Industrial music is best known for a few constants that keep it as resilient as it has been during its several-decade lifespan: machine-driven precision, a dramatic-but-highly-attentive sense of dress, and a sense of dark, churning menace which is never quite as brutal, nor direct as hardcore punk, but punishing all the same in its intensity. As time has passed and the technological world of music has shifted and changed, so, too, has the palate of instrumentation that industrial music uses to craft their tunes, as well as the method of presentation, but the attitude has always remained, allowing acts to return again and again to the stage, still maintaining legions of devoted fans. The Slovenian performance-art-cum-industrial-rock collective known as Laibach are no strangers to these phenomena. As members of a group that operates with a deep sense of groupthink and nihilism, rarely acknowledging individual members or allowing classic pieces to stay stagnant behind the technological trappings of yesteryear, their performances nonetheless bear the same unyielding, unflinching attitude that has kept their music so potent, and 35 years after their inception, they’re still as powerful as ever.
Despite the rather small crowd (most likely due to poor word of mouth; everyone in attendance was fiendishly excited to be there), Laibach required no opening act to whet the appetite of their fans, and with a thick coat of darkness enveloping the stage, they marched forth and took their places, summoning their synths, keys and drums to bring life to the opening of their performance. Even Milan Fras and Mina Špilern, the two vocalists of the group, were nearly entirely absent of light outside of their vocal parts. It took many long minutes, and several songs, before the visual aspect of the show exploded into life, with a dazzling set of projections hurtling and thrashing about behind the quintet and the floodlights across the stage casting the musicians’ features into sharp relief. Between lines of song, amongst all of the sonic texture and illuminated chaos that continued to throb around them, the men (and woman) of Laibach stood silent and frozen, fixing the crowd with a set of purposeful stares, with only drummer Janez Gabric bobbing with rigid precision to the thundering stomp that burst forth from the stage.
Aside from a 10-minute break placed unexpectedly in the center of the main set, and a break before their encore, Laibach moved from song to song with nary a moment of pause. They did not address the crowd directly, either, opting instead for a synthesized voice to speak aloud in the same snarling, graveled tones that Fras lent to his vocal performance. The set was nearly entirely comprised of tunes from their newest record, Spectre, with a few small surprises thrown in on occasion; their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad Of A Thin Man” was received with shock and awe, and “Smrt Za Smrt” served as an excellent kick-off for the latter half of their set. The most well-known compositions, of course, were saved for the bitter end, with the evening coming to a close with a furious double-header of “Tanz Mit Laibach” and “Leben Heisst Leben”, followed by the band taking their requisite bows and departing from the stage.
Having been a fan of Laibach for nigh unto two decades, but somehow never being able to see them perform live before now, this was a historic moment for me, and for many around me. In a live setting, the songs of Spectre, Volk, WAT and Opus Dei took on a pummeling, glorious intensity, with the power of the music clashing magnificently with the stalwart poses of Fras, Špilern, and keyboardists Luka Jamnik and Rok Lopati?, stock-still beneath the maelstrom of light and sound that pulsated and bellowed around them. Each note was played or sung with great ferocity, with a sense of utter control wafting out from every measure; this was a group that had a great legacy to uphold, and they did so with mesmerizing devotion. If ever you are seeking a group that will provide you with a solid two-hour evening of dark, danceable, and thundering tunes — with all of the showmanship, and none of the extra trimmings — Laibach is the group for you.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2015 Jonathan Pirro.