New East Digital Archive

Slovenian band Laibach to be the first foreign group to play North Korea

27 July 2015

Slovenian experimental band Laibach is set to become the first foreign musical group to play in North Korea.

The band, formed in Yugoslavia in 1980 as the musical wing of the Neue Slowenische Kunst art collective, will play on 19 and 20 August in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, as part of their Liberation Day tour. The tour coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Korean peninsula’s liberation from Japanese rule, and will be filmed for a documentary to be released in 2016.

Concert organiser Morten Traavik, one of the few Westerners to have carried out creative projects in the closed state, explained why the band felt a link to the country.

“Both the country and the band have been portrayed by some as fascist outcasts,” said Mr Traavik, “The truth is that both are misunderstood.”

Laibach, whose name is the German name for the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, are seen by many as provocative due to their ambiguous use of nationalist symbols, military costume and often martial nature of their music. While critics have accused the band of being fascist, others argue that they parody authoritarianism. The group will appear on stage in Pyongyang wearing North Korean civilian clothes.

Laibach will adjust their set list for the North Korean context, performing adaptations of songs from The Sound of Music, as well as interpretations of North Korean folk songs. According to the band, during the concerts they will call for the reunification of Korea.

“The Korean people and the Korean peninsula have been violently and dramatically divided, so their legitimate aspirations for reunification must be supported,” Laibach said, “North Korea is being held hostage by the Truman Doctrine, a united country is definitely not in the interest of the big powers, the US and China.”

Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, stated that while the concert is unlikely to loosen the state’s grip on power, exposing North Korean citizens to culture from the outside world might be beneficial.