguments of art.

Do you ever become tempted - as I  see a lot of bands doing now - of saying we won't bother with Britain,  we'll just stay in Europe and leave them on their island?

I can see why a lot of bands would be tempted by that option but the thing is that the record companies over here in the UK, and obviously in America, are so big that they are dictating taste, and also the fact that the English language is so dominant in music means that you are able to dictate the developments of popular musical culture, and this is despite the fact that Germany is a bigger buying/selling market than the UK actually is. The English language countries and companies are able to act like cultural  imperialistic whatever... These are the factors of popular culture and of communication. It wouldn't be right for us as a group to completely  turn our backs on these factors.

How do people react to you in America then?

That's a good question, it's very diverse, they ask us a lot of the same questions...

I could imagine outrage in maybe places in the South, the Bible belt.

We get diverse reactions from all sections, there's no real pattern we get diverse reactions from both black and white, male and female, left wing and right  wing...

How extreme are the reactions  - do you find people burning your records, suggesting you’re evil?

Yes we do get that, it's tiresome but then I must say we also enjoy our fair share of stimulating intellectual analysis.

What are you doing now?

We're touring Europe, then  America and doing all the conventional things a bands does when they  have a new album out - but then at the same time we are  working on a  serious piece of classical music with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra and a hundred member choir.

Is that something that's going to emerge under the name Laibach?

Well yes for now - but that's  because the fact is that the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra wants to  play some of our music and we're happy to give them some of our music to reconstruct for their own purposes, but then in the future we may involve ourselves in a bigger project with them - at the moment I see  that bigger collaboration as an interesting mix of electronic music with traditional orchestra arrangements and choirs. 

What do you listen to yourself? Where do you get your music inspiration from?
Oh, I listen to anything that I can catch...

Always  have interesting cover versions, unexpected cover, Prince this time for instance?


Do you listen to a lot of mass media?

Well not all the time but we are aware of a lot of the  acts that we need to be aware of. We obviously can't escape from Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and things from MTV.

What about smaller bands, do you make a point of finding out what's going  on? Do you communicate with other bands?

We do as much as we can and we do have lots of people around us who we trust to provide us constantly with fresh news of new bands and of course bands do make contact with us  on tour, giving records and tapes and such.

Do you encourage people to get in touch with you? To communicate with you directly?

Well we don't discourage it but we can't really help bands or individual people in any way. We're not trying to escape from people or avoid people, we very much like to perform in public... We do as much as we can, especially when we are on tour, but then sometimes we just have to escape.

There you have it, we didn't even scratch the surface did we, perhaps that the way it should be, perhaps you should discover it all for yourselves, make your own interpretation, unravel their statements, their contradictions, their predictions, their warnings.. 

Jesus Christ Superstar is out now on Mute.