If you don’t watch Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, you’re truly missing one of the greatest shows on television since All In The Family.  Do yourself a favor and order HBO or steal a friend’s password (we don’t judge) and check out this show.  It will change the way you look at the world.

If you DO watch the show, you got this recently:

Mr. Oliver is a brilliant man doing amazing things on the show.  We have the utmost respect for him and the amazing things he has accomplished with his show.  We really can’t help but think he (and all of North Korea) missed the point, though, in this report and have missed out on one of the all time great jokes.  To understand it properly, you have to delve a little into the brains of the band known as Laibach.

LAIBACH – A SHORT HISTORY

Laibach

Laibach was formed in 1980 in the small Slovenian mining town of Trbovlje. Their name is taken from the WWII German language version of the name for the Slovenian capitol, Ljubljana. They first formed as a performance art group that collaborated with many other theater and visual arts groups of the region. When they originally burst upon the music scene, they were categorized as industrial rock and in their performances they used gramophones, old-time radio devices and actual military smoke bombs instead of dry ice or smoke machines. In April 1983, the group received enormous media coverage for a concert at the Zagreb Biennale, during which the group used simultaneous projections of a pornographic movie and the film Revolucija še traja (The Revolution is Still Going On). The performance was eventually interrupted by the police, forcing the group to flee the stage after the appearance of a penis and Josip Broz Tito at the same time on the screens. A subsequent television appearance on June 23, 1983 caused major political uproar against them, after which they were banned from using the name Laibach as well as performing in public.

In the years that followed, the group combined imagery of socialist realism, Nazism and Italian futurism, to create a unique aesthetic style. Due to the fact that they were banned from using the name Laibach, the group held secret concerts at various locations around Europe. They released several albums over the following years, but continued to not publicly use the name Laibach. Eventually, they petitioned the Slovenian congress to be allowed to use the name again and it was granted.

International acclaim followed for them soon after English DJ John Peel recorded three songs with the group. In 1986, the group recorded their next studio album, Opus Dei. The inner sleeve of the cover featured a swastika consisting of four bloodied axes designed by John Heartfield, an anti-Nazi artist. The record was sold secretly across Europe. The usage of Nazi symbols and the name “Opus Dei” caused the Catholic institution of the same name to sue the group, a case Laibach eventually won. Following the album release, the group embarked on a European tour, during which they stated at a press conference in France that their influences were “Tito, Toto and Tati”. (The Yugoslavian dictator, the American rock band, and the French comic filmmaker.)

The following years featured a wide range of albums from Laibach. One was only a collection of covers of the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy For The Devil”. Another, entitled NATO, featured cover versions of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and Status Quo’s “In the Army Now”. A third called Let it Be was a near-duplicate of the Beatles album of the same name, with every song reworked into a fascist anthem. On November 14, 1997 at a concert in Belgrade, the performed a song that featured a speech from philosopher Peter Mlakar in which he asked the audience to “eat the pig and digest it once and for all”, referring to the then president Slobodan Milošević.

RECENT WORK

In July 2014 Laibach released an EP to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. The project was commissioned by Poland’s National Cultural Centre and includes a reworking of one of the classic songs of the insurgency; “Warszawskie Dzieci” (“Children of Warsaw”).

In April 2015, Laibach ran a massively successful Indiegogo fundraising campaign to cover costs of a tour in the United States. Their tour started in May 2015 and finished in the beginning of July. Shortly after their tour, their record label, London-based Mute, released this press release, announcing the fact that they will be the first Western-based rock band to perform in North Korea. Of particular interest is this statement:

“In August 2015, Laibach will become the first ever band of its kind to perform in the secretive country of North Korea, a reclusive garrison state as well-known for its military marches, mass gymnastics and hymns to the Great Leader, as for its defiant resistance to Western popular culture.”

LAIBACH – THE JOKE

So you have a band that has been around for 35 years. A band that started out protesting the totalitarian regime of Yugoslavia in a time shortly after Tito ruled with an iron fist. Laibach used fascist imagery in their performances and music videos but they also simultaneously collaborated with anti-fascist artists and anti-totalitarian philosophers. Laibach grew out of the very rich underground performance art scene that sprung up in Yugoslavia during the 80’s and survived by continuing to evolve and lampoon what they saw as social inequalities.

Remember that quote that stated their main influences are “Tito, Toto, and Tati”? That third name is probably the most important in really understanding who Laibach really is. Tati was a French filmmaker and actor who was most well-known for his character Monsieur Hulot, a bumbling inspector that was used to great effect to comically criticize modern consumerism. Laibach, in using Nazi symbolism and offering fascist versions of The Beatles, carries on the tradition of Monsieur Hulot’s bumbling, poorly-dressed clown.

To call Laibach “a joke” is actually an extreme disservice to what they have done. Instead, they’re continuing a 35-year-old piece of performance art. For Western audiences, it is probably best to describe them like this: if Stephen Colbert created a rock band, they would be Laibach.

And Laibach going to North Korea is kind of like the Republican National Convention offering Colbert their keynote address. Or Hitler inviting Charlie Chaplin to perform in 1940 Berlin.

This is quite possibly the most brilliant piece of subversion ever to appear on stage and not even Mr. John Oliver can see it. Certainly, North Korea seems to have no clue. Not even with statements like this from Billboard:

“Apparently, Laibach will perform songs from The Sound of Music and they’ll cover “We Will Go To Mount Paektu,” a song from the local all-girl group Moranbong Band.”

Yes, they are not-so-secretly performing showtunes from an anti-Nazi musical to a country best known for its “military marches, mass gymnastics, and hymns to its Great Leader.” And people somehow think they are serious about it.

A. Maze. Ing.

LAIBACH – THE VIDEO

So without further ado, we offer you a small sample of Laibach.  Check out their YouTube page for a whole lot more. It was so hard to choose just one, but we settled on “Tanz mit Laibach” (Dance With Laibach) for its sheer insanity.  Check it out:

We’re not sure about you, but if you don’t want to now see that performance on August 15th in North Korea, we’ll take your ticket, Froggies.

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