Arts & Entertainment

On the State of the Art With Laibach

Laibach/Current members

Totalitarian governments make extensive use of the appearance of power. Banners, marches, large plenary meetings of officials, and ritual parades of devastating weapons are veritable pageants of this language, scaled up from the logic of small despots to that of mass production. Often, this is a charade concealing the internal chaos and tumult of an elite at war with itself from the broader population.

Surprisingly, the visual, symbolic, and social language of state power is universally recognized across the political spectrum—we know it when we see it. Perhaps this is why vicious enemies often adopt similar aesthetics. The struggle for power is sometimes a struggle for a monopoly over its symbols.

This ambiguous language of power is one that the Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach has mastered through the group’s multi-decade history. Their music has spanned many genres, beginning with the sounds of production—such as factory sounds and electronic noise—eventually evolving to layer on trumpets, speeches, and orchestral backgrounds that give their music its unique, unsettling quality. It is revealing that the band could produce covers of popular rock and pop songs such as Queen’s “One Vision” that disquiet and compel listeners to try and find a political meaning in lyrics that in other contexts go unnoticed.

Beginning their career when the country was still a component of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, led by a communist party that had just lost its paramount leader Josip Broz Tito, their early 1980s activities almost seemed like an exercise in testing state capacity. They broke various laws limiting speech and parodied existing authorities, often leading to police interventions as well as hostile coverage by regime media—the name “Laibach” comes from the German name for Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana, a name used during the country’s occupation from 1941 to 1945.

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