“Our only responsibility is to remain irresponsible” is the motto of Laibach, the Slovenian band invited to appear in North Korea, a tour documented in the bizarre, beguiling and brilliant documentary, LIBERATION DAY.
Famous for their art rock interpretations of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and their emblematic logo of the Cross and the Cog, Laibach’s inverse Orwellian motto “All propaganda is art” must have appealed to the powers that be in Pyongyang.
The invitation was too “out there” to refuse, the implications of their visit was even more out there when they were out there!
Confronting strict ideology and cultural differences, the band struggles to get their songs through the needle’s eye of censorship before they can be unleashed on an audience never before exposed to alternative rock’n’roll.
Antiquated technical equipment also conspires to scuttle the event and when a band member goes AWOL a super scary security issue adds to the tension.
Meanwhile, propaganda loudspeakers are being set up at the border between the two Koreas and a countdown to war is announced.
This crazy career move by an ageing apocalyptic rock band who specialise in Armageddonising Broadway show tunes is captured by a film crew captained by Morten Traavik and Ugis Olte.
Traavik is renowned for a series of controversial collaborations with North Korean artists and cultural authorities, as well as being an authorised cultural affairs liaison for that country, which helps smooth the bizarre bureaucracy barrelled at the band.
The mystery as to why Laibach was allowed to perform in Pyongyang in the first instance is probably is somewhat solved by the high kitsch, militarist marching band persona of the band, exemplified with cross cutting of Pyongyang parade days with proud footed, jack booted soldiers doing the straight leg strut so enamoured by totalitarian regimes.
The title LIBERATION DAY comes from the date the band was booked for, August 15, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan, an odd occasion for the importation of a foreign group. But this documentary abseils the absurd cliff face that is North Korea, creating a fission and a fusion that is fabulously far out.
You’ll never hear Do Re Mi or Across the Universe in quite the same way again.
The film is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday June 11 and Tuesday June 13 at 6 pm at the Dendy Newtown.