Laibach formed in 1980 and on the 27th of September 1980 the group had planned their first public act only to be promptly banned by the authorities. It did not destroy Laibach, far from it, on September 2010 Slovenia's most successful group ever were celebrating 30 years and still going strong with several projects currently in production including a brand new studio album. Marking their 30th anniversary was a four day event in Trbovlje, the birthplace of Laibach and the source of many key elements found in Laibach's work.
The event was due to open at 8PM on the 23rd of September 2010 therefore having arrived in Ljubljana the previous night it gave me the chance to spend most of the day touring around the small and compact city. It was a nice sunny day for it, unfortunately the good weather did not last for entire duration of my stay in Slovenia however for the first day it was good and managed to spend an enjoyable day in the city. It was my first time in Slovenia despite having intended to visit many times over the years and somehow never getting round to it. Maybe it was unsurprising considering my long keen interest in Laibach that Ljubljana seemed very familiar and needed very little help from a map, I recognised almost instantly many of its buildings and attractions.
At 6PM a bus was due to pick up those based in Ljubljana and transport them to Trbovlje, which was about 62 km or just under 40 miles east. The pickup point was outside the Ministry of Culture building and although I arrived fairly early it was still a little alarming to see just one other person there, at least he was wearing a Laibach t-shirt. Eventually some more people arrived but still a very small number in total then around 6PM two buses turned up. The bus took an hour to travel the distance to Trbovlje, it was an interesting journey I had always imagine Slovenia and Scotland would be quite similar but I kept noticing the differences. On arrival at the front of the Delavski dom Trbovlje, we were greeted by an illuminated Laibachian statue perched on the roof. Apparently it had been annoying the minister of the church across the road, who had felt its aggressive posture and big hammer was deliberately being directed straight towards his church. Inside the DDT, it was warming up with many people arriving, a large proportion were from outside Slovenia, various media crews were bustling about getting prepared, the Laibach members were working away with finishing touches or being interviewed. Meanwhile it was a good opportunity to check out the venue and the various displays. The bar area was quite small and crowded and was where the Laibach had a merchandising stall with the usual materials, there was also some new Trbovlje t-shirts created specially for this event and selling well, another stall was located in the lower level.
The main exhibition hall was adorned with a series of giant canvas prints based on the Red District collection this time each had a dripping blood red cross. At the back of the hall was the largest artwork on display, a mural of crosses made from small blocks - it was apparently available for sale for something like 225,000 Euros, at the other end of the hall had the four sound sources from Laibach's early industrial era plus three air raid sirens. The hall looked amazing and very dramatic with the light, the effect was actually much more pronounced when the hall was empty of people, which I experienced later and captured on photographs.
In another small room at the back of the main hall there was a side exhibition 'DOCUMENTS 1980' featuring the earliest press reports featuring Laibach, unfortunately there was no translations therefore my attention soon turned to the three Laibach paintings accompanying the documents, one of which was on loan from Daniel Miller of Mute Records.
Shortly after 8PM the exhibition was formally opened by a speech from the first President of Slovenia Milan Kucan. Milan had led the political battle that brought about Slovenia's independence from Yugoslavia. Slovenia declared its independence on 25 June 1991.
Ivan Novak followed with a speech in Slovene representing Laibach. An English translation was read out for the benefit of the foreign guests revealing that Laibach were grateful for the support of Milan Kucan and the benefit of his leadership, Janez Knez (the father of Dejan) was fully acknowledge as the inspiration behind Laibach and can be considered the original source of Laibach's knowledge in art and music. Milan and Janez were both presented with artwork as thanks.
Alexei Monroe, Avi Pitchon and Haris Hararis stepped into position beside the air raid sirens and began turning them, soon powering up the searing sound of the sirens which filled the hall and as Laibach's industrial piece started up it resulted in an almost overwhelming wall of ominous mechanical grinding harking back to the spirit of the hard industrial music from the 80's from the likes of Throbbing Gristle or SPK and of course Laibach's earliest music. The bulk of the sounds were coming from the mixing desk while Ivan and Dejan added to the mix by working with the four sound sources (radio, record player, looping tape deck and megaphone) that were on display. The onslaught lasted for about five to ten minutes, for some it was heavy going as I observed a small number of people holding their ears shut. For most the colossal forceful power was utterly exhilarating even for those who would normally prefer the more refined music from Laibach.
When Laibach's industrial composition ended food and drink was served and the party began which continued to around 11PM. There was some problem or confusion concerning the bus going back to Ljubljana so I was very grateful for the former Laibach drummer Roman Decman who offered myself and another a lift back to Ljubljana, even insisting on driving right to my hotel.
The following day, Friday 24th was the first day of the symposium and at 10AM the bus from Ljubljana would be picking up from the same place as last night. Before going to DDT where the symposium was taking place, the bus took us first to the Lafarge cement factory on the outskirts of Trbovlje. The last stage of the bus journey appeared to have been modified and we saw more factories and other industrial buildings than had noticed before. On arrival we met up with those who were staying at the nearby mountain lodges of Kum and Planina, there was no hotels in Trbovlje. The factory looked familiar right away as a result of featuring in Laibach's artwork over the years. The factory was situated right next to Trbovlje railway station and close to the river Sava.
Shortly after our arrival the reps from the factory invited us into a meeting room for a presentation of their company along with some safety advice, although the factory wasn't in full production mode at that moment there was still a certain amount of activity in the process of getting the factory ready for the next production of cement. A nice spread of bottled water, biscuits and chocolate had been laid out while we watched their presentation about their factory and how that it is now owned by French international companies. They seemed proud in the way their factory had inspired Laibach's artwork and highlighted images linking the connection, I recognised one photo that was taken in Birmingham back in 2006. They also gave their explanation on their refusal to paint the Laibach cross on their factory citing that the workers were consulted and ultimately were against the idea possibly due political sensitivity however one explanation heard much later was that some of the workers felt a large black cross on their factory would be a bad omen for their jobs. While the owners declined Laibach's plan they were happy to sponsor Laibach's 30th anniversary event and were also happy to show Laibach's guests around their factory. Before doing so we all had to wear the safety gear; hard hats and safety goggles along the fluorescent vests which was probably more necessary than usual given the number people wearing black or camouflage clothing. We were led round the factory outside and in getting an idea how it operates and seeing the features that inspired Laibach's work. The trip to Lafarge's factory was very enjoyable and interesting, reporting back home later that I had been visiting a cement factory had some spluttering into their coffee, it wasn't quite the typical touristy visit but it fitted very well with whole event and the Lafarge reps were excellent and enthusiastic hosts.
We all got back on the bus as there still a few miles to travel to the DDT for the start of the Red District Symposium (Past Perfect - Future Tense). In the many function rooms one for the seminar was set up and Alexei Monroe opened the three day symposium with a short introductory talk before handing over to Ales Leko Gulic, a native of Trbovlje, to begin the talks.
The full programme
Much of the first day talks were in Slovene, though Igor Vidmar did give a summary in English at various points. It was particularly interesting to see Igor as he was the man who introduced Laibach to me and many others in the UK back in 1988 on the BBC programme Rough Guide to Ljubljana where he was described as the John Peel of Slovenia. He was also heavily involved with Laibach in the early days acting as their manager and had a wider involvement in the Slovene music scene in general. There was translation notes available in English for the Slovene talks and much of the symposium was in print to help those attending. I suspect all of it will re-appear in a book or at least online somewhere. English was the international language however many attending were from non English speaking nations. The symposium's first day ended with a panel discussion who also took questions from the audience.
After a quick dinner it was time to see the first Laibach concert in the cinema part of the DDT complex.
See full review of the two concerts.
On the morning of Saturday 25th the rain was battering down hard, so much so for a while I stood waiting at the hotel believing it would soon ease off a bit. Eventually I just had to get wet, luckily the hotel wasn't too far from the pickup point at the Ministry of Culture and at least there was shelter there while we waited for the bus. The bad weather was not going to affect the programme that day but the realisation came that it wasn't looking good for the outdoor concert on Sunday. After an hour travelling on the bus we arrived for day two of the symposium. The talks were virtually all in English and was mainly looking at the role of the collective organisation Neue Slowenische Kunst, which Laibach created along with Irwin and the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre back in 1984. The NSK has been one of the more intriguing attributes of Laibach and one that made them quite different from other music groups though it was pointed out that Laibach were already very much a multimedia group. At the end there was a 'In conversation' with the members of Laibach and Dragan Zivadinov of Noordung, moderated by Zdenka Badovinac. The audience was invited to join the discussion and ask questions. It was intended to be in English and it was for most parts and although Dragan can speak English he likes to fully express himself therefore an interpreter was employed for the rather tricky and quite amusing task of translating his somewhat flamboyant and excitable comments.
After the symposium, there was a public workshop by the artist collective BridA for those interested. I watched a little of it and saw them painting little squares collectively to created a larger piece however I was keen to see a little bit of Trbovlje after all these years hearing and reading so much about the town and its importance to Laibach's work. There was one big problem, it was still raining fairly heavily eventually although it actually never stopped it was a little lighter and I had a look around before it got dark, though didn't go too far.
Rough Guide to Trbovlje
As it was raining it was not going to be ideal to stay out too long but it was fully worthwhile and I do feel I managed to get some idea of the place. It was very interesting, of course this would be mainly due to the Laibach factor. Hopefully some day in the future I can return with more time and better weather.
Returning to the DDT with plenty of time for the second concert therefore had another look at the exhibits and in bar area there was a DVD projection playing the infamous footage of Laibach shopping in military officer uniforms back in 2003 though it was only about five minutes long and looping endlessly with a William Orbit track. Earlier the 1997 Philharmonic Orchestra performance and Pobjeda Pod Suncem had been playing, unfortunately we are still waiting for them to be publicly released on DVD. Eventually the doors opened, for some reason a little later, for the second and last concert of 30th anniversary celebrations in Trbovlje.
Sunday 26th was the last day of the anniversary event in Trbovlje, unfortunately it also was raining again that morning though not quite as bad as the day before. As I walked towards the pickup point I knew the outdoor concert on Mount Kum would be pretty much out of the question however there was still other parts of the programme to attend.
The third day of the symposium started shortly after the bus arrived at the DDT. Suzana Milevska kicked off the final day of the Laibach symposium. The last day was mainly looking at the NSK State, a state that existed in time and without geographical borders and is the biggest project to have come out of the NSK and now the only active connection the former member groups have with each other since the NSK no longer exists as a collective art organisation. The first NSK citizens' congress was due to take place in Berlin the following month. I got my NSK passport back in 1994, Miran Mohar of Irwin after looking at my passport informed me that he had processed my application and had signed the passport, I couldn't really tell from the signature so it was interesting to finally find out. The symposium ended at the DDT with a panel discussion involving the audience. Unfortunately it was then announced that the concert on Kum would not be taking place due to the weather, which was not really a surprise however it was also announced that the bus had been re-scheduled to return to Ljubljana after the visit to the Power Station. There was one final talk of the symposium but this would be taking place later on Mount Kum, meanwhile we were all transported to the Termoelektrarna Trbovlje Power Station (TET II).
The coal fired power station was just a couple of miles along the river Sava from the Lafarge cement factory and right beside the railway line. It was home to the tallest chimney in Europe, known as The Trbovlje Chimney standing at 1,200 feet high and essential to ensure that the emissions escaped the deep Sava valley.
Arriving at the factory we all congregated outside the reception as we waited a couple of cats joined us, once everyone had arrived we went into the reception area where three Laibach artworks were proudly on display, two of them were familiar but I had not come across the unusual centrepiece of the display which featured the power station, underneath it stated "Laibach Pauker 1956-1996".
Ales Leko Gulic gave a quick introduction before handing over to the power plant reps who gave us some background information including some comments on the Laibach artwork. We all collected a hard hat then were shown around, this time the plant was fully operational and we saw coal being carried along conveyor belts towards the furnace which we didn't quite see but certainly felt the heat. We all went inside the huge chimney, not quite as dramatic as it sounds but was most intriguing to do so after admiring the sheer size of it outside at the base. Finally it was onto the control room where they feed the electricity into the network grid.
After handing in our hard hats, it was back to reception where a nice spread of food and drink had been laid out, not to mention lots of little cakes with the Laibach emblem on top. Unfortunately for those based in Ljubljana or at least for those who wanted transported back to the city, it was the end of the Laibach's 30th anniversary celebration and I was going back to Ljubljana. For the rest it was onto to Mount Kum where Julijana Zabeva presented the final talk of the symposium and Peter Mlakar gave a speech titled 'Sermon on the mountain'. A party brought the four day event to a closed, which apparently lasting until around 6AM the next day for some of the guests.
The anniversary events in Trbovlje clearly took a lot of organising and involved a lot of people, it was an unique opportunity to indulge in the work of Laibach and get a bit of background on their music and art. Many of the guests travelled far from all over Europe and possibly beyond to celebrate the immense achivements Laibach made in their 30 years in existence and hopefully their work will continue for a long time yet.