The first part of Laibach’s Monumental Retro-avant-garde concert is also the “re-creation” of a legendary gig that the band played in Zagreb in 1982 (at the NSK symposium, it was wryly noted that while that gig in totalitarian Yugoslavia went on until it was broken up by the state police at 5am, tonight, in totally-free Britain, it would be ending at midnight).
Amusing footnotes like these notwithstanding, the question here is less about the faked authenticity of Forsyth and Pollard’s replica gigs and more like that of the philosopher’s axe. The band on stage are *still* “Laibach”. And yet they are not the same Laibach who played that concert in 1982, thanks to the death of their then lead singer and the effect of three intervening decades on the remaining band members most of whom are no longer members of the current touring version of “Laibach”.
Having not seen much footage of this original gig – although some was shown on monitors during the evening – it is difficult to make too many specific comparisons. Conjecture is possible, however – I suspect, for example, that very few of the Yugoslavs who attended the original gig went in Laibach “costume”. I doubt that many people videoed the gig on their phone or took photos. I also doubt that there was the same atmosphere of clean, antiseptic corporatism, replete with wristband checking by black bomber-jacketed security guards carrying walkie-talkies.
Musically, this first section is: interesting, impressive, imposing. Several of the band’s original members crank through the angular, industrial sound that Laibach virtually improvised from whatever instruments and noise-making equipment they could find. This lasts for five or six pieces, then, without too much signalling, the next phase of the concert is on, offering a workmanlike trot through of a lot of older back-catalogue works (nothing off Volk, for example).
This was a marked contrast to the last time I saw Laibach play. That was in Berlin at the end of December 2010. The differences are fascinating: even in contemporary Berlin, flirtation with and appropriation of communism and fascism’s totalitarian iconography still carried one hell of a charge. Their version of the Turkish national anthem, performed in a venue on the edge of the Turkish district, Neukölln, felt incredibly close to the bone.
Of course, if you’ve got all their records (I haven’t), I guess everything is going to feel like “an old favourite”, but Laibach in Berlin struck me as a pretty uncompromising lot concentrating mostly on more recent material. At Tate Modern they seemed far happier to play crowd-pleasers. Their cover of Lennon and MacCartney’s Across The Universe in particular received a massive cheer of approval and recognition.