A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Laibach – one could paraphrase Marx and Engels’ „Manifesto of the Communist Party” in the context of Slovenian band, Laibach’s new album „Spectre” (Mute, 2013). This album continues the direct rhetoric of politics according to their previous album „Volk” (2006), the band has returned to actual political activism from their earlier period. The „Volk”-symbol, the manipulated Volksbank’s V-letter is present in the booklet of „Spectre” as well. The metaphoric title of „Volk” – according to the spirit of „open work” – compresses plural meanings into one. First it refers to the emblem of the quoted bank, and the bank, as metaphor of capitalism, could be interpreted as the process of marketing the national anthems. On the other hand the German „volk” means ’folk’. And the third level comes from the Slovenian connotation of the word: in ancient Slav languages it means „wolf”. With this interpretation we can connect the picture of sheep on the cover of the album, which in this context symbolise the folk. The „wolf” refers to the spectre of Laibach: the shepherd disguised as wolf. The group once said: „Pop music is for sheep, and we are the shepherds disguised as wolves.”
From perspective of semiotics this post-modern eclecticism and „open work”, in other words, the „interrogation machine of plural monolith” (Alexei Monroe) defines the title and the iconography of „Spectre”. If we take a look on the symbol of „Volk” in the booklet of „Spectre”, we can consider that it reminds us more directly on the iconography of Batman: the silver „V” on the black background can be interpreted in the context of the movie „Dark Knight Rises” (2012). This Batman-episode alludes to Occupy Wall Street movement (quoted and sympathised in „Spectre” as well): with evil Bane’s thinking and his extreme actions, occupying the stock exchange, despoliation of the rich citizens of Gotham, dividing of material goods.
The Laibachian lyrics of „Eat liver!” can be the parallel for this: „Let’s make some noise / when kingdoms fall / and dance to the rhythm / of a devil’s call”. The evil for Laibach is first of all subversive power against totalitarian order. When the band cites Nazi imagery or some other iconography of the evil, they always use this in the spirit of „over identification” (Slavoj Žižek). The transformation of the context cancels the original connotations, but it keeps the iconography of the quoted content, which becomes the new form of provocation. In this manner, Laibach speaks the language of misunderstanding (see the lyrics of the piece „No history”). According to Žižek, Laibach does not function as an answer, but as a question, the receiver is left alone with the possible answers of his own.
Back to the Batman-topic: Bane’s terrorist actions are not connected to any nation or state, just as well the evil Blofeld’s terror organisation „Spectre” in the James Bond movies. According to this Laibach with the title, iconography and lyrics subverts the present neo-liberal capitalist order, just like in its previous works. The first song, „The Whistleblowers” alludes to international spy-organisations, which have caused significant political scandals, just remind us of Edward Snowden’s unveiling actions of Julian Assange. We can read the extract of this song in the booklet: „From north and south / we come from east and west / breathing as one / living in fame / or dying in flame / we laugh / our mission is blessed”. The whistling motive of the song gives a shade of irony to its title: it doesn’t only refer to spies, but to its other meanings as well (whistling and blowing). This piece is a real militant song, and Laibach’s “sublate” logic (Hegel) makes possible the identification and, according to „over identification”, the distance at the same time.
From this point of view „The Whistleblowers” seemingly raises a statue for the spies, but considering the subversion it’s actually a Laibachian march, with martial drums, whistle and with false, humorous martial fanfare in the finale. The humorous element is overdosed with the sound of synthesiser, which reminds of the lemonade disco-style of the eighties. Just like in the case of „Life is life”, which was an Opus-hit in the eighties, Laibach marks the totalitarian (mind-colonising) character of pop culture.
Milan Fras’ industrial, alienated vocal is accompanied with a background chorus, but even this is humorous. Fras’ sloshy voice (’fras’ in Slovenian means ’slosh’) often replaces or follows Mina Špiler’s more traditional, but many times martial singing (counterpoint to this toughness can be heard in song „Koran”, which, unusually for Laibach, has more emotional lyrics and atmosphere). The duplication of the leading vocal disseminates the cult of the front man singer. From this point of view the direct political „message” is in between apostrophes. Laibach’s retro-avant-garde is well represented in „The Whistleblowers”: it doesn’t run in front, it doesn’t believe in the utopia of the new, because, thanks to retro principle, it encourages the retrospection, the transvaluation of past ideologies and shows their present recycling. We can also conclude that the contemporary politics is always archive of past ideologies and discourses of utopian dictatorships.
The catchy melody of „The Whistleblowers”, the „new internationale” (see Derrida about spectres of Marx) seems uncomplicated, just like the (sch)lagers of mass production. But according to above, it is obvious, what’s the difference between Laibach’s retro-avant-garde pop-montage of heterogenic elements and those capitalist „one hit wonders”. The last one intends to avoid the criticism of ideologies, their transvaluation from music-reception. Laibach viciously disintegrates the elements of pop and „high” culture. Nietzsche marks in one of his aphorisms that parody is evil, because it’s the language of criticism. Laibach’s „over-identification” has a diabolic nature: with the parody it subverts the (im)moral utopia of controlling order. This can be well seen in the video of „The Whistleblowers” directed by the Norwegian artist Morten Traavik: the pupils’ physical exercises are held in the exercise room full with party slogans, but the utopia of totalitarian body is interrupted with the pictures of explosions.
The European capitalist idyll is unstable, which is well represented in the prophetic „Eurovision”, which is one of the highlights of the album. „Europe is falling apart” – sounds the refrain, singing that the poor, disaffected, robed masses unmask the political and economic collapse: „In the absence of war / we are questioning peace / in the absence of God / we all pray to police / oceans of people / oceans of souls…” The song starts slowly, the lyrics are whispered, and the refrain explodes. The fall of Europe is a Spenglerian vision about the decline of the West, about the Faustian culture, which refers to the Europe-project as well: on the series of raising and falls. According to Marx and Engels’ communist manifesto, this process is manipulated by the bourgeoisie class, they oppose to this the utopia of classless proletarian society, which in practice was deformed into nightmare. Albeit with irony, it seems that Laibach chooses the alternative of Derridian interpretation, the „new internationale”.
The song „No history” on one hand evokes the Sex Pistols’ shout: „No future!” from its punk evergreen “Good save the queen”. Then again, it alludes to Laibach’s „WAT” (2003) album, where the band has played with Fukuyama’s „the end of history” metaphor („Satanic Versus”). The present „No history” song finds the societal basis in discourses after the fall of European meta-narratives: „No history / no repent / no surrender / no descent / and no commandments on the wall / no God, no rules to scare you all”.
This can be interpreted in the context of Derrida’s analysis of Marx: there is not any form of state which should control the individual in reconsideration and radicalisation of Marx’s criticism, but not anymore in the shadow of utopia of the classless society. For its realisation, Laibach has founded the Spectre Party, which, at present, exists virtually, everyone can join in on the album’s web page. The S-letter as a silver flash on the black background alludes to Geist (ghost), in other words to elusive spectre of criticism, and to the Party’s phantom. The question is, does Laibach take this seriously, or is this all just a bluff? The answer, as always, can’t be expected from Laibach. The changes helped by social-media, e.g. the „Arabian spring”, or the latest Bosnian demonstrations signify that we have to fight for our rights. Less trivially speaking: with irony and with the weapon of „over-identification”, as we can read it on the „Spectre”-s web when we click on Spectre Party’s link: „Fight for your Right to Party for your Right to Fight!” And of course, they wouldn’t be Laibach, if this slogan was not the Beasty Boys’ „Fight for your right” hit from 1986, now subverted with tautology and parody. So Laibach’s slogan results in assimilation in Laibach: fight for the evil right of oppression’s “nakedization” and subversion with „over identification”!