There aren’t many Western artists who have performed in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The choice of Laibach, the controversial Slovenian arts collective, to play Pyongyang was certainly unexpected. Wham! went to China and Space played Moscow, but they had global hits behind them and were ideologically neutral – letting them play was relatively safe ground for cultural commissars. Laibach, on the other hand, occupy a space that is closer to industrial music than pop, flirt with controversial imagery, and are not well known outside of alternative music circles. Why them?
The answer might arise from the little-noticed fact that the Norwegian Arts Council was behind the concert. A Norwegian artist staged the event in order to film it; to make something of the absurdity of Laibach playing songs from The Sound of Music in a hall filled with technocrats in one of the last socialist countries. How he explained it to his North Korean contacts would be interesting to know, but chances are good that they were bemused by the performance.
Certainly, those who attended were unsure what to make of it. As a diplomatic DPRK worker told the band after their show: “I didn’t know that such music existed in the World and now I know.”