.:.AMBER WAVES OF AMBIGUITY.:.
An interview with Laibach
Last seen on these shores in 2008, Laibach made the decision to once again tour North America in support of their most recent opus, Spectre. A decidedly more direct message on European and world politics, and with songs such as “The Whistleblowers” taking aim at the secrecy of governmental reach, Laibach and Spectre projects the voices of the those lost in the current global political process. The album sees them utilizing yet another approach to both song and lyric, eschewing what some may say is their established industrial sound. While Spectre is definitely on target, and obviously so, Laibach are still the masters of multiplicity and interpretation. The release of Spectre also coincided with the creation of the Spectre Party.
A forewarning: If you’ve come here looking for information on Laibach’s North Korean performance, you’re out of luck. This interview was completed just days before the announcement was made.
Heathen Harvest: Laibach has always had tempestuous relationships and interpretations in Europe with layers of historical, political, and pop culture references, and it’s a given that you will probably never be correctly decoded. However, I would assume that the United States has an even more distorted view of what Laibach is and what Laibach isn’t. With “Spectre” and the North American tour, are you hoping to enlighten us more?
Laibach: We certainly are, although it does not necessarily mean that we know better what Laibach is than the American audience does. We only know that it does not exist without interpretation, and the way we see it, there are basically no wrong interpretations when Laibach is in question; every interpretation is correct. The enlightenment in Laibach is a two-way street.
HH: Laibach purposely chose a more direct message with “Spectre.” Why was the decision made this time to leave behind the band’s use of intentionally conflicting ideas and imagery, and wear its politics a bit more on its sleeve?
LA: We were always ‘direct’, but in an indirect manner. Now we have chosen a more ‘direct’ way because we want to turn the perception of Laibach upside down. Spectre deals with politics and with the formation of political consciousness. There is a strong appraisal of political consciousness going on in Europe and elsewhere in the world; people are fed up with the existing political and economical establishment and want to take power back into their own hands, bringing dignity and solidarity into the social relations of their everyday lives. We can only support them in this fight. Besides, we can bring back some political relevance and dignity to pop culture at the same time. The entertainment industry should entertain, but it should also accept its own responsibility for the general social and political situation in the world. The majority of pop culture today is completely lost and useless in every aspect, especially when it comes to the basic questions of social justice and politics. Banality is the only statement that rock and pop artists are able to produce clear enough. That is why the entirety of pop culture is losing relevance, not to mention sense and sensibility.
HH: How did the idea of creating the Spectre Party come about?
LA: It happened together with the album. Spectre was created as a kind of ‘call to arms’, so we decided to also establish an international political party along with it. Besides, we hate the idea of a fan club; we prefer a party with party people.
HH: Since the Neue Slowenische Kunst State has been set forth a bit to develop on its own in accordance with the Citizen’s Congress and last year’s Biennale in Leipzig, as well as with various groups created by the NSK State citizens, it would seem that the Spectre party is initially a duplication of efforts under a different name. Is this so, or has Laibach itself set the direction for the Spectre party outside of the confines of the NSK?
LA: Regarding the NSK State, we did our part on its establishment, but now the State belongs to its citizens. As one of its creators we still generally support it, but we also feel that it did not fully succeeded to develop its potential of being a utopian project. Therefore we decided to create a party, not to replace the NSK State, but to establish the possibility for the international movement and network, whose members would critically and more actively correspond on cultural, political, and social issues, locally and internationally, and under the all-seeing eye of Laibach, of course. Unlike the NSK State, which was established as a democratic experiment, Spectre is a uniquely totalitarian concept. In principle it should function independently from the NSK State, but the two can also intertwine, and in time the Party can maybe become the core of The State.
HH: At this point, the Spectre Party—while having the direction to drive positive change on a large, if not global scale—is still in its infancy and has no apparent manifesto or goals. Is this something that Laibach will eventually define?
LA: The poetic manifesto of the Spectre party is the album itself. The general theses of the party are printed in the album’s booklet. We are convinced that the political program will also get defined in time. We are already receiving valuable input from party members all over the world.
HH: As a long-time Laibach listener, I’ve seen a steady progression in sound that the band has always conveyed as something you’ve adopted to suit a particular album or message. However, I think it seems that Laibach’s current sound can be traced to working with silence on “Volk.” Is “Spectre” a logical musical descendant of that work?
LA: It probably is and that is indeed a logical progression, but there is a link between all of our albums; you can definitely also find some Spectre on WAT and Jesus Christ Superstars, as well as on previous albums.
HH: While some have noted that the addition of Mina Špiler has altered Laibach’s sound inexplicably, I’d say that this also constitutes a continuation of the various “Germania” remixes and versions of “LIfe Is Life” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” Female vocalists have long played a role for those who know a bit of your history, both in recordings and on tour. How has Špiler’s inclusion shaped the current Laibach sound?
LA: As you already correctly stated, a strong female principle was always part of the whole Laibachian universe, and Mina is just a perfect match and continuation of this ideal.
HH: How did the material on “Spectre” develop? Is this still a collaborative process between Milan Fras and Ivan Novak, with Špiler and the other band members contributing? Laibach has always been a mix of its members’ individual messages in order to form one collective whole, but the process has never been publicly revealed and intentionally hidden. As “Spectre” brings forth more obvious ideas, I think it would be interesting to know how these messages and how the music came to be.
LA: ‘When making an album we follow our instincts and intuitions, but we work as a team (collective spirit) according to the model of industrial production and totalitarianism. Our work is industrial, our language political. The creative practice and the model of song-writing in Laibach is totally constructed; the subject and the theme dictate the compositional process. This “repression” over the alchemy of writing is transformed into “expression” where the politicization of sound becomes absolute sonority.’ —1982 Laibach Manifesto
HH: While Laibach has covered much musical territory since its inception, is there ever a reason to return to history and reintroduce specific styles that the band previously used?
LA: Well, ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, and most of the current popular music is doing exactly that, without even being aware of it. Some are recycling history deliberately—usually out of nostalgia—and some of us are researching history in order to create the path for the future.
HH: The NSK and Laibach have had a long career thus far, and it obviously has become a mission for Laibach to continue. What could future incarnations of Laibach be like, no matter what the role of its members may be? I ask as members change and shift with different albums, yet Laibach remains a singular constant element.
LA: ‘The internal structure of Laibach functions on the directive principle and symbolizes the relation of ideology towards the individual. The quadruple principle (Eber–Saliger–Keller–Dachauer) conceals in itself an arbitrary number of sub-objects (depending on the needs). The flexibility and anonymity of the members prevents possible individual deviations and allows a permanent revitalization of the internal juices of life. Members of the group thus stay members of the group, even if they are incarnated within a different sub-object.’ —1982 Laibach Manifesto
HH: When did Mina Špiler first start working with Laibach, and how did her integration and subsequent role alongside Milan Fras come to pass?
LA: Mina has been working with the group since 2005, and her integration within the group as the lead vocalist happened very naturally, like the artistic relation between Satchmo and Ella Fitzgerald did.
HH: Mina has a prominent position within the band on “Spectre” and on stage, so it would seem she is aligned with Laibach’s mission. Does Laibach’s message represent her own personal politics?
LA: Mina, and every other member or collaborator of the group, who steps into Laibach, first of all represents Laibach’s collective politics.
HH: You have publicly stated that Laibach will lose money on this American tour and have started an Indiegogo campaign to defray the costs. Why is America so important to Laibach at this point in time, given the troubles facing Europe?
LA: Because today there’s no Europe without America, as there would be no ‘America’ without Europe in the past.
HH: Laibach has said in the past that they love America. Do you think America loves Laibach back?
LA: Judging from the reactions of the audience at our concerts, it generally does. We are already getting worried.