Slovenian band play in N. Korea

Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach in Pyongyang on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/MUTE/JOERUND F PEDERSEN

SEOUL • With a 45-minute set that included cover versions of Edelweiss, The Hills Are Alive and Do-Re-Mi from The Sound Of Music, the avant-garde Slovenian group Laibach became the first foreign rock band to play a gig in North Korea.

Foreigners at the concert in Pyongyang on Wednesday evening said the rockers were accorded a warm, if slightly muted, reception by the 1,500capacity crowd at the capital's Ponghwa Art Theatre.

"They seemed to enjoy it. It wasn't an audience pulling faces of distrust or confusion," said Mr Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, which arranged a special trip for tourists to see the show.

It was the first of two Laibach gigs in Pyongyang arranged as part of 70th anniversary celebrations of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

Apart from some foreigners - including diplomats, non-governmental organisation workers and tourists - the rest of the audience was made up of North Koreans.

Founded in 1980 in the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia's best-known music export have courted controversy with their ambiguous use of political and nationalist imagery. While some accuse the rockers of being fascist, others argue that their work is a critique of totalitarian ideology.

Their stage persona and guttural sound made them a surprising choice as the first foreign rock band to perform in one of the world's most isolated states.

The North Korean pop music scene is largely limited to stateapproved bands making stateapproved sounds, although foreign music - especially from South Korea - is becoming more accessible with the spread of portable media players. These can play music smuggled into the country on CDs or USB sticks.

Deviating quite significantly from their normal repertoire, Laibach offered the Pyongyang crowd songs from The Sound Of Music musical and Korean folk song Arirang - accompanied by a North Korean pianist.

The lyrics to the group's original songs were subtitled in Korean onto a screen above the stage.

"Everyone sat in their seats the whole time and there wasn't really any clapping or singing along," said Mr Cockerell, who has been to North Korea about 150 times.

Pyongyang's official news agency lauded the unusual concert, noting: "Performers showed well the artistic skill of the band through peculiar singing, rich voice and skilled rendition."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Slovenian band play in N. Korea Andy Lau up for Golden Rooster Aniston shows wedding ring'. Print Edition | Subscribe