Cannabis and ‘The Sound of Music’: What Laibach Learned in North Korea
How did the audiences react to the concerts?
Koreans had never heard such music before, so they didn’t really know what to think about it. But again, they reacted politely, applauding after every song, and at the end of the show, they gave us standing ovations. (Maybe they were happy that it was over. The Syrian ambassador certainly didn’t like the show much — he commented that “It was too loud — almost like a torture”).
At the second show, which happened at the Kum Song music school, Laibach members performed two songs acoustically, together with Korean school musicians. The rest of the performance was actually a show-up program by the school itself, which performed in honor of Laibach. The music was incredible, and we’ve heard everything from Seventies Japan sounding lollipop beats to experimental electroacoustic, almost Arca-like style of music, performed on electric guitars and synths, in combination with their traditional instruments. Morten Traavik, who also performed with Laibach, “stage-dived” at the end of the show and — as a sign of gratitude — he brought a gift to the school, a new Moog theremin.
How did you adapt your concert for a North Korean audience?
We wanted to perform something that would make sense to a North Korean audience. The majority of the program was therefore based on our versions of songs from the film The Sound of Music (“Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” “Climb Every Mountain” and “Sound of Music”). On top of that, we performed a selection of Laibach classics (“Life Is Life,” “Final Countdown,” “Across the Universe,” “The Whistleblowers”).
Why did you want to play songs from The Sound of Music? Did the audience sing along?
No, they didn’t sing along, but they moved their heads a bit on “Do-Re-Mi.” Doing The Sound of Music was an old idea of ours, and North Korea is just the right context for it, because the population there knows this film well, they learn English with it at high schools and they even did their own Korean versions of certain songs, so they pretty much knew what we were talking about. Sound of Music can have a very powerful message within the context of Korean liberation from Japanese occupation, and it can of course also be understood differently, even in a more “subversive” way. We’d wanted to perform a version of “How Can We Solve the Problem Like Korea,” but we were not sure if they’d understand that they have a problem to be solved at all.
What about the Beatles’ “Across the Universe”?
They loved it, and it actually sounded very subversive (“Jai Guru Deva, om/Nothing’s gonna change my world…”), especially with American rockets launched on the projection at the back.
How did the audience receive your visuals?
The censorship committee had problems with many of them. They don’t like to see any nudity or potentially aggressive images, but we still managed to keep most of projected visuals within the original form. The audience is actually used to Korean rockets and explosions, because that is what Korean popular music and military groups use as a back projections on their concert shows.
“After the concert, an elder Korean citizen told us, ‘I didn’t know that such music existed in the World and now I know.'”
You did a Korean song, too, right?
We wanted to present three important and well-known Korean songs: “Honorable Live and Death,” “Arirang” and “We’ll Go to Mt. Paektu.” In the end, their censors asked us to take out “Honorable” and “Mt. Paektu,” because we had changed them too much from the originals, and they are extremely sensitive about their own culture.
Finally, what did North Korean civilians think of your music after the concerts?
There was this brilliant quote by an elder Korean citizen. After the show, he told us, “I didn’t know that such music existed in the World and now I know.”
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