In August 2015, as part of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japanese ruling, Slovenian Industrial-rock band Laibach played a gig in Pyongyang, North Korea. Morten Traavik Ugis Olte’s Liberation Day chronicles this surrealist event in an entertaining and comprehensive way, thus being careful not to leave behind viewers who may not be familiar with this iconic group.
Born in Tito’s 1980’s Yugoslavia, Laibach, with its use of provocative iconography (Malevich’s black crosses, military outfits, etc) were dubbed as fascists right from the start. So, 30 years later, when it came to a first time open doors of North Korea to pop-rockin’ concert from Westerners, they seemed like the oddest choice. And they were. But, as band member Ivo Saliger himself, pointed out: “Laibach has, since its very foundation, been dealing with totalitarianism in all its manifestations”. The North Korean state seemed the next logical step for both parties.
While it is never fully explained how he pulled this off, co-director Morten Traavik is the man behind the band’s improbable visit. He organized cultural exchanges with the regime prior to this. With a rare insight into the country, he and Olte, chronicle government officials and audiences first exposure to such sound and culture, as there is military and diplomatic tension at the shared border with South Korea. The views are engaging because they do not fall into the trap of media-fed conception. Nonetheless you can feel they enter a world of differences, facing cultural issues, censorship from Kim Jong-Un’s administration, (probably) adding their own deliberate manipulations, notably during singer’s Ivan momentary, and strange, disappearance. After all, manipulation, is also what Laibach is partially about.
As the show, dubbed the Liberation Day Tour, eventually goes on, we may wonder what is next, what is the point of all this, ultimately, beyond the surreal feel of the whole affair. Is it showcasing some form of liberation and hope? Maybe, maybe not, but with Liberation Day, the directors and these Laibach guys get a first breach that is respectful, clever and entertaining.
July 18 • 5:15 PM J.A. De Sève Theatre (Concordia University)