Laibach played at the Filmore in San Francisco on Saturday May 30th in support of their new album Spectre.
I enjoyed the performance. The music from the new album is not as consistently strident and driving as on some of their other albums (like Wat) but more atmospheric, evoking a kind of controlled force that never quite reaches a full crescendo. Surely, if you came to the show expecting merely energetic dance music, you would have been disappointed. One of my friends, in fact, complained that he felt as if he was being teased; led to the brink but never quite experiencing the “orgasm.” I, however, was mesmerized, carried along by the sounds, which were at points operatic, at points light-hearted, and at other points pure noise. One “song” simply sounded like the grinding of metal wheels; another sounded like an ominous, melancholy national anthem; another was a happy, whistling tune. The overall mood was the point, however, not particular songs, and in conjuring this mood, Laibach succeeded. Gathered together amongst others in a darkened hall, I felt as if I was in the midst of an authoritarian spectacle of barely restrained power and primal dynamism.
Much of Laibach’s success hinges on their intelligent use of totalitarian iconography. Drawing on fascist, communist, islamist and American symbols, Laibach knits together a narrative out of pictures and sounds that depicts our world as a place where power, oppression and domination are the facts that we must contend with. Laibach encourages us to wonder if we should fight against these forces or if we should become allied with them. If do fight against them, must we ourselves also become brutal and ruthless? Throughout the course of the show, I felt myself pulled back and forth between these related impulses toward capitulation and opposition. At points I unselfconsciously pumped my fists in the air, feeling part of the mass. At other points I became detached, observing the others around me who were absorbed by enthusiasm and emotion. At points I was part of the group. At others I detested the group.
Viking long ships, spinning swords, swastikas, marching boots, the Statue of Liberty; all of these images (and others) flashed across the screen behind the band. Out of context, it might have been mistaken for some sort of right-wing rally. In context, it contributed to a commentary on the totalitarian impulses inside all of us. Slavoj Zizek claims that the genius of Laibach lies in the group’s aspiration to be more fascist than the world’s real fascists. This is precisely how they succeed in revealing the mechanisms of authoritarianism and how it functions to entrap the unwitting masses.