Every minute of the future is a memory of the past: Laibach’s controversial “Life is Life” video

By on July 3, 2018

“Eastern Bloc Rock is taking off,” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott says in “Take Off To Controversial Videos,” “but Yugoslavian band Laibach’s nihilistic dirge for freedom, ‘Life is Life,’ looks more like a war anthem for fascist youth.”

Watch this special curated collection of controversial videos — which originally aired on February 5, 1988 — on Night Flight Plus!

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“Life is Life” was actually a cover of an English-language song by Austria’s Opus, originally released in 1984.

Opus intended the song to be optimistic and unabashedly life-affirming, but in 1987 Laibach gave their version a  somewhat sinister feel, sounding like something victorious brown-shirted, goosestepping Nazis might sing as a paean to Fascism, post-World War II (which is why Pat Prescott asks viewers: “Remember the film Cabaret?”):

And we’re all glad it’s over,
We thought it would last,
Every minute of the future,
Is a memory of the past,
‘Cause we gave all the power,
We gave all the best,
And everyone lost everything,
And perished with the rest,
Life is life!

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The Slovenian avant-garde post-industrial band recorded the track for their 1987 Opus Dei album.

It became a rousing international breakout single for Laibach, whose band members use pseudonyms: “Eber,” “Saliger,” “Keller” and “Dachauer.”

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Laibach have courted many controversies throughout their long career, much of it due to their associations with totalitarianism, nationalism and militarism.

They also shocked audiences with their occasional use of Nazi iconography, treating it as a taboo topic while also connecting it to the totalitarian impulses within their own socialist society.

Before Laibach changed musical direction and began adopting the techno-dance sound of similar post-Eighties industrial acts, they were noted for their anthemic, militaristic Eastern Bloc industrial sound, and founding “Martial Industrial” music.

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Read more about Laibach below.

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Laibach formed on June 1, 1980, in what was then the war-torn Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, taking for their name the historic German name for Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, the country’s largest city.

The name itself refers to the Nazis occupation of Slovenia during WWII, when Slovenia was a part of the Habsburg Monarchy.

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Laibach were actually from the small coal mining town of Trbovlje, the ninth largest city, located in a beautiful valley in central-eastern Slovenia.

Over time it also became known as “The Red District,” as it was a very proletarian Communist region of Slovenia.

Another famous Slovenian, model Melanija Knavs — who at age sixteen Germanized her name to “Melania Knauss” years before she married the world’s biggest asshole — grew up in Sevnica, about thirty-five kilometers southeast of Trbovlje.

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At the time, bands in Slovenia’s anarchy-filled punk music scene were expressing their uncertainty about what was happening in their country politically, many of them creating groups and movements opposed to the then-dying Communist system.

Between 1983 and 1987, Laibach’s name was officially forbidden to to be displayed, but officials forgot to forbid their symbol, the black Laibach cross — designed by Russian avant-garde artist & art theorist Kazimir Malevich — which they used on their posters.

At the time, their posters alone created controversy for the band, shocking the Trbovlje citizenry with their bold marketing at a time when public advertising and the display of posters wasn’t allowed.

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The local authorities in Trbovlje tried to ban their coming-out show, at a Slovenian cultural hall called Delavski Dom — built in 1960 as a socialist modernist architecture with a touch of Bauhaus — but Laibach prevailed.

The members of the band had all served time in the military — a forced obligation in communist Yugoslavia — and one of them liked to wear his uniform when going out to punk shows, which was considered a very controversial thing to do.

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The band eventually decided to wear their uniforms all the time, boldly adding the Laibach cross and integrating a number of artistic, totalitarian and religious references.

In 1984, Laibach founded the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) collective in 1984, of which they represent the collective’s musical wing; the other wings were devoted to theater (Noordung), painting (Irwin), and posters/propaganda (NK), philosophy (department of pure and practical philosophy).

That same year, the group decamped to London and began working as labourers, and ended up being cast as soldiers in Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket, living in army barracks and enduring daily basic training for nearly a month.

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After signing with the U.S.-based Mute Records in 1986, Laibach released Opus Dei, but had difficulties obtaining visas in order to come to the U.S.

They were initially denied because they’d answered “Yes” on forms where it asked if they were members of the Communist Party.

When they applied a second time, they kept that answer blank, and were able to enter the U.S. again.

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More recently, on August 19, 2015, Laibach were one of the very first “western bands” to play two concerts — at the Ponghwa Art Theatre, in Pyongyang, and also an acoustic set at the Kum Song music school — in North Korea.

Their Liberation Day Tour marked the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan after World War II.

North Korean censors, however, cut their musical program in half, from eighteen songs down to nine, but they were still able to perform songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music musical (!), as well as a few other covers and some Laibach originals.

Watch Laibach’s “Life is Life” in Night Flight’s “Take Off To Controversial Videos” — also including videos by Billy Idol, Mötley Crüe, Jim & Tammy Bakker (“The Ballad of Jim and Tammy”), Dead Kennedys, Sheena Easton, and George Michael — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.