A few things that may enhance your enjoyment of Slovenia's number one musical export's video anthology: in 1980 they were banned from appearing in their homeland before they'd even played a note; their first album was issued with only their black cross emblem for identification (the word "Laibach" was banned); they co-formed the "art and social guerrilla collective" NSK, which declared itself a state and issued passports; they've appeared with dancer Michael Clark; on the stage of the German National Theatre; and at home in Ljubljana, with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra. The Archbishop of Ljubljana walked out.
Let's just say that Laibach, clad as they usually are, in their traditional Slovenian army fatigues, don't sit easily with church or state.
And Laibach being what they are, their first DVD compilation is another platform for their ambiguous ideas. If you don't buy into Laibach on any level, however, these clips look pretty much like four guys sucking their cheeks in and staring grandly into the distance a lot, while they grind through a selection of originals and covers, the latter bunch including takes on some of the best and worst that Western European pop music has given to the world.
Dubbed "communists" in Poland, and "fascists" by Western liberals uncomfortable with the idea of army uniforms, the band's multi-layered history and philosophy would take several pages to unravel. Therefore, the DVD's inclusion of A Film About WAT (a recent Laibach album), a whistle-stop tour from Tito's post-war Yugoslavia up to said album, makes for a handy guide.
In the light of A Film About WAT, Laibach's role as music makers seems secondary. On Drzava - an early black-and-white clip that looks like a Leni Riefenstahl Super 8 movie, the stuttering electro-trumpets and thudding industrial beats put them right there with then-contemporaries like 23 Skidoo. Wirtschaft ist Tot, recorded six years later, shows their acknowledged musical affinity with Germany's DAF and Kraftwerk, and game for a laugh as ever (though only once on the DVD does a Laibach member crack a half-smirk), they go robotic.
But it's those cover versions that firmly established Laibach in the consciousness of the wider world. Life is Life, retitled Opus Dei, sees the boys standing proudly in front of mountainous scenery, intercut with stock footage of antelopes in the wild. Laibach vocals – this is a collective and they don't bother with names - seem to come from the very depths of hell. Makes Howlin' Wolf sound like Jimmy Somerville.Musically though, the further they got into their cover version trip… from Queen's One Vision (renamed Geburt Einer Nation), Sympathy For the Devil, and Across the Universe, to In the Army Now by Status Quo and the Europe anthem, The Final Countdown …the tackier the sweeping electro backing. It's a case of diminishing returns.
Their moustachioed leader, shirt off but headdress intact, appears like the anti-Mercury on Geburt Einer Nation. Laibach's most obviously subversive moment, it turns Queen's pomposity on itself with relish. In Sympathy For the Devil, while still besuited, the foursome recreate the Stones' Beggars' Banquet, surrounded by taxidermy of all shapes and sizes. The videos' production values are basic to say the least (Prince Charming, anyone?), and the later works are increasingly impersonal, with early CGI effects to the fore.
One thing about Laibach though, and that's their sense of humour. Seriously. Look out for the dancing stuffed bear, the silver painted faces, and on 2004's Das Spiel ist Aus, they're suited and booted, army caps on, doing a spot of duty free shopping. Make your own mind up.