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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 equalization.

(Dejan Knez, Barbara Susnik, Ivan Novak, John Letnik)

(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 world.

(in) Yes.

(gf) Do you think that people care about traditional dancing and music?

(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 for.

(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 Slovenia?

(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?

(in) Yes.

(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 state artists.

(gf) How does the demographic profile of the audience change when you cross the border into Austria or Italy? How does the audience differ?

(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 no concept.

(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 doing.

(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?

(in) No.

(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 Slovenian.

(in) We can see that there is a population who identify itself with Slovenia, but we can not really identify them with what Slovenia is

(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 safari...

(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...

(ns): Dejan's!

(in) Not at all. We discussed it together and it came out as a...

(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 protected.

(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...

(ns) Benigni

(in) I forgot, some bizarre name, and the most famous version is by Pino an Italian...

(ns) Artist

(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 by law.

(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) Adorno

(in) Exactly.

(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.

(in) Yes.

(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.
It 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 product?

(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 hear statements.

(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 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 Superstar.

(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 time?

(in) We hang out.

(gf) Do you vacation in Slovenia?

(in) Also. In Croatia in fact. We can see that Croatia is Slovenian also.

(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 sound.

(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 perception?

(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 that?

(dk) We are probably more immune to it

(in) (pointing to Dejan) Look at him. No pollution can reach him alive.

(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 differently.

(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 track?

(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?

(dk) 18

(gf) Did you have a band before Laibach?

(dk) Two.

(gf) What type of stuff did you play?

(dk) Country music.

(gf) Really?

(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 Ljubljana

(dk) It’s a different culture, of course

(gf) But you could drive home.

(mm) You could walk if you’re in good shape

(dk) Bicycle

(gf) Do you live in Slovenia now?

(dk) Yes.

(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. I paint.

(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 now.

(gf) How is your other group "300,000 V.K" different than Laibach?

(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.

(Nataša Regovec)