Laibach @ Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London
Paul Artrocker finds the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall has been transformed into a rock and roll bar to welcome Slovenian art popsters - and Iron Sky soundtrackers - Laibach
"It's all pretty political", I heard one slightly greying - but black clad, and dare I say it Goth-type - pass on to his obvious Laibach-virgin-friend as I passed into the clean and respectable portals of Tate Modern's cafe, itself transformed, for one night only, into a rock and roll bar.
Until tonight I too had been a Laibach virgin, and one with no decent excuses for being so - especially since the period and scene of their birth - the dark and industrial poundings of early '80s synth fuelled, post punk artrock - were well within my musical sphere. The truth is, I'd simply chosen the more overtly guitar-orientated new wave to see me through that decade.
Cut to the now, and it was a combination of these culturally rather backward looking times AND the fact that I'd been propositioned just a week ago with the line "Laibach? Now there's a band for the cover of Artrocker if ever there was one!" that meant I was finally going to take the plunge, 25 years late. At least I would not be the only Laibach novice in the crowd.
Upon entering the Turbine Hall, we were presented with two giant screens showing 'World at War'-style newsreel footage - a documentary taking in the pre and post WWII Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, their defeat, and the following industrial redevelopment and rebuilding of the nation. The narration was indecipherable but the images as potent as ever.
Almost exactly on cue the first distorted synth growled, and an industrial pounding lurched into action. The film was immediately flipped - and it only took a few seconds to realise we'd encountered the whole story in reverse.
Several pieces of music followed: swells of sweeping, Wagner-like synths followed by menacing distortions that had both structure and enough fluidity to match the abstract psychedelics of the projections and light show.
As if to momentarily humanise the war scenes on film between each track, the band interspersed a collection of sampled rhymes and popular contemporary songs from the era. As for the film, the reversal trick of having reconstruction followed by destruction is simple, and yet so poignant and thought provoking. Having just reread Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, I suggest you try his description of Billy Pilgrim's hallucinogenic viewing of a war film backwards to get the literary version of what Laibach achieve in the first half of tonight's performance.
The second half mutated seamlessly into an altogether different beast which highlighted Milan Fras ungodly growl of a vocal (a sound so reverberating you feel it could itself fill the Turbine hall, your boots and your bowels), and the contrasting sweet/shrill Mina Spiler, whose solo vocal on their relatively straight version of The Beatles 'Across The Universe' triggered a section based upon their soundtrack of the upcoming Nazis-in-space film Iron Sky.
This second half drew on more recent material - and generally more crowd pleasing material - and featured their legendary twisted techno cover versions of Queen's 'One Vision' and Opus' 'Live is Life'. Both covers manage to gloriously subvert the original lyrics, and are followed by perhaps a thankful nod to their long-time label Mute with a cover of Warm Leatherette.
This was followed by a full on version of Laibach's own 'Tanz Mit Laibach' - which placed them side by side with electro pioneers D.A.F. Yet for all the immediacy of the four-to-the-floor dance beats and crowd's recognition of familiar tracks perhaps it is this accessibility which is even more subversively subtle than the more overtly heavy political tone of the set's opening.
Even when featuring tracks from Iron Sky, the band are still quintessentially a post-modern art pop/dance band of the eighties - their closing credits theme tune was a tongue in cheek synth power ballad worthy of the likes of Art Of Noise or Propaganda.
The whole two hour show was hugely impressive and enjoyable - and the stage production, lighting and projections were all every bit as important as the musicians. Of the music, it's the earlier experimental soundscapes that opened the night that I might explore in recorded form. The most memorable track of the set however, was their masterful and recent synth murder balladeering of Bob Dylan's 'Ballad of a Thin Man'.