Laibach in North Korea : subversive act or capitalist business ?
It has been a few weeks that I read a lot of posts and comments about what seemed to be some controversial propaganda or some kind of joke. Until the day a friend of mine forwarded me an invitation to attend a concert of Laibach in Pyongyang later in the year. The travel and concert will be organised by Koryo Tours, an official travel agency based in Beijing. If it works.
The news went viral, many people found it surprising, nice or funny, many other like Frank Gorissen of the anarchist industrial band Militia became angry or bitter.
I thought I would not comment or spread the news, after all, the Laibach I like mostly ceased to exist in the 1980´s and I must tell that I am also fed up to see viral news (and a lot of them being non-news, old news and fake news) over the internet, it´s like Google´s image recognition neural network, the first image I saw gave me a big impression, now that I saw hundreds of people sharing and experimenting with it, I´m horribly fed up. Why would I then spread another of those news already shared by hundreds or thousands of netizens ?
But the letter sent by Koryo Tours told something that pushed me to react :
"Founded in the former Yugoslavia 35 years ago, Laibach have remained a source of fascination and controversy, "a group never afraid to do things other groups won't"."
I don´t agree at all with this statement, there is no bravery in here, there is nothing to fear, Laibach in 2015 is not Laibach in 1980, the members aren´t the same anymore, the music neither, the political impact neither and the way they chose to perhaps perform in North Korea is the easiest way one could find : capitalism. With money you can obtain everything or almost in this world : an express visa in Hong Kong to go to China even if this is in theory not possible anymore or a Saint Kitts and Nevis passport if you are willing to make a "donation" to the Saint Kitts and Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (if interested, see http://www.sknsidf.org/general/sitepage.cfm?p=42
), so it is no surprise that it would work for North Korea, right ? After all, the country is isolated and facing economical, ecological and environmental problems (currently, the country seems to be hit again by a terrible drought and famine to follow, North Korea is again begging for help).
In the past ten years, I performed in a few countries where the noise or so-called experimental music I play wasn´t accepted or "legal", I took some risks to go there and those who arranged the events took more risks than me (in most cases, being a westerner, I risked very little after all, I believe so, I could be wrong), I wasn´t screaming and shouting everywhere that I was performing there simply because there was a real risk and some of the events were clearly not tolerated by the authorities, even though we managed to make them happen, I didn´t pay any agency to perform and in most cases I spent my own time and money to help.
If Laibach was really doing things other groups don´t, why didn´t they tour China after their (unsuccessful) show in Hong Kong in 2014 ?
People and Laibach themselves tell that it will be the first concerts of its kind in North Korea, I´m waiting... I would be surprised to see them play any industrial music, they don´t anymore, Laibach is a pop band, North Korea also has its own pop bands and a few foreigners played there already : the Munich Chamber Orchestra in 2013 (see here in English : http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20773542
and there in German : http://www.zeit.de/
…/201…/Nordkorea-musiker-austausch-clauss) or the New York Philharmonic in 2008 (see : http://nyphil.org/watch-
When I listen to parts of Laibach´s Kunst der Fuge (https://youtu.be/WQ6ikXCJuyM
), the cheesiness and kitsch of these recordings evoke me a bit of recordings made by the North Korean pop band Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6957i8UoECk).
.. Laibach would fit in there, wouldn´t they ? Where is the challenge ?
Anyway, I think that Laibach made plenty of interesting and intelligent political actions since 1980 and I hope that this one will be one more to add to the bill, they also announce that they will do a documentary to be published in 2016. Until now, we don´t know if all this will actually happen ("Please note that access to the Laibach concerts is subject to final approval by the relevant DPRK authorities, over whom Koryo Tours has no power whatsoever.") and if it happens what this would bring to the country ? Will Laibach receive any money for this ? The travel (without ticket) costs 1550€, this corresponds to a standard fee to access the country anyway (tours are all inclusive : hotel, visits, food...). If Laibach gets any money, what will they do of it ?
For whom will they play ? Could an alternative pop band performing there bring some openness in the future ? Will they mock the regime in their documentary, is Laibach a sort of Trojan horse ?
We don´t know yet and should not be too judgemental I think (even if I enjoyed criticising their propaganda), at least for now, let´s wait 2016, after the documentary...
On a last note : during ten years I refused to play in Myanmar (Burma) due to the political context and after performing there in 2014, I realised it had maybe be a mistake to not go there earlier. I met wonderful people in Yangon, I met a lot of interesting people with whom I could talk about politics and art. I saw and heard from people what happened and what still happens, they wanted to share their stories, I saw misery but also a lot of hope, I didn´t have this distorted view spread by the media and I collaborated with local artists, I met people who wanted to see, hear and create something new, something different, I´m deeply thankful for what they brought me and they seem to share the same feelings ; our collaborations are not over.
I played a concert in front of an elite (like Laibach will almost certainly do if it happens) but also played at one of the best memorable event of my whole tour, a free concert for the people, not for a targeted elite, not for rich educated citizens and this exchange has been one of the best experiences ever with a collaborative performance given in a Cambodian orphanage a bit later.
We all know very little about North Korea. Sure it is a bloody dictatorship. But other countries spread a lot of lies about Pyongyang too, we can hardly know what is true or not and while most say we should absolutely boycott that place, other inside the country, like other inhabitants I met in Myanmar crave to see and meet people from the outside ; when we boycott a country, we also punish its citizens, also those who don´t support the regime, there is no clear answer about what to do or not do.