An intriguing glimpse inside one of the most enigmatic countries in the world; and inside of one of the most provocative of all rock bands, as they reach their fourth decade in business.
In 2014, Slovenian ‘industrial-martial’ group Laibach were invited by the North Korean government to play the first-ever rock gig in Pyongyang. This is the story of their brief stay in the secretive country.
Laibach are an odd choice for the gig because their music and stage shows mimic the bombastic propaganda that is associated with totalitarian states. You might think that the invite means that the North Koreans missed Laibach’s zero-degree ironic mode; in fact, as the documentary shows, they were primarily invited because
their live set often features songs from The Sound of Music, a film much loved in North Korea, just like everywhere else.
Liberation Day starts with a jolt of newsreel propaganda from the days of Tito’s Yugoslavia, which develops into a visual history of the band which gives you all the information you need to see how strange what follows is. Most of the rest of the film is shot embedded with the group as thy arrive in NK and prepare the show.
Liberation Day’s major motif turns axiomatic as the film progresses: everything is propaganda, from the self-important wheeler-dealings of fan turned fixer-director Morten Traavik to the cross-cultural teamwork that goes into making the gig happen and, of course, the music itself; from the hesitant NK committee decisions that hamper the group’s performances to … The Sound of Music itself.
It’s notable that the North Korean censors apply similar rules as cultural pressure groups do in the west, as well as our governments. The NK censors are obsessed with their ‘ownership’ of images and music, so they don’t like Laibach covering a popular NK song and they don’t like collaged visuals that mix NK emblems with extraneous material. Laibach might think they are celebrating or empathising but the NK censors see it as expropriation.
The Laibach set is finally reduced to their covers ‘hits’, including lots of the Sound of Music, which is interesting as fellow Slovene Slavoj Zizek highlights that that film is one of those blank screens that ideologues of all sorts can project their fantasies on to. It’s all so very … Laibach!
Liberation Day is on iTunes now.