Laibach in Toronto
by Gordon Ferfolja
On November 9 2004 I had the privilege of attending a dinner
at "Captain John's Table", a restaurant situated on
a Jugoslav era boat (The Jadran) floating at the bottom of Yonge
Street, Toronto. I ended up there at the invitation of the Republic
of Slovenia's Chargé d'affaires, Barbara Susnik and,
armed with a tape recorder, I approached the two 'classic' members
of the band Laibach (Ivan Novak (projector/lights) and Dejan
Knez (keyboards)) as well as most of the rest of the band on
this tour (Roman Decman (drums), Nikola Sekulovic (bass), Matej
Mršnik (guitar), Eva Breznikar (drum) and Nataša Regovec
(drum)) with questions that I felt would be of relevance to
the local Slovenian / Canadian community.
As a brief introduction, Laibach are a musical ensemble that
has attained some prominence internationally. It would not be
controversial to say that they are the most recognizable cultural
export of modern Slovenia. Furthermore, their involvement in
the politics of Slovenia within Yugoslavia, contributed to the
Slovenian independence movement's international visibility and
ultimate victory over the forces of centralism and regional
(Dejan Knez, Barbara Susnik, Ivan Novak, John
(gf) Is the appeal of Laibach cross generational in Slovenia?
(in) It is, yes.
(gf) What is your status in official Slovenia? Are you treated
as national heroes 'men of the nation' or are you treated more
like cultural exports like Celine Dion?
(in) It depends on who knows what about us. For some people
we really represent the first, for some of the others it is
the second, and the third, nothing.
(gf) Alexei Monroe refers to Slovenia's culture as 'quaint'
and 'of almost no intrinsic significance outside of Slovenia'.
(in) What do you understand by "quaint"?
(gf) Interesting, but boring, and not relevant to the real
(gf) Do you think that people care about traditional dancing
(in) All this traditional stuff is extremely boring. If Slovenia
is known for anything it is known for, well on the one side
it known for its hay and Alps and things like that because that
is simply an official image of Slovenia. But there are Alps
in Austria, Switzerland, France and so on. We have good wine
but that too exists all over the place. I don't really see something
specific that exists in Slovenia that exists there that exists
in no place else. Caves exist everywhere else. Mountains exist
everywhere else. Lakes exist anywhere else. It’s really
just a very boring idea of something that is unique.
On the other hand, I think that most of the people we've met
outside of Slovenia, are really fascinated by the cultural power
of a small Slovenia. The fact of the great philosopher, Slavoj
Zizek. Slovenia is the world capital of experimental dance.
The fact that Slovenia is a growing force in independent movies.
Slovenia is significant in modern music, art. Slovenia is one
of the strongest, most vital centers of the arts in the world.
(hitting table for emphasis) That is what Slovenia is most famous
(gf) Is there any sense within Slovenia that the traditional
culture is of far greater interest externally than the reality
of life for Slovenians today?
(in) I think that traditional culture should be analyzed, preserved
as a kind of ethnologically specific matter. It should definitely
be properly valued and so on. It is something which we shouldn’t
dismiss in general because it exists as a value of its own.
But it should not be over estimated. There is a traditional
art and a living art; something that exists nowadays and something
that existed in the past. Both these dimensions are important.
(gf) The Venetic hypotheses. The idea of the root culture of
Europe. Was it perceived in 1986 when it came out that Slovenians
were superior or not?
(in) I think that it's completely irrelevant. Its nonsense.
Every existing nation, every existing country has loads of interpretations
of what the ignition fire of the culture was. Slovenia exists
on a territory in which many cultures crossed; the Greeks, the
Roman mythologies are very attractive. The Venetic is very interesting
in terms of producing a certain ‘fairy tale’ background
context of Slovenia and so on but I think that it's completely
irrelevant in modern cultural terms. It does not exist as a
strong concept or impulse.
(gf) You have made statements in the past that Austrians, Germans,
Italians, Slavs even are a form of degenerate Slovenes and that
sort of fell in line with the Venetic concept.
(in) No, we said that we are better Germans than the Germans
are. And we said that Austrians are Germans too. And we said
that Trieste is ours and so on.
(gf) But that’s a different angle though because the
concept is there also that the Slovenians are culturally superior
(in) In fact we are. A nation of two million has successfully
survived through all the centuries being occupied by all the
big forces; Italian culture, Roman culture, German culture,
Austrian, French, everybody and, you know, Slovenia still exists
by some strange miracle. If it wouldn’t be superior in
a way, it wouldn’t survive.
(dk) That’s the converse in the world.
(in) Ants are superior to elephants
(gf) Have you ever been considered as a commercial band in
(in) This is a relevant question. In fact we are not considered
as a commercial band, nevertheless, we sell more records than
commercial bands in Slovenia do. The biggest commercial band
in Slovenia can sell twenty to thirty thousand records and we
can easily beat that number worldwide.
(dk) Slovenia is a quite bizarre country.
(gf) Domestically, you’re not really a real band
(dk) No, of course not
(gf) But you play and sell out everywhere
(in) It is completely bizarre because we can easily sell much
more than the top selling Slovenian groups can sell, yet, we
are still not considered as a commercial group
(gf) Do you get any sponsorship from the Slovenian government?
(in) We actually have as of last year.
(gf) The other NSK groups have been getting sponsorship for
a while now, right?
(gf) Are you now the official state band?
(in) We have always considered ourselves a state band
(dk) We are the state band of Europe
(in) We have always considered ourselves a regime group and
that is why we created our own state, the State of NSK. We are
(gf) How does the demographic profile of the audience change
when you cross the border into Austria or Italy? How does the
(in) If we are better Austrians than the Austrians, then the
Austrians are the worst kind of Slovenes. We have an Austrian
audience in Austria, a Hungarian audience in Hungary…
(dk) Our biggest markets are Germany and America.
(gf) In what ways was the band involved in the march towards
independence in Slovenia? I’m looking for a very high
level answer here because a lot of Slovenians in Canada have
(dk) Of course culture has a big influence. There were artists
who never believed that culture can influence politics and ideology.
We believed that culture could change the world. We strongly
believe in culture.
(gf) Doesn’t your involvement in the independence movement
date you in terms of the current audience? Doesn’t that
make you someone from twenty years ago?
(in) We are from twenty years ago
(gf) I understand, but doesn’t that fact damage your
position as ‘current’ artists? Many groups try to
change their image all the time, to fit in.
(dk) We didn’t change anything (related to our image),
it's just that some people were wrong (and are now forced to
change their image to appear relevant). We are different. We
changed the world in the sense of ideology and politics
(in) We had an interview with an American radio station in
New York and the woman interviewing said “This group,
they changed the government, they destroyed one state and created
a new one and made their own country” and so on. I said
to myself “What the ....? This is going to be a difficult
interview” She was really enthusiastic. But in a sense
it is true. We are not even aware of the extent of our influence
on the changes that took place. We dropped a bomb.
(dk) We operated with music
(in) We dropped a bomb and the others had to deal with it later
on. We were initiators of change. It doesn’t make us an
anti communist group. Some people thought we were fighting communism.
Not at all. But we were always interested in change.
(dk) We projected into the future with the thought of utopia.
(gf) For North Americans, Laibach is probably the only modern
cultural export that is recognized as Slovenian. You represent
Slovenia, which is a weird thing.
(in) We represent NSK officially, unofficially Slovenia
(dk) People are still into countries
(gf) Right. That’s their problem. But this poses a dilemma
for many of the Slovenians who are here because they don’t
have any clue or don’t care about Laibach and have no
idea of your history but still want to be supportive though…
(in) They can’t identify themselves with what we are
(gf) Right. Have you ever gotten any hostility from people
because of this?
(dk) No. They respect us. They are afraid of us. That’s
a problem because girls are afraid of us.
(gf) Have you ever seen any evidence of Slovenian culture in
North America the times you’ve been here?
(gf) As someone who lives in Slovenia, what is your impression
of people who live in North America who claim Slovenian heritage?
Do you believe they have anything to do with Slovenia?
(dk) No and yes because of Laibach. Before they would just
assimilate. They became Americans. But they are still Slovenians.
(in) What is our impression?
(gf) What have you seen here? You play in Slovenian centres;
Cleveland for example, where there is a domestic population
that has been there for a hundred years that is still, nominally
(in) We can see that there is a population who identify itself
with Slovenia, but we can not really identify them with what
(dk) To them it is an imaginary country
(gf) Exactly. It’s abstract.
(in) It’s exactly this effect. Do you know this polka
group “The Vadnals”? (Click
here to listen to Ivan Novak (lead vocal), Roman Decman and
Nikola Sekulovic (backing harmonies) sing with a Midwestern
drawl.) They were singing in Slovenian, but American
Slovenian, which Slovenians could not identify with. They actually
understood that Slovenian as an American language. As a kind
of fun (parody) of Slovenian. It wasn’t absolutely Slovenian
and yet they were singing in Slovenian (singing again with more
of a slur) That’s exactly the gap between American Slovenians
who are trying to identify with Slovenia, Slovenian culture
and Slovenians who don’t care about American Slovenians
trying to identify with Slovenia. It’s completely two
opposite worlds. When a Slovenian audience come to our concert
in Cleveland with cowbells, well....
(Roman Decman, Nikola Sekulovic)
(gf) Who does the composition?
(in) We all do it
(gf) How is your role different than Dejan?
(in) I'm more specialized in communication, organization
(gf) Who thought of the name in the first place?
(in) It was pretty much a collective decision
(gf) Who was the leader?
(in) We are together in a way in away it was leader in different
dimensions and we decided to work together and there was no
leader basically. We erased the idea of leadership. It was collective
like in Yugoslavia after Tito. It was a collective leadership
(gf) A recent interview you did on Dutch TV ended with a quote
that "Laibach party all the time" Could you describe
a typical Laibach party?
(in) This is more of a comment because people believe that
Laibach doesn't have a ...Laibach is not able to make a party.
In fact we can make a party. Sometimes after a concert. Yesterday
for instance, we all went to sleep because we were all tired
but Sunday the technical crew returned back from the bar and
they had a three hour party in the front part of the bus, jumping
and dancing and drinking and shouting and singing and so on
because its simply that was kind of a moment; it doesn't really
happen every day. A few days before we had a good party ourselves
and so on. It’s just a matter of the moment.
(gf) Do you barbeque?
(in) Of course we barbeque.
(gf) Do you hunt?
(in) Hunt? Also. Fishing
(gf) What’s your main hobby?
(in) Hunting, chasing girls sometimes, photo hunting, photo
(gf) Earvin Markosek is not touring with you?
(in) He’s not with us at the moment, yes.
(gf) Whose idea was it to add the girls?
(in) It came out as a ... we discussed it as...
(in) Not at all. We discussed it together and it came out as
(gf) Collective decision? Good idea
(in) I said "We need a Make
Up 2 tour for Laibach".
(gf) Have you expanded your merchandise table to include wine?
(in) We have our own wine. There is actually a good brand,
an official Laibach
wine actually South Africa.
(gf) But it’s not yours, right?
(in) No. If you go to the internet you will find a Laibach
wine by the Laibach family from Germany produced
in South Africa and it is a top quality wine.
We are in discussion with a
Slovenian wine producer, Scurek
from Goriska Brda and we are in discussion regarding
the production of a brand of Laibach wine. We have to see how
it would work with the South Africans because they may be brand
(gf) Mama Leone is described as a 'notorious" Italo European
hit. Why? Why is it notorious?
(in) It was originally written by Raffi Deutsher, a German
person, and Renato...
(in) I forgot, some bizarre name, and the most famous version
is by Pino an Italian...
(in) Nana Mouskouri did the French version. We heard it on
the radio last year before our concert in Prague last year in
fact and we said "This is it"
(gf) A Big Hit.
(gf) Apparently there are some people who are opposed to Peter
Mlaklar. Can you explain why?
(in) It’s not difficult to be opposed to Peter Mlaklar.
Peter Mlaklar is a person you have to oppose otherwise you are
not sane, in fact. Peter Mlaklar is a person you have to oppose
because he is simply a unique person and he should be protected
(gf) Isn't it redundant to say "Satanic Techno" when
all techno is satanic?
(in) Personally, I think that techno is very much a satanic
music because it so intensely repetitive.
(gf) I noticed that Alexei Monroe focuses on the industrial
element within Adorno and ignores almost completely the repetitive
nature of techno music
(in) Yes. On the other hand, repetition can be completely innocent
because we are all involved in it as children. Ma ma, Ta ta
ta, bla bla bla, baa, baa baa baa ba. That’s repetition
as well. That’s in fact techno. Da da da da da da da
(gf) Marilyn Manson. How come we never hear about your influence
on their presentation?
(in) I think that he (Brian Warner) is, pretty much, a fan
of ours. We’ve met on several occasions. He is aware of
us, we are aware of him. He is more gothic than we are, he is
more pompous, more circus like, more popular and so on. It’s
hard to say there is a strong influence. I think that there
is something that exists in the same time.
(gf) Does it bother you that other artists like David Bowie,
Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, New Order, even Monty Python
get away with using the imagery that you are attacked for?
(in) In a way, we are a more serious threat. For the other
bands, they know that they are just, basically, entertainment.
They are just part of the entertainment industry. With us, they
are not entirely sure. Are we part of the entertainment industry?
Or is it, maybe, something else? What is it? They are not entirely
sure. There was a journalist from France who was trying to define
the neo fascist, neo Nazi movements in eastern Europe, which,
by itself, is a total paradox, and she came to Slovenia and
said that seed of evil, the 'fleur du mal' is based in Slovenia,
of all the Russian, German, English, French neo Nazis, the basis
is actually in Slovenia, with the NSK movement. Which is, of
course, an interesting construct.
(gf) The film "The Ten Commandments" was in theatrical
re-release at the time of the development of Opus Dei. Obviously,
your music, and the videos reflect the influence of this film,
you know, the crazy hats and the sashes and the shifting shoulders
and trumpets etc. The question is, do you have any affinity
for the ancient belief systems?
(in) Of course. We have affinities to those ancient feelings,
especially as presented through those Hollywood movies.
(gf) Of course. Because they're fun.
(gf) I've never read about any reference to the actual Opus
Dei and their opinion of you.
(in) We were forbidden by Opus Dei in Germany. In fact, they
were trying to stop the sale of our records in Germany. It was
a total misunderstanding, of course. There is a correspondence,
which we have, between our German lawyers and the German Opus
Dei branch to this effect.
(gf) Was there no thought of provocation when you gave the
record that name (Opus Dei)?
(in) We like provocation because we believe that provocation
is something healthy and we always like to provoke ideas and
so on but it wasn’t only meant to be a provocation of
Opus Dei. For us it was really an interesting title and we didn't
really realize that the entire thing was such a big deal.
was quite nice.
(gf) Do you think that people pay too much attention to the
statements that you make rather than focusing on the actual
(dk) I agree. In a few hundred years music will exist. Statements
are just statements. Words.
(gf) But doesn’t it give context to people’s opinion
of the works?
(dk) Our time is quite into statements and messages. In the
end though, you listen to our music. But you don’t always
(in) I wouldn’t say its over emphasized. Its completely
relevant, the way that people percieve us. Nevertheless, they
don’t need to listen to our music. They can only take
our statements and that’s it. We are not primordially
a music group.
(dk) Yes, but three hundred, four hundred years later, music
will stay. Not words.
(in) No, four hundred years later the idea will stay. Not music.
(dk) The idea with music
(in) The idea itself. On its own.
(dk) Music is a superior language
(in) Music is too abstract
(dk) Its not abstract
(gf) Its linear
(gf) Theres a difference of opinion.
(gf) In a recent consumer review for Jesus Christ Superstars
on Amazon.com someone stated “I hope they do a Christmas
album someday” Have you considered this?
(in) We did a Christmas song “Across the Universe”
. “Mama Leone” is a Christmas song.
(gf) What about a complete remake of “Jesus Christ Superstar”?
(dk) We would rather make a complete remake of the Holy Bible.
But just the first part.
(gf) Good Luck.
(in) Jesus Christ Superstars is our remake of Jesus Christ
(gf) What are your respective domestic situations? Are you
normal suburban middle class kind of people…
(dk) Yes of course
(gf) …with wives dogs children or are you middle aged
adolescents, like rock stars?
(in) Both. I have two kids, a dog, I don’t have a wife,
but I’m a middle aged adolescent
(dk) We are humble. We are not interested in capital. Capital
is for someone with a lack of imagination.
(in) (interjects) We are not a humble rock group
(gf) Do you live close to each other physically?
(dk) A few metres
(in) Too close
(gf) Do you hang out or do you ignore each other most of the
(in) We hang out.
(gf) Do you vacation in Slovenia?
(in) Also. In Croatia in fact. We can see that Croatia is Slovenian
(gf) Did you ever listen to Cabaret Voltaire?
(in) Yes. We know them. They are friends of ours.
(gf) Their influence seems quite pronounced on your very early
(in) In 1982 we played (attended?) an event called The Final
Academy organized by members of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic
TV. The groups playing were Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, 23
Skidoo and Last Few Days. There were also speeches by William
Burroughs, Brion Gysin, John Giorno and several others. The
best group we saw at that time was Last Few Days. That’s
why we decided to work with them. We did their first European
tour. They are one of the greatest industrial groups ever. Unfortunately,
they didn’t release any record and we are trying to persuade
them to give us a tape from that time to do something.
(gf) Actually, there is a bootleg of the cassette
you released with them available.
(in) Yes there is a bootleg.
(gf) The Sheffield Sound could be a result of intense exposure
to industrial pollution from steel production. Do you think
that the mining related pollution in Trblovje affected your
(in) There is no pollution in Trblovje, come on. (Look
at the square in the park)
(dk) Used to be
(gf) Before you were born?
(in) In Europe, there is no pollution at all. How can you say
(dk) We are probably more immune to it
(in) (pointing to Dejan) Look at him. No pollution can reach
(dk) No it’s true. If you are born in industrial pollution,
then you are more immune
(gf) But it still warps your psyche.
(in) But if you grow up with that all the time, you don’t
see it. Really. I mean, look at him (pointing to Dejan)
(dk) (gesturing towards Ivan) You can reach some psychoses
and so on
(in) Pollution is always inspiring. Take a look at American
pollution for instance. No one is aware of it. I mean, there
are people that are aware of it, but not enough. American pollution
is much heavier than people are really aware but uh……
I forgot what I wanted to say...
(gf) There it is.
(Matej Mršnik, Dejan Knez)
(gf) Do you follow the lead breaks on the records?
(mm) I play what I feel like playing. There is no guitar on
the records. On the soundtrack, there is a guitar, but I play
(gf) I've always thought the lead on "Leben Heisst Leben"
was one of the hardest things to listen to with a straight face.
(mm) Thats not me. Its supposed to be bad. Basically, its sometimes
harder to play something which is supposed to sound bad. Its
played like Eddie Van Halen.
(gf) Are you playing the songs from "Anthems"?
(mm) No, its mainly "WAT". There are three parts
to the program. The first part is some of the older songs. The
second part is about six songs from "WAT" and the
third part is some hits.
(gf) Do you play anything from "Let It Be"?
(dk) "Sympathy For the Devil" is the closest.
(gf) Anything pre "Opus Dei"?
(dk) "Nova Akropola", "Geburt Einer Nation"
(gf) I remember speaking with you after the show in 1989 and
recall that the band was complaining about the backing track
because when it came in you had to be ready, and there were
no breaks structured in the set. Are you still using a backing
(dk) No, its more like a metronome, its not really a backing
track. We have seven musicians on stage
(mm) Some of the material is recorded on tape. Some of the
things you really can’t play live
(dk) Like a symphony orchestra
(gf) My understanding was that the backing track was synchronized
to the lights and the films. Do you use computers for this now?
(mm) We still use the film projector. It’s a pain technically,
but you can’t get the same effect when using the computer
(gf) You have a technical crew?
(mm) Yes, three people and the local guys. Janni (Ivan) runs
the films and a sound technician runs the backing track. We
have a lighting technician and roadies.
(gf) When did you join the band?
(dk) Who, me?... I formed the band in 1979.
(gf) How old were you?
(gf) Did you have a band before Laibach?
(gf) What type of stuff did you play?
(dk) Country music.
(dk) I was in secondary school. We were just kids. I played
banjo and things like that. It was twisted country. The band
name was "Salte Morale", "Twisted Morals".
Then I played some jazz music. Of course we had lots of bands
(gf) Are you actually from Trblovje?
(dk) Yes. Me and Ivan. But no one else on this boat.
(gf) My understanding is that the town is 18000 people
(dk) It is one of the first industrial cities. It was a really
international city. People from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria
(gf) Did the band start there or Ljubljana?
(dk) No, Trblovje. Ljubljana is about 60 kilometres away.
(mm) You didn’t really have to move to go to live in
(dk) It’s a different culture, of course
(gf) But you could drive home.
(mm) You could walk if you’re in good shape
(gf) Do you live in Slovenia now?
(gf) Are you doing this full time? Do you have a real job?
(dk) Of course. Laibach. I work on some other projects as well.
(gf) One of the things I learned from the Alexei Monroe thesis
is that your father was the artist that did the woodcuts that
the Irwin paintings were based on.
(dk) He’s a great artist.
(gf) Is you’re painting commercial?
(dk) No, its private.
(gf) You’re able to live off Laibach?
(dk) Survive. I’m not into money. Therefore, I enjoy
life. I don’t want to sell my paintiings.
(gf) Are you part of Irwin?
(dk) No they are trained artists.
(gf) Do you give them a spec? Like contractors?
(dk) No that was in the 1980’s. They are independent
(gf) How is your other group "300,000 V.K" different
(dk) Its more like a projection into the future. It’s
a step forward. It’s more instrumental. We have a new
album coming out on January 5 2005. It’s called "Titan".
(gf) How do people classify your music?
(dk) Intergalactic. It’s about communication.