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2022-05-01

LAIBACH - Wir sind das Volk • Live at Kampnagel, Hamburg (28.04.2022) and album review

Wir sind das Volk!

We are the people!

This exclamation is a lie. Whenever a group of people chanted this parole in German history, it was at least a wild exaggeration. No matter how just your cause may be: you are not the people, you are just a fraction of the people. The we is always limited. Who does the chanting group identify with? We are the people is always accompanied by an exclusion: YOU are NOT the people!

During the dawn of German reunification, arguably the prime example of a justified cause, it was perfectly clear who was excluded other was: the oppressive GDR leadership.
But were they the only ones? Not even a historic heartbeat later the same we gave a flaming answer, when the people were willing to burn the oppressed from other parts of the world alive in the shameful hell of Hoyerswerda. In the following decade, a phase only recently dubbed the baseball bat years, youth culture in the "Wild East" was openly dominated by neo-Nazis. The youth of then is the parent generation of now. Election results reflect that. Saxony a failed state, blue-brown heartland of the Alternative für Deutschland, the new melting pot of everything stupid and hateful, a party whose only notable achievement is tainting the word "alternativ".

Language is fragile. Words can easily be made worthless. You want to address a German nonconformist? Don't use Querdenker then, unless it's a blazing coviot; they killed the word.
Alternativ still works in most cases, yet can quickly get dangerous in a political context. Guess what, Putin, the bitter old closet-homoerotic horseman just murdered the letter Z. Zorro go home!

Wir sind das Volk!

They are shouting it again, painting themselves as successors of the just GDR resistance. But the words are a signal as obvious as a red MAGA hat. The phrase is ruined for any good cause now. And it has always been flawed anyway.

Dramatist Heiner Müller, critical observer of the reunifaction, knew that.
Anja Quickert, author and executive director of the International Heiner Müller Society and Laibach created "A Musical from Germany" based on his works. 

"Wir sind das Volk" premiered in Berlin in February 2020.
After the pandemic, a couple of weeks after the release of the new Laibach album of the same name, the play returned for four more Berlin performances, travelled to Croatia and Slovenia and finally arrived in Hamburg last Thursday.



LAIBACH - Wir sind das Volk live at Kampnagel, April 28th 2022
LAIBACH - Wir sind das Volk - Ein Musical aus Deutschland
(digibook CD) (2022)

It begins with the grand piano on its own. And when the first string chord sets in, I feel immediately reminded of the beautiful "Vor Sonnen-Aufgang" from Laibach's 2018 album "Also Sprach Zarathustra". If I didn't know what to expect yet, now I would.

Laibach performance - especially after a longer break - naturally is always a source of excitement for me, but this time the anticipation was quite different, knowing that this would be the furthest from a "regular" band show I had ever seen from the Slovenes. The stern "Zarathustra" had been based on a theatre play, yet still worked as a concert, which also included other hits from the catalogue. This however was the theatre thing itself. The play, the musical, as Laibach calls it.
In truth "Wir sind das Volk" was none of those two, but rather a dark, kaleidoscopic revue of memory fragments, a survey of German identity in the wake of Third Reich and WWII, sometimes painfully direct, sometimes encoded in classic literature references.
The texts and songs were presented by the bariton of Cveto Kobal, the haunting narration of Susanne Sachsse and the outstanding center and heart of the production Agnes Mann.


The intense backdrop for them was provided by members of the current Laibach band plus Sašo Vollmaier on piano, a string quartet and the return of the two drummer boys, in shape of the duo The Stroj, whose work with sticks and bare hands on huge barrels was the pulse which held the entirety of the performance together, while occasional appearances of iconic frontman Milan Fras bridged the regular and theatrical parts of the show with his presence as the "angel of desperation". ("Ich bin der Engel der Verzweiflung")

The visuals provided powerful context, especially when during the Hans Albers hit "Flieger, grüß mir die Sonne" ("Aviator, Say Hello To The Sun") a plane was flying a barbed-wire-fenced line over a map of concentration camps, or when in an arduous silence family photographs and the gaping gaps between them very slowly dissolved.

The whole performance was not only sonically impressive and emotionally moving, but also filled with uncountable urgent reminders that we don't evolve. These over thirty years old thoughts about history now seemingly eternal eighty years ago haven't lost any urgency. 

"Wir sind das Volk nur durch die Liebe", Peter Mlakar

Leave it to Laibach to end this show on a humours note with a speech by philosopher Peter Mlakar, which ultimately resolves the German Volk problem through love - aka the mixing with Non-Germans, which basically is nothing else than the stupid Nazi fear of "Umvolkung" laughingly thrown into their faces.

And then there was of course this mean sample of a speech criticizing the role of a capitalist exploiter minority in undermining democracy, which apart from a couple of red flag words almost sounded like a reasonable argument in our musk-y times, thrown against those who still believe the dogma that the market will regulate itself.
Well, of course it was a relatively calm and controlled speech by Adolf Hitler, who knew how to perform to bait different kinds of audiences. Anyone who still wonders how the hell people could follow this clown, should take a note here and take a look at on whose lips they are hanging now. Yes, it's disillusioning and frustrating.


While it cannot copy the power of all moments, especially those involving a visual component, the studio version of "Wir sind das Volk" overall does a very successful job of capturing the spirit.

It is shorter, changes the track order of the performance and omits most of the actors' spoken word performances. Several songs performed by Agnes Mann on stage sound more laibachian here, as they are sung by the familiar voice of Mina Špiler. The demanding monologue "Im Herbst 197 .. starb..." is only featured as a shortened instrumental within the regular album, yet later returns in full as an almost fourteen minutes long live recording from Berlin.

Other CD live bonus tracks are Mlakar's speech and the piano ballad "Das Lied vom einsamen Mädchen" ("The Ballad Of the Lonely Girl"), which usually is the only one I include in casual listening.
On Bandcamp there are even more extra tracks, which further complete the theatrical aspect, so if you put everything available together in the right order you can almost recreate the performance - or at least an alternative version of it.

As far as I remember there was only one track (besides the Hitler sample), which is completely missing in the studio. While The Stroj were hammering on their bare thoraxes like Tarzan, it listed the (partly dubios) winners of the Wirtschaftswunder in a similar way Laibach's rendition of Edwin Starr's "War" did with the  profiteers of war on "NATO". The list sneakily included the Kampnagel GmbH, hinting at this location's past as the Nagel & Kaemp ironworks factory.  

The profiteers of merchandising however will have to do without me for this album cycle.
While the slogan Ordnung und Disziplin ("order and discipline") is at least worth of consideration, wearing both Ich will ein Deutscher sein ("I want to be a German") and of course Wir sind das Volk in German public just demands too much context and includes too much risk of being adopted by the wrong people for me.

The CD digibook contains all lyrics in German orignal and English translation as well as credits, liner notes and pictures. A vinyl version of "Wir sind das Volk" is also coming.







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