The Slovenian band Laibach made good on their promise to perform to a crowd of more than one thousand in Pyongyang, North Korea, this week, the first foreign rock band to receive such permission from the Kim Jong-un regime. They are expected to play a second concert Thursday night.
Laibach, a band with a history of using nationalist and fascist imagery in their music videos, was booked earlier this year to play at North Korea’s “Liberation Day” festivities, which observe the anniversary of the Koreas’ liberation from Japanese rule. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the holiday. Laibach, who named itself after the Nazi name for the capital of Slovenia, promised a “gentle” version of themselves at the concert, acknowledging the limits of expression in arguably the world’s most repressive state.
The band used the aesthetics traditionally associated with twentieth century communist propaganda in posters publicizing the event.
— Laibach Informbiro (@Laibach) August 18, 2015
According to the playlist published by the BBC, the band played a number of covers, including multiple songs from the film The Sound of Music–which is reportedly well-known in North Korea–as well as a Korean folk song (“Arirang”) and the 80s classic “The Final Countdown,” originally by the band Europe. Reuters published a highlight reel including part of that performance:
The group also played what is arguably its most well-known song, “Life is Life”:
According to the BBC, North Korean state media lauded the band by saying, “Performers showed well the artistic skill of the band through peculiar singing, rich voice and skilled rendition.” The few remarks collected from North Koreans who attended the event appear to be significantly more lukewarm. “Of course this is different to our taste, but it was quite nice to hear ‘Arirang,'” attendee Hwang Yong Ran told Billboard. “There are all kinds of music; now we know that there’s this kind of music, too,” another unnamed guest told BBC. Photos show the audience quietly sitting through the concert and giving the band mild applause at the end of songs.
Band members told Billboard they were extremely happy with the performance and the reception they received. “It’s a really good feeling. I think we did more than we expected in the end,” band member Ivan Novak said. “I don’t know how much, what kind of trace that will leave here, but, you know, it’s a big step for–no, it’s a small step for Laibach, and a big step for humanity.”
While The New York Times notes that Laibach is not the first foreign music outfit to perform in North Korea–that would likely be the New York Philharmonic–it is certainly the first rock outfit of its kind to be allowed a platform of such exposure in the totalitarian nation.
Morten Traavik, the organizer who made the show possible, did so by promising “nothing controversial” to North Korean authorities. The concert fulfilled those expectations enough that the Kim regime is expected to allow Thursday’s show to go on.