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Laibach’s opening act: a man chopping wood with an axe
08:40 am


Laibach’s opening act: a man chopping wood with an axe

“The earliest Laibach texts suggested a degree of deindividualization and subordination so total and absolute as to make even the North Korean system seem lax and individualistic,” Alexei Monroe wrote in his 2005 study of Laibach and NSK, Interrogation Machine. They can’t be accused of watering it down. A decade after Monroe published his book, when Laibach became the first Western group ever to perform in North Korea, state censors made them cut their set by half.

I used to think the most inspired use of the opening-act slot had been Wire booking the Ex-Lion Tamers to play all of their debut, Pink Flag, so they wouldn’t have to. But I now believe Laibach did it best. Warming up the crowd at some of Laibach’s mid-eighties shows was a man chopping wood with an axe.

(Not “competitive woodchopping.” One person chopping wood is not a sport, just necessary labor.)

via Laibach WTC
The bio confirms that on their first UK tour, the group “bemus[ed] audiences by using antlers, flags, and a man chopping wood on their stage.” Monroe places the woodchopper in the context of the other alienating “effects” Laibach creates before their shows, and of their pseudo-totalitarian iconography:

Before Laibach take the stage, some form of introductory effect is used to build an atmosphere—for instance, the playing of some German Schlager songs or Strauss waltzes. In earlier times, however, far more elaborate and conceptual effects were used to prepare the audience for Laibach. One particularly alarming method was to play tapes of barking dogs or loud noise. The turning of powerful lights on the audience (a technique pioneered by Throbbing Gristle) and the sounds created a threatening, interrogatory atmosphere intended to destabilize and excite the audience, instilling anticipation and a sense of approaching menace. At other shows Laibach were preceded by a uniformed figure chopping wood on stage. This had archaic-völkisch associations, and perpetuated the NSK axe motif (from Heartfield and the NSK logo).

Below, hear the woodchopping and chainsawing that opened Laibach’s May 1986 show in Goriška Brda, from the Vinyl-on-Demand Gesamtkunstwerk – Dokument 81-86 box set. Further down, at 32:07 in the Yugoslavian documentary Laibach: Pobeda pod suncem (Victory under the Sun), the group does some al fresco woodchopping.

Liberation Day, the documentary about Laibach’s engagement in Pyongyang, screens at a number of European festivals this month.


Posted by Oliver Hall
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