see all the photos from this concert here

Bonfire Madigan
Electric Ballroom, London
Thursday December 16 2004
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

It’s the return of the conceptual nutters. Yep, Laibach are back in town, stopping off in London as part of their world tour, which is, in turn, an inducement for us all to go out and buy their new compilation album, Anthems. The Electric Ballroom is seething with the kind of varied crowd that many bands must secretly yearn for: grizzled old industrio-heads, be-uniformed fetishists, curious indie kids, goths. Laibach are one of those select few bands who seem able to induce everyone to come out and play. Not that this ability has made them megastars, of course, but maintaining a trans-genre cult following for more than 20 years is nothing to be sneezed at in these troubled times.

Unbilled and unexpected, we have a support act. Bonfire Madigan is a girl with a cello, a backing track, and a chirpy, ditzy, talkative style - a direct collision with Laibach’s dour, taciturn demeanour. I suspect this was half the reason she got the support slot, for Laibach are nothing if not masters of the incongruous juxtaposition. Madigan (or can I call her Bonfire?) brightly informs us that she comes from San Fransisco, although she’s so much of a flower child that we might’ve guessed, and promptly launches into a set of minimalist weirdpop, mood pieces in which the cello tip-toes through some quirky melodies while the backing track churns and clonks. It’s odd and engaging stuff, on occasions recalling a chamber music version of the Sugarcubes, although at times the backing track is so quiet it’s sometimes hard to figure out just what’s coming through the PA. But the crowd, intrigued, clusters to the front and pays attention. David Coulter, a man I remember from years back as part of Test Dept, comes out, enigmatic and behatted, to wail spookily on a bowed saw. Madigan introduces him (twice!) as being ‘from the Pogues’, which momentarily throws me. But yes, according to a swift web search, he did indeed spend six years in the Pogues (it would’ve been longer, but he got time off for good behaviour).  The cello and saw, groaning and keening like ghosts in the woodwork, entwine and mesh together, and Madigan’s personality, bubbling all over it like hot soup, provides a nice stylistic counterpoint. Verdict: curious but cool. We’ll mark Bonfire Madigan as one to catch again.

Laibach aren’t so much a band as an ongoing art experiment. Their schtick, in a nutshell, is to cast a cynical, deadpan glance at ideology, government, organisation and control - and set their observations to a thumping great industrial-opera racket. If truth be told, it’s the thumping great industrial-opera racket that’s brought tonight’s crowd through the doors: all the art stuff, fascinating though it might be, is really a side issue when there’s industrial-strength moshing to be done. And then, of course, there are the cover versions. Laibach have devoted a large chunk of their career to re-interpreting the big pop tunes of our time, transforming them into dark and alarming things. This may be a savage indictment of the dark heart of our superficial culture, or it might be Laibach’s idea of a laugh, but either way, they open up with Status Quo’s ‘In The Army Now’ and the place goes wild. Laibach themselves, as ever a bunch of costumed enigmas, stand in the smoke and the lights like slightly stroppy gods who’ve descended from the mountain to point out where we’re all going wrong. The vocals are a growling, dramatic (if entirely incomprehensible) rumble, the guitar a Berlin wall of sound. The rhythms thunder like tanks entering Prague, and, on the occasions when the cover songs come up, it all gets quite splendidly surreal. ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ comes at us in a slow, sinister lope, the bassline a back-alley stalker, delightfully devilish. Meanwhile, the twin drummer girls, stage right and left (who quite possibly are supposed to represent the Laibach Pure Youth Front, or somesuch archly knowing concept) contrive to look glacial and aloof throughout. Although the principal musicians remain half-hidden in the background all the while, there’s no shortage of spectacle. Laibach, for all their cerebral art ‘n’ ideology underpinnings, are nevertheless a consummate bunch of showbiz flim-flammers. If the kids want a stomping great rock show, Laibach are perfectly willing to provide.

But there’s a pertinent point. The last time I saw Laibach was back in 1996, at this very same venue. And, frankly, I have to say that not a huge amount has changed in the intervening seven years. The show they give us is, in all essential respects, the same now as it was then. Laibach still look the much same as they ever did, they still do that big bad industrial-opera thing, they still play those crazy cover versions. The merchandise stall is still offering spoof-political posters, and pretend passports to Laibach’s imaginary country. Laibach, in short, have established themselves in their niche, they’ve got their faithful cult following, and, on tonight’s evidence, it seems they don’t particularly see why they should move on. And that’s fine as far as it goes, because, as I say, the show is still good. But all the conceptual stuff is looking rather well-worn these days, and if I were Laibach, I’d be a bit concerned about that. The one essential fact about art is that it always moves forward, and I have an awkward feeling that Laibach’s stompy boots are starting to mark time.

see all the photos from this concert here


Visit Laibach at home:

Legendary Laibach video clip (Warning - not for the fainthearted!):

Bonfire Madigan:

Electric Ballroom:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: