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Laibach Cares More About Your Freedom Than You Do

And no, they're not neo-Nazis, you idiot.

You might not know who Laibach are and that's OK—like anything associated with making your comfortable ass more aware of the crazy shit going on in the world, it's been kinda hidden from you. These poor Slovenian bastards sounded like Rammstein before anyone even thought that was a remotely marketable sound, all stentorian vocals barked in German, heavy industrial rhythms, and elaborate stage shows sporting fancy lights, animals, and lots of offended audiences. Unlike Rammstein, however, they didn't sell a bazillion records, though they did make an impact on American bands like Morbid Angel and Type O Negative in the 90s who spouted their name to everyone who'd listen. They got Mute's attention back in 1987 and though they've been releasing consistently through them ever since, they've remained the cultest of cult acts, a band that that one asshole in record stores loved to tell you you'd never understand.

That was sort of by design, though. Laibach could've made things a bit clearer and cashed in a while ago. Their biggest crime? Not explaining anything. They come from the David Lynch school of letting the art do the talking and have been bitten in the ass for decades because of it, most notoriously because of using an image of four axes arranged in a swastika designed by anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield in the artwork for 1987's (yeah, they've been around for a minute) Opus Dei. That, combined with the growly lyrics (often in German) over martial industrial beats and, well, yeah…at first glance, a lot of people thought, "Holy shit, NAZIS!"

But they're not neo-Nazis, or fascists, or really anything other than bleeding heart artsy-fartsy liberals who like operas and musicals, trying to remind you that you're (still) being lied to by your government every day, no matter how many hip tweets come from the White House. Here's the thing, though: they didn't do that thing where you say, "Sorry about that. We hate Hitler. HATE HIM." That would let them off the hook so easily. Their investigation into and parody of fascist ideas so plainly telegraphs that the endeavors of Axis d-bags (and their subtler inheritors) are not what they're here to celebrate, they figured anyone smart enough would get it.

Thankfully for those of us who think more people than that asshole in your record store (RIP) should be listening to Laibach, their new album, Spectre, is a lot more ideologically user-friendly at first glance. It's a brilliant layered comment on the state of the post-surveillance, post-economic collapse western world and is, appropriately, both inspiring and a total bummer. First single, "The Whistleblowers," a tribute to Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, opens with…whistling, some damn catchy whistling, at that. In addition to the patented sub-bass Laibach growl, there's a lady, Mina Špiler, contributing soaring lead vox, as well. Spectre is definitely the poppiest, danciest, and hookiest Laibach yet. It's also the closest they'll come to hand-holding, wearing their cynicism about the world-wide machine of oppression on their sleeves while calling for, you know, the eradication of religion. All of a sudden, there's never been a better time for a pop group that advocates intellectual freedom. We spoke to Ivo Saliger, pseudonym of Laibach's oldest active member and interview subject, about where the hell they've been, what's fucked up in the world right now, and covering Beatles songs on drugs.

It feels like Spectre has or should have a visual component, like a play or a film. Are there plans to do something along those lines?
Ivo Saliger: Well, the first video ("The Whistleblowers") has just [been] launched, we are preparing the second one ("Eurovision"), and hopefully some more will follow. We'd also be very glad if this album would become an inspiration for a film or a play. But, to be precise, Spectre already is a soundtrack for life, which still is bigger than film.

The trailer for Spectre suggests dozens of possible narratives. Tell me about the process of creating it.
We just followed our instincts and intuitions. We were directly influenced by the events during the past few years of economic collapse and social and political unrest in Europe and the world, and—as far as music goes—with the disastrous state of [the] music industry and pop culture in general.

The album came together quite [fast], we only worked on it between April and August 2013, and it was mixed in September. Unfortunately the release date was postponed twice, due to marketing strategies, which are always difficult to understand, so the album was officially released only now on March 3, 2014.

Specifically, I feel like there's a sadness to Spectre, like you're mourning something. Am I reading that correctly?
[These are] interesting observation[s], because several reviewers were describing the general feel of the album as a very optimistic one. We'd say it is both; it has a character of a Buster Keaton or Jacques Tatí, both of them great inspiration[s].

Can you elaborate on the mark left by the films of Keaton and Tatí on Laibach's work?
No we can't, but you said it already: that there's a certain sadness to Spectre, no matter how optimistic we are trying to sound. That is the kind of sentiment you can find in Keaton's and Tatí's main film characters.

You're obviously drawing from a lot of sources but it never sounds like anything but Laibach. What were your influences with Spectre?
That is really impossible to describe with Laibach, because we are influenced by everything, not only music. As far as music itself goes, we are influenced by everything we've heard, from Gregorian chants onwards.

What is Laibach's writing process like—one person alone in a room feeding the results to everyone else or a band jamming/experimenting in the studio?
Lots of talking and discussing, collectively creating basic concepts and ideas, and then everybody does his parts before we get together again. We again discuss demos, exchange parts, and finally build the song as much as possible together, in a true collective spirit.

Both you and the Melvins have withstood the tag of "joke band" for decades now. What's been your reaction to that label?
It is all a matter of perspective; the whole dominant pop music scene is pretty much a pathetic joke, trying to earn as much money as possible. The so-called "independent" music [scene] is pretty much a joke as well, earning nothing or hardly any money. There are no great bands and artists anymore, and if they are, they are only very few, or they are well hidden. Do we see ourselves as a part of [a] music scene? No, we don't. Part of wider pop culture, maybe. Is Laibach therefore a joke band? No, we are not; we only practice the deadly serious kind of humor that cannot take a joke.

Rammstein: rip-off artists or legitimate musical entity that happened to tap a similar vein as yourselves?
Rammstein are everything we never wanted to be and we know we could easily turn into them if we'd live in Germany or USA instead of Republic of Slovenia. They've openly admitted Laibach to be their initial source of inspiration and they only translated what we did into something that has a bigger appeal for the mass market. We can't blame them for that.

In addition to covering Bach and Andrew Lloyd Webber, you covered the Beatles entire Let It Be album, including the cover art, in which you replace the photos of The Beatles with painted portraits of Laibach's members at the time. I feel like that album is a statement about the relationship of pop music to fascism but I can't quite articulate it. Perhaps you can?
Pop music of course has a lot of fascist elements, but this was certainly not the key of our interest when we decided to work on Let It Be. We did this album very much because everybody was warning us: don't touch the Beatles. And so we did. Why it came out as it did is hard to explain. The creating and recording process was not rational at all. We deliberately used heavy drugs while working on the songs and we let ourselves be completely taken by the myth of this final Beatles album. When our version was released, Wired [tore] it apart as the "microwave of the month." [no digital archive of this review, but apparently Wired bestowed '95's NATO with the same honor.] Quite a few years later, the album was rediscovered in New Yorker, in an article, which was actually analyzing and praising our method as a totally brilliant and inventive paradigm of (re) interpretation. Even for us this is today still a very provocative album, and music is definitely not the main topic there.

What is the main topic of Let it Be if not the music?
To be or not to be.

Can we expect live performances of Spectre? Perhaps even a US tour?
Yes, we are actually departing on European tour in two days and are working on the tour in US in autumn [of] this year.

Thinking for ourselves—are we getting better or worse at it as a race?
Probably both.

Also check out:

In Praise of Laibach