Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Laibach at the Gramercy Theatre

Milan Fras & Mina Spiler
Avant-garde music group Laibach was formed in 1980 in Trbovlje, a mining-industry town in Slovenia. The name "Laibach" is the German name for Slovenia's capital city, Ljubljana. At the time, Laibach collaborated with and provided the soundscapes for local art and theater groups. The musicians performed an industrial rock, and incorporated gramophones, radio devices and electronic instruments that they constructed. In a country tense with the struggles of nationalism, neo-fascism and communism, the militant-appearing Laibach was so on the edge that authorities shut down the band's performances and later forbid Laibach to exist. In 1984, the musicians moved to London, England, and worked as laborers. The following year, the group released a debut album, Laibach, but due to the ban, did not feature the group's name on the album cover. Slovenia's congress ultimately allowed the controversial group to use its name and perform again. Laibach describes itself as a collective, practicing anonymity, with membership hidden under four names: Eber, Saliger, Keller and Dachauer. Members of the group still use these pseudonyms and avoid the use of their individual names. Laibach's eighth and most recent album, Spectre, was released on February 28, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, artful, kinetic and cinematic images were projected onto screens behind Laibach, but the six musicians barely moved and the minimal verbal communication between songs was delivered through a pre-programmed synthesizer. Laibach's first hour-long set largely showcased songs from the Spectre album, compositions powered primarily by synth pop and ambient sounding electronic music. The synthesizer then announced a 10-minute intermezzo, and a clock on the screen began the countdown. Exactly 10 minutes later, the band was back on stage, ready to perform a collection of earlier album tracks for another hour. Many of these songs drew from a more aggressive and sometimes gothic-sounding industrial rock with neo-classical interludes. The layers of instrumentation cascaded as Milan Fras' sinister-sounding baritone and Mina Špiler's lighter, heavenly vocals made for a foreboding combination, often tamed by a percolating dance beat. Laibach encored with three better known songs, "Leben Heisst Leben", "Geburt Einer Nation" and "Tanz Mit Laibach."  While Laibach's concert was unable to capture the provocative and subversive mystique that it sports in Eastern Europe, the music was left of center enough to be compellingly interesting for American audiences.

Visit Laibach at www.laibach.org.