When you hear that Laibach are releasing an EP called Party Songs, you’re pretty sure they’re not aiming for the kind of party that’ll be soundtracked by a cheeseball Spotify playlist. Your boss won’t be sticking this on at your Friday post-work drinks.
Unless of course your boss wants to instil a greater work ethic by indoctrinating staff with North Korean propaganda anthems reworked by Slovenian industrialists and performance art renegades Laibach. In 2015 Laibach were the first ‘Western’ band to be invited to play in Pyongyang – on condition they would only play songs from The Sound of Music and North Korean folk songs, and this latest release builds further on this deliciously bizarre premise.
Of course they leaned fully into the strict conditions from Little Rocket Man’s regime. When it comes to embracing and subverting sacred cows, Laibach have a lot of previous – from their desecrated national anthem project, to covers of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Queen, and their take on symphonies and musicals, from Wagner and Bach to Jesus Christ Superstar.
Their video for The Sound of Music, showed the hills — or at least Pyongyang — coming alive with the sound of Laibach, with beautifully-shot scenes of cute kids in classrooms and standing in formation. It was an all-in arched eyebrow propaganda film, with all of Laibach’s impeccably drole flourishes.
The next logical step for Laibach is always the extreme one, and Party Songs goes gung-ho into WPK agit-pop territory on lead single ‘Honourable, Dead or Alive, When Following the Revolutionary Road’. The iconic song is part of a 1972 revolutionary opera written and produced under the guidance of the Kim Jong Il, but Laibach’s version was “deemed too confusing” by North Korean authorities in 2015 so it was struck from the ‘Liberation Day’ concert. However, ‘Revolutionary Road’ is finally being released, along with two other tracks that were permitted – ‘Arirang’ and ‘We Will Go To Mount Paektu’ (The mythological birthplace of the Korean people 5,000 years ago).
Laibach have just released the video for ‘Honourable, Dead or Alive, When Following the Revolutionary Road (Arduous March Version)’, and it’s another subversive symphonic pop master-stroke. Frontman Milan Fras’s militaristic spoken word passages are offset by Boris Benko’s lush croon, as the pair trade slogans in Slovenian and Korean, such as “Forward for freedom, forward for bread!”, “We are marching with rifles on shoulders” and the brilliantly entitled: “You, lazy moon — walk faster with us!”
The live video has the band performing in front of a montage of North Korean slogans and military displays, cut with the odd mid-20th century Yugoslav propaganda posters. It builds to the gloriously camp finale — adoring crowds at the colossal Mansu Hill Grand Monument of deceased leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, slowly panning up to reveal a glitchy new comrade appearing — a 70ft Milan Fras in the centre. It’s what they would’ve wanted.
- Laibach’s Party Songs is out on Mute Records on November 22. Order here.