Laibach: Volk

Volk shows that anthems are statements of defiance as much as of pride, expressions of the will of a country's people to die for the sake of a geographical and ideological boundary.



Contributors: Silence
Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2007-02-20
UK Release Date: 2006-10-23

Only Laibach could get away with a cover album that consists entirely of various countries' national anthems.

That's right, national anthems.

Volk is the name of that album, and its premise is an idea so Laibachian that it's almost surprising that they'd never done it before. Laibach's most discussed work is often its choice of covers -- these guys spent an entire album covering The Beatles, named albums after Jesus Christ Superstar and "Sympathy for the Devil", and one of their better-known tracks, "Geburt Einer Nation", is actually a totalitarian rendering of Queen's "One Vision". Any reverence for the original tracks is quickly thrown out the window in favor of Laibach's signature, vaguely militaristic, distinctly eastern European brand of electronic/industrial mayhem. It's also well-established that Laibach tends to dabble in political material, though its specific stances on the so-called "issues" tend to get lost in their gleefully over-the-top fascist satire. Heck, Laibach is basically the house band of the NSK, the Slovenian micronation whose aim is to emphasize collective effort over that of the individual.

It then follows naturally that the "covers" of national anthems on Volk aren't true covers, per se, but "reinterpretations". This could easily have been surmised, given that Laibach vocalist Milan Fras doesn't sing so much as he growls and croaks, though Silence vocalist Boris Benko fills in nicely for the necessary melodic segments (Silence composer Primož Hladnik is also along for the ride, helping with the instrumental backdrops, though it's hard to derive his specific role thanks to the NSK's aversion to individual credit). What results, then, is a two (or more)-vocalist setup where Benko does the actual anthem singing and Fras adds English language translations and commentary.

You see, the entire goal of the album is to point out just how steeped in blood and warfare the typical "national anthem" happens to be -- "And the rockets' red glare / The bombs bursting in air", says the United States' anthem at its most climactic, while France's "La Marseillaise" has a refrain that ends "May the blood of the impure / Soak our fields' furrows!" Anthems, analyzed individually, tend to be statements of defiance as much as they are pride, expressions of the will of a country's people to die for a geographical and ideological boundary.

This is a far more serious and straightforward set of thematic ideas than Laibach tends to use in its music, and the music itself, from the meticulous sense of composition to Fras' restrained, bubbling-under-the-surface delivery, is reflective of the gravity of the subject matter. Laibach has always been a band that tries to achieve a grand sense of majesty in its music, usually via chanted vocals, or militaristic snare drums, or horns approximating those of royal heralds, or even the occasional metal guitar. That majesty can be found in Volk as well, but it's far less in-your-face, far less overt than the big, charmingly clumsy statements like NATO and Opus Dei; the album starts with what sounds like a red herring, all quiet pianos and Benko's exquisite voice harmonizing the words of Germany's national anthem (the track itself is called "Germania"), but despite the beat picking up a bit and the introduction of more overt electronic elements, it eventually becomes clear that the current incarnation of Laibach is less about pomp and explosion than the band has perhaps ever been, geared toward a more subtle approach designed to make listeners dig deeper and listen harder.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most effective tracks are geared toward those nations who have spent the last five years dominating the news, turning the political global landscape into the opinionated, constantly at odds scenario we now live in. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the harshest words are reserved for "America", in which the anthem is twisted and interpolated even as Benko is singing its admittedly effective melody: "So the land of the free / And the home of the brave / Are you Heaven on Earth / Or the gloom of the grave?," he offers with a melodic whisper, setting the stage for Fras' menacing, controlled spoken-word tirade. America's pre-occupation with ideals of "strength" and "honor" are challenged, and the pre-occupation with using standards based on religion in its foreign policy is pointed out in a number of ways. "Anglia" (England) is attacked for its attitude of superiority, "Espana" (Spain) is derided for its imperialistic past, and "Turkiye" (Turkey, naturally) is even implicitly chided for claiming freedom for its people as a God-given right. Whether or not you agree that these are valid points of criticism ("Turkiye" feels like a bit of a stretch, honestly), it's difficult to argue that the delivery is appropriately grave and brilliant in a far different way than Laibach has ever before explored.

The most effective moments on Volk, however, are the ones where no direct criticism is leveled -- the times when the mere juxtaposition of words and sounds does all the work. "Rossiya" (Russia) is a gorgeous track, tempered by a childrens' choir, triumphant and peaceful, even as the popular perception of Russia has been neither of these things for quite some time. And then there's "Yisra'el" (Israel), the most potentially controversial of the bunch -- the lyrics are entirely built from anthems, but there are actually two anthems at work here: plopped in the middle of Israel's anthem is the Palestinian national anthem, culminating in the repeated, pounded chant of "My country, my country, my country / My ancestors!" It's difficult (as usual) to specifically surmise exactly what point Laibach was getting at when they came up with this particular mash-up, but the combination is, given the historical context involved, both interesting and a bit disturbing.

Volk loses steam a touch as its latter half progresses, though that may be entirely due to the fact that China and Japan have largely managed to stay out of global headlines of late -- "Nippon" (Japan)'s seven-minutes actually holds up musically, and the decision to represent the Vatican ("Vaticanae") using merely a solo soprano, a male "choir", and a pipe organ was an inspired one -- the lyrics, where we can understand them, don't hit home like the ones toward the beginning of the album, though that's not to say they won't in five, or 10, or 15 years' time.

There's nothing on Volk to suggest that it will one day be the album for which Laibach is remembered -- nothing here cries out for attention like "Geburt Einer Nation", or "Leben heißt Leben", or even the covered "Final Countdown". Still, it is that subtlety, humility almost, that marks Volk as a masterful stroke, the likes of which Laibach may never again achieve. One listen, and no matter what country you may call your homeland, you may never see your national anthem the same way again.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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