Laibach, punks, and the fascist aesthetic

I’ll have more on this tomorrow… I think there is some good things to get into, regarding art, culture, and fascism, as well as resistance to it.

Also, I tried to great this via linking and it wouldn’t let me, for some reason.


(pinging @LutherBlisset as well)

As a bit of a timeline quibble, that would be the 70s not the 80s. The Sid Vicious or Dead Boys types were definitely 70s. By 81 things were already Nazi Punks Fuck Off.

As far as expressing disdain, that to me smells more of “I wasn’t there but I declare myself qualified to talk about things” cultural criticism. Please pardon me if that offends, and its not directed personally at anyone, but honestly I understand things as simple shock value alone, especially considering the very heavy Jewish involvement around the CBGB’s scene to the point where a religious Jew could walk up a few blocks from the Lower East Side and would be able to say Kaddish in there because there always would have been a minyan’s worth of Jews on and off stage.

I can’t really comment on Laibach, I never got into them, their aesthetic and music bored me every time.

Apologies, just generalising out of personal experience, should have made that clearer.
In rural Western Germany, my peer group then was definitely 10 years behind. No idea about Berlin, or even Cologne. My personal experience is quite restricted, and up until 1992 when I got my hands on the first modem around my horizon was geographically quite limited.

[Edit to say that I can’t see the Google Books page you linked to - and I’m sure I haven’t “reached the limit” for that book. O_o]

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I couldn’t see it either, at first, but it’s working for me now…

And some punks kept using that in the 80s, too, to be fair (even if it became less fashionable to do so among some band interested in the politics of the day). There was a series of arrests made in Yugoslavia in 84 if I’m remembering the date, because of nazi graffiti around Ljubljana (known among Slovene punks as the Nazi Punk Affair). So there was still some of that happening in some places - chalk it up to cultural lag or seeing the London and New York scenes through a different cultural lens. And that doesn’t even begin to get into some of the more esoteric post punk stuff in Britain (Death in June, etc), which also went into the 80s and employed the same imagery, etc.


I think you’re perfectly qualified to judge. And I’m not here to make assumptions about you or your tastes or views on popular music. I can tell you what I learned by studying the Yugoslav punk scene and in studying Laibach as an example of the musical and arts scene in general coming out of Northern Yugoslavia in the decade before the country fell apart. Laibach has worked kind of hard to decontextualize themselves, but to really understand what they were doing, you have to understand their context a little bit, I think. Your friend’s view is not unwarranted, either, I don’t think. As for @Israel_B’s views, we can chalk that up to personal tastes, I think. He finds them boring and that’s fair enough.

Laibach was actually banned from using their name for a year or two in Slovenia… maybe 86 or 87ish? They were still using it in the rest of the country, just not in Slovenia. It’s was due to a letter writing campaign by partisan veterans, pissed that they seemed to be glorifying the nazis who occupied Slovenia during WW2. So the way people felt about them was being read through the lens of WW2 history, through a rise in more nationalist rhetoric, and through a new independent music industry in the country as well (previously, to get an album released, you had to go through one of the official labels in the state, which was probably much less restrictive than in other communist countries, but not as free as in, say neighboring Italy, where some early punks from Yugoslavia went to record). Your friend was entirely correct in that they refused to clarify what they were doing, whether or not they were pro-fascist/nazi. They generally employed a range of symbols (fascist, socialist, nationalist) and sort of mixed them together into one package. They also do performance art through the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst), which was formed in the mid-80s. So they work in multiple arenas. The way I thought about it, was that they were attempting to conflate together all the worst, most violent aspects of European politics in such an ostentatious and satirical way, that it indicates the inherent ridiculousness of the ideologies, and that the Yugoslav ideology of Unity and Brotherhood could be just as much an ideology of oppression as anything else. Given that real violence and oppression existed through the history of socialist Yugoslavia (especially aimed at the underdeveloped, Albanian-majority south), it’s not an empty criticism. We certainly understood Yugoslavia as the “good” communist country, and in many ways it was. There were certainly much worse places to be during the Cold War as far as communist countries (Stalinist Albania comes to mind, for one), but that doesn’t mean it was indeed a true paradise. By going to extreme lengths to make equivalences between stalinism, nazism, and Titoism, they were attempting to criticize the Yugoslav system (and honestly, modern states in general).

At some point, Mute and then Wax Trax came calling, getting them a realize in the west, which I think decontextualized them a good bit. Tanz Mit Laibach becomes much less about mocking political systems and more about stompy dance music if one doesn’t know what he’s singing about.

The way I see it, they never stopped talking about this stuff and it’s just come back around to being relevant again. More recent albums have really focused on nationalisms a good bit. Volk came out in 2006 and I don’t think it was entirely clear where things were heading quite yet (prior to the crash, but well into the war on terror). Maybe the view looked different from where you are in central Europe in 2006, I don’t know, you’ll have to tell me that. It seems like Eastern Europe was the bleeding edge of the current spike in nationalist ideology (in part driven by internal EU tensions on internal migrations, which included not some hostility towards Eastern Europeans), but it can be hard to know when all that originates for this current round of right wing nationalism. I have my suspicions, of course, and I’d see it as tied up with a resurgence of the same old ideologies that wrecked the continent in our grand parents time.

But, YMMV, of course. None of your friends criticisms are wrong, as far as I’m concerned, even if I disagree.

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It’s an excellent book, btw. Worth picking up, if your into punk history at all.

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No problem at all, just pointing out some history and why since so many Jews were involved in the earliest days of punk that its unlikely that any use of the swastika was anything more than shock value.

If you are looking at the punk scene in Britain and Europe, you can’t ignore the lingering fascist and antisemitism of that whole area anyway.

Just FTR, we are faster than the Guardian in discussing punk history.

They run this, today:

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Did I say otherwise?

Well, I’m much quicker than the Guardian, since I’ve been discussing punk history since 2008… :wink:

Struggles between fascist and anti-fascists in punk scenes (or other subcultural spaces) aren’t new, of course. Hardcore punks haven’t always been anti-fascists or political aware at all. Ask @Israel_B, he’ll tell you about his own punk days, I’m sure.


Oy vey… I actually sorta knew the guys in MDC. They hated Crass and the like from the UK (even there was a business relationship) and its fair to say they’d be pissed to be lumped in with The Guardian’s pet theories here.

As far as this quote goes:

“There’s a huge overlap between radical left politics and the punk scene, and there’s a stereotype about dirty anarchists and punks, which is an oversimplification but grounded in a certain amount of truth.”

I’ve speared that straw man many times here already. At least they had the grace to quote Jello Biafra’s callout of the stupidity of meeting violence with violence. This is a big change from back in 84 at the Rock Against Reagan show in Dallas where by any measure, his talk on stage was incitement to riot.

As far as Belden’s claim that “Violence works” its worth repeating that in Austin violence didnt work, it just got lots of people hospitalized. It was words that settled things down with the white pride skinheads…

I’m not shocked that The Guardian would close with those words though. All I can say is I hope writer Jamie Thomson never has the misfortune to be in one of those violent clashes.

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Thanks for that summary on Laibach. I half-remembered some of it, like the controversy about their name, and since they did some performance art in Germany a couple of years ago in a nearby city I read some articles about that at the time, too.
But I’m still not really qualified, if I may contradict you there. My complete information seems third-hand knowledge, not even second-hand. I still can decide I don’t want any of it, but when writing about then I need to include this disclaimer. =)

Something you wrote about is particularly worth thinking about:

Hm. We’re deep in ex-post interpretation when looking at this. Granted, historians always are, but I still want to be aware of it when thinking.

It seems to me that the nationalistic undercurrents and later cataracts which culminated in the bloodbath in former Yugouslavia were of a different kind than in other European countries. To me, it was completely alien to see what happened there at the time. I hadn’t seen any of it coming, and then it turned out to be the first war in which Germany took actively part since the second world war. The whole thing was devastating for my political consciousness. I had fears at the time that a wave of German nationalism would arise from the ruins on the Balkans. It was a world away. The bluescreen scene in Wag the dog later pretty much nailed it. On the other hand, we had neighbours, classmates, friends who where Albanian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovene. I even have a cousin on an island on the Adria. People used to go on holiday there. People from the GDR crossed the border to the West from there, flew from their country to the West. Still, I had no idea that the Yugoslavs mocking each other and going into a fight every now and then would grow into something so serious, so deadly serious, until it happened.

I didn’t know about Laibach, back then, I think. But I wouldn’t have understood them, anyway. What I did understand was that nationalism was something which killed people, tore apart families, and poisoned friendships - and which was contagious. I didn’t want someone to play with symbols and amalgamated or appropriate them, one way or another, and I still have my suspicions. What I did like was satire. Biting, vitriolic satire. And I still like it. Nationalism never was anything I would like ambiguity being applied to, because I came to the conclusion in the late 1990s that no-one was immune to it.

First, the prejudices and resulting hostilities against any Eastern European person are older than the EU, the cold war, and even the second world war with its Nazi propaganda about the slavic Untermenschen. This racism goes way, way back. It is real, and damaging.

Second, I don’t think this has caused the ultra-nationalist right wing backlash. Racism and sentiment against the Brussels bureaucrats (ignoring the EP, or paying it down as a useless and powerless body) helps, but the cause to me seems to be an a-historic narrative of the respective own history. Ignoring that your own nationalism, your own racism and your own social polarisation since at least the 1840s helped to ignite two wars in Europe killing millions worldwide is the basis and source for any European nationalism post WWII.

And, as I interpret what you wrote, this might actually be something Laibach might be good at remembering. I don’t know them well enough (erm… don’t know them at all, basically) to know if their work also helps their audience remember. But the ambiguity is not for me, as I said: I worry they also attract people who don’t get it, and strengthen exactly the stupidity I abhor.


Just a sidenote: I was quite surprised an article about hard-core punk would start with Green Day. I might misremember, but when we listened to them in the 90s, we talked about New American Funpunk for the first time, I recall…


That’s me, so, historical thinking is my jam. The goal is to try and understand events as people at the time might have considered them, rather than applying what we know came later. It’s tough to balance that, but in this case, where they were and what they were responding to in the 1980s are critical to understanding the band.

I find Eric Gordy critical to understanding the Yugoslav wars, as he gives details on how a more general yugoslav national identity was replaced by more specific nationalist identities:

Destruction of alternatives to that more specific nationalism is a good way to describe it.

Can’t argue with satire. But I’d argue that Laibach is more satirical than most people think. They come off as serious, but seeing them live, the satirical nature is pretty obvious.

I do think that’s a fair enough criticism and since you’re German, I can totally understand this. Nationalism can be dangerous, but so can just about any other ideological framework. In some cases, nationalism have driven movements for greater political freedom (Black nationalism in the US is one example).

Yes, I’m aware. I am a historian, after all, who has done some work on the Balkans.

Right wingers certainly grabbed onto discontent based on racism and anti-EU sentiment, though. These seem to be intertwined phenomenon that are hard to untangle.

Racism and the idea of white supremacy or nationalist supremacy is indeed a-historical, but it has a history, as you note. Rarely is the right wing narratives historically accurate.

it certainly depends on their audience, yeah? For someone like me, it absolutely does. The show in Beograd, where they indicate that tolerating the ultra-nationalist language of Milosevic was similar to the appeasement of Hitler is the key example of this. yet, you’re right that they seem pretty ambiguous. It helps to already know these sorts of historical moments to get more sense out of them. Certainly some have taken them as being in support of authoritarian ideologies.

I mean, doesn’t that kind of undermine their point? I suppose you can day that poppier bands like Green Day were certainly influenced by hardcore, even as they’re not.

Was that how they were categorized in Germany? They just sort of fell under the broad “alternative” category, but could probably be classified as pop punk…


We watched Iron Sky for family movie night this past spring. Laibach did the score, which was the little one’s into to their music. Certainly not what I would call punk, but it’s IMO a good soundtrack.

I grew up with the work of Throbbing Gristle, who went through a phase of subverting fascist themes. Between making public appearances in ceremonial military uniform, their studio being Death Factory, the lightning insignia, and tracks such as Subhuman - I can only imagine how uncomfortable a confrontation this must have been in the conformist UK of the late 70s and early 80s.

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I took it as a warning sign that this author was writing about something they didnt actually know much about.

This is the key point, right?

My friends views on them sure as hell influenced me more than any article I read. But I’m unsure if anyone of them saw them perform. A friend from Slovenia would be the most likely candidate, and while he is critical as far as I remember, he didn’t go on a rant (as my friends whom I grew up with and had a huge influence on my perception of music, and performers). But none of my friends was happy with their kind of satire.

That said, I totally forgot about this:

This is as plain a satire as it could be. Not a very effective one, maybe, but I fund it enjoyable enough. And it’s not ambiguous, I think. I have no idea what my friends think about Iron Sky as a satire, but they surely watched it. (Caveat: I found Starship Troopers unambiguous, and was shocked when some people I know didn’t understand it as a satire about fascistoid tendencies in our societies but enjoyed it because of the violence shown. Military men, no less.)

So, maybe my friends views which influenced my tendency towards an opinion are contradictionary.

Adding to the key point of satire, key moments. As you pointed out, this contextualizes the artists. I didn’t know about this performance, so thank you for making them more interesting.

Sense is an interesting beast. We create it out of our own world view. Which, given the current political development with neo-fascists in power in several countries is pretty bleak. Some accounts on the BBS are quite vocal on how bleak, exactly.

I think in the end, it will be you to make heads and tails about Laibach, and if they had any influence one way or another:


I’ll watch out for them more carefully now after our chat, and if I get the chance I will ask my friends about how they see them in the light of current politics. Speaking of which:

I would assume that perceived and real oppression of cultural diversity and a nearly non-existent critical process in regard to racism and nationalism during the cold war are at the bottom of this. But I admit that I’m accepting a narrative here which I think is widespread in Germany. It is, by the way, also used to explain the success of Haider and the likes in Austria, and not only in former eastern bloc countries. Austria, incidentally, as well as the Netherlands and France, had their right-wingers and neofascist without the narrative of being discriminated against by the EU. They just agitated against “those Brussels technocrats and buerocrats”, which is pretty effective also in Germany. The AfD, our own Schnullernazi brand of shitbags, started out as single-minded “neoliberal” economically motivated nationalists, wanting to return to the Deutsche Mark. They hoovered up the scum since then and go through pains to paint themselves of victims of propaganda when someone calls them out as racist, anti-social islamophobes. FTR, I assume they will win seats in parliament in the upcoming elections, though, because the anti-migrant fears are at least as widespread as a discontent with far too many years of Merkel as head of government. Exploiting anti-migrant, islamophobic views are, I think, the unifying method behind neo-fascists gaining seats or even power in Europe.

What I’m trying to say is that the symbols of fascism don’t really work any more as a warning. The Hakenkreuz is still not normalized in many European countries, as are SS uniforms and some other things. However, the neofascists have successfully established itself without too much referring to those symbols. They found new ones Even scalding satire doesn’t properly work at the moment, so an ambivalent artistic stance doesn’t, in my perception, at all. =/

That said, after the stuff you wrote and the reflection on how our Schnullernazis avoid being seen as real fascists, I am more aware that the ambivalence itself is probably part of the critique towards fascism. The concept of neo-fascists in Europe, at least, seems to be to allow a good part of ambiguity to be able to appeal to “normal” conservatives being fed up with their perceived “marginalisation” within their traditional parties.

Me, too.

I decidedly didn’t invent the term. :smiley:

The author, assuming the best in their favour, probably just wanted to get all sorts interested. Jello Biafra for old school, Green Day for the people who were aware that punk existed in the nineties but weren’t deeply interested.

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