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On the road with Attila the Stockbroker Laibach and think of North Korea

I'VE seen, and taken part in, some wonderful events in the last 12 months but for me there is only one Gig Of The Year.

It’s not just Gig of the Year, it’s Film of the Year and Surreal Cultural Event/Collision of the Year too and it happened in Pyongyang four months ago. Best of all, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer until January 6.

And, comrades, in the spirit of both Laibach and North Korea, I will go as far as to declare NOT watching it to be a counterrevolutionary act. Storyville: When Rock Arrived In North Korea (Storyville, BBC4) is absolutely wonderful.

Last August, the gloriously stentorian Slovenian rock-classical-art-satirical “totalitarian” collective Laibach were invited to play a concert in North Korea as part of that country’s Liberation Day cultural programme celebrating 70 years since Japanese imperialist rule was ended. It was billed as the first time that foreign rock performers had ever gigged there.

It wasn’t and I have to declare an interest here. In 1989, while at the Political Song Festival in East Berlin, I was invited to Pyongyang to participate in the World Festival of Youth and Students held later that year. I was touring Canada then so couldn’t go but I persuaded them to book my mate Steve Drewett, singer of Harlow punks Newtown Neurotics, instead.

He went and had a wonderful, if strange, time. So he was there first. Sorry, Laibach. But that’s another story.

Having been intensely familiar with their work for the 30 odd years since I met them in London in about 1984, it was immediately obvious to me that Laibach and North Korea were the most appropriate pairing in history. To paraphrase Crowded House, everywhere they go, they always take a bit of North Korea with them anyway.

A Laibach show is a multimedia onslaught, where classic mass control methods become entertainment. In their own words: “All art is subject to manipulation except that which uses the language of the same manipulation.” Heaven knows how film director Morten Traavik managed to wangle the invitation. “I am setting up maybe the blindest of blind dates,” he said.

And what a collision it was — North Korean censors trying to understand the double-bluff of having their own methods thrown back at them, Laibach struggling with the fact that they did understand it sometimes and banned bits of the show. Band members and roadies wrestling with the task of putting together a 2017 multimedia show using 1970s — sometimes 1950s — technology.

Part of the band’s programme involved sections of The Sound of Music — deconstructing innocent pop tunes and turning them into roaring mass rally epics is a Laibach speciality — and there’s a hilarious moment where a suspicious censor demands to be read the lyrics. And someone goes for a walk when they shouldn’t, obviously.

The best bit of all is the concert itself, where invited guests experience the full force of Laibach for the first time and the reactions are wonderful. If you’re fascinated by North Korea or love Laibach you may have watched this already. To the rest of you, I cannot recommend it enough. Satire distilled to its purest form. A brilliant film.

 

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