North Korea allows 'first foreign band to perform'

Members of Laibach
Image caption Laibach are 'not a band making statements, but a band that is always questioning contemporary attitudes', Mr Traavik says

Controversial Slovenian pop group Laibach will be the first foreign band to perform in North Korea, director Morten Traavik has told the BBC.

Mr Traavik has arranged for the group to play two concerts in Pyongyang in August in front of 2,000 people.

The concert programme will include some of Laibach's hits over their 35-year career and North Korean folk songs.

The band has been slated by some critics because of its ambiguous use of political and nationalist imagery.

But admirers say that their tendency to wear military uniforms on stage is a critique of totalitarian ideology.

Norwegian director Mr Traavik says that in North Korea they will be uncontroversial - even performing songs from The Sound of Music.

Also on their play list is one of this year's most popular hits in North Korea, performed by the all-girl band Moranbong: We Will Go To Mount Paektu.

Image caption Mr Traavik (with guitar) has organised numerous musical and cultural performances in North Korea, winning the trust of the authorities

Mount Paektu is the tallest peak on the Korean peninsula and is the mythological birthplace of the whole Korean nation.

"North Korea is portrayed in the West as the world's most closed country, but in fact it is more open to the outside world than the prevailing media narrative suggests," Mr Traavik said.

"Both the country and the band have been portrayed by some as fascist outcasts. The truth is that both are misunderstood."

The Laibach performances on 19 and 20 August - which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonisation - would never have been possible without Mr Traavik's contacts and artistic direction.

Image caption Laibach have been slated by some critics because of its ambiguous use of political and nationalist imagery

He is one of the few Western directors regularly to have arranged artistic and cultural exchanges with North Korea and over the last five years has won the trust of the authorities.

"Building up that trust is so important for a country that has been cut off from the outside world for so long," Mr Traavik said.

Despite its extremist reputation individual members of Laibach have not been vetted by the North Korean authorities because the director has given his word that they will not cause an upset.

"I have informed the North Korean authorities of their bad boy reputation and reassured them that it is a reputation that can very easily be disproved of.

"If they were really fascist, why would Poland's cultural ministry recently have asked them to reinterpret partisan songs in Warsaw to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the uprising against the Nazis in the city?

"Surely Poland - which arguably suffered most at the hands of the Nazis - would never make such a mistake unless it knew the band is in fact parodying totalitarianism?"

The director argues that much of misunderstanding surrounding the band stems from their tendency in the 1980s and 90s to wear military uniforms on stage.

"But Laibach are not a band making statements, but a band that is always questioning contemporary attitudes," Mr Traavik said.

Image copyright Laibach
Image caption The Laibach poster for their forthcoming North Korea tour

Who are Laibach?

  • Founded in 1980 in what is now Slovenia
  • Takes its name from the German name for the Slovenian capital Ljubljana - used when the city was under the Austro-Hungarian empire and during Nazi occupation
  • The group's early musical style characterised by critics as "industrial rock", using self-made electronic instruments during live performances
  • Front man Tomaz Hostnik committed suicide in December 1982 and was posthumously expelled from the group
  • The group is known for its militant re-workings of pop hits such as Queen's One Vision, Europe's The Final Countdown and the Beatles' entire Let It Be album
  • The group has produced works of art in addition to its numerous cover versions of popular songs, with classical music more recently serving as an influence
  • Critics have accused the band of being fascist and Marxist, but others argue that they are parodying authoritarianism

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