Tuesday 10 September 2013

Laibach in China: Bigger Than Nixon?

The recent news that industrial legends Laibach are to play their first ever dates in China next year raised a few eyebrows. How will the playful post-modernism of the Slovenians go down in the Communist state? Will they escape with their liberty and their reputation intact? 

That is not to say that anyone can expect them to perform protest songs or make a political "statement". For one, they wouldn't do anything that obtuse and obvious. They are not the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan... they are more relevant than that. We would be doing Laibach a disservice by expecting any standard political response from them, or in fact any political response at all. They have made a career out of prizing ideology, art and politics out of context and juxtaposing them with a deadpan sense of mischief. They are not going to shout "Free Tibet!" in the middle of 'Tanz Mit Laibach', unless they impishly followed it with a cry of "Free Trans-Dniester!". Laibach seem content to leave the politics to the politicians and the gestures to the People's Liberation Army gymnasts.

Laibach always understood the post-ideological world that we now live in better than their contemporaries (with the honourable exception of DAF , and possibly now also KMFDM and Rammstein). While many industrial acts still use political imagery as a symbol of authenticity, be that neo-Nazi insignia, uniforms and other militaria, or Stalinist iconography, they prefer to subvert them and demonstrate how empty and useless these images really are. The era that these symbols belong to is over – like the USSR, Reaganism, and action movies staring Schwarzenegger. Laibach, on the other hand, have been working in the 21st century for some considerable time and have used the ephemera of twentieth century pop culture and political history to troll the world.

So the contrast with China promises to be delicious – the first post-communist band in the world's largest Communist state, but one which is ridden with the kind of contradictions ripe for Laibach's satire; a closed political system ostensibly beholden to a Leninist ideology but in practice working as the largest neo-liberal economy on earth. A developing nation that is now starting to develop the growing pains of the classic post-industrial nations of the West. And Laibach, who probably saw this coming years ago.

So what they will make of the scene in Hong Kong is anyone's guess. It is obvious that behind the hyper-modern façade China seems anachronistic, with their gunships prowling the South China Sea, their regulated search engines and poets under house arrest. Or maybe Laibach might admire the brutal, honest hypocrisy of modern China all the more. 

Either way, it should be the art installation to end all art installations. A film release is a must. Just don't expect them to sing 'Wind Of Change'... although if they did, it would probably be sarcastic.

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