Monthly Archives: March 2010

Laibach

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Sorry things have been a little quiet here at TWBITW—it took us longer to sleep off our South by Southwest hangovers than we had anticipated. Also, our ears are still ringing from seeing GWAR. If you’ve never been sonically assaulted by Oderus and co. before in person, seriously—we can’t recommend it highly enough. Just plan on taking a few vacation days after the show—you’ll need them.

Anyway, today’s weird band is another oldie but goodie, and comes to us all the way from the former Yugoslav Republic of Slovenia. Formed in 1980, when Yugoslavia was still under Communist rule, Laibach was a sort of proto-industrial rock band-slash-performance art project that managed to simultaneously celebrate and mock the trappings of totalitarianism in all its forms. They’ve described their own music and iconography as “radically ambiguous” and, judging from the range of responses they’ve gotten, they seem to have succeeded: Detractors and critics (not to mention the censorship-happy Communist regime in Yugoslavia, which frequently banned the group’s performances) have accused them of being fascists, Stalinists, Nazi sympathizers and/or radical Slovenian nationalists, while their fan base seems to include everyone from arty types who treat the band’s militaristic costumes and Wagnerian martial-industrial music as sly satire of fascist/skinhead culture to…well, actual skinheads.

Is all of this starting to sound a little too much like a post-modernist graduate thesis project? Well, not to worry, because here’s the most brilliant thing about Laibach: Much of their music is actually highly accessible, and frequently takes the form of Teutonic/industrial-style covers of familiar pop music. Laibach have tackled everything from the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” to the Beatles’ “Let It Be” to Europe’s “Final Countdown.” They even did “Jesus Christ Superstar” and an album of national anthems called Volk. If you thought Jimi Hendrix did weird things to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” wait till you hear Laibach’s version of it.

As great as Laibach’s covers can be, their most memorable musical moments tend to come on their original compositions, when the jackboots hit the dance floor and all “Heil!” breaks loose. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.) Although the “Fear the Kittens” video for this song (courtesy of Rathergood.com) is pretty awesome, it still can’t top the original.

You might also like: Rammstein, Aesthetic Meat Front, Einsturzende Neubauten

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(Bonus factoid: Laibach may be the only industrial band to have a winery named after them. Suck on that, Rammstein!)

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Sir Ivan

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File this guy under “so completely ridiculous, he’s actually kind of awesome.” Seriously, we’re really hoping this post gets us invited to one of the parties at his 15,000 sq ft. castle in the Hamptons. Yeah, we’re whores.

“Sir Ivan” Wilzig is the son of a billionaire banker (and Auschwitz survivor) who quit the family business in 2000 to chase his dreams—which, in his case, apparently consisted of dressing up like a superhero and making really bad techno versions of classic ’60s protest songs. (Here’s a wild guess: Shortly before quitting his banking job, Ivan had a really mind-blowing night of ecstasy-fueled debauchery at some New York nightclub and possibly a candy-raver afterparty.)

The punchline to Sir Ivan’s story, of course, is that his cheesy Eurodisco versions of “Imagine” and “San Francisco” were very successful. There’s really no end to the market for bad dance music—even when it’s delivered by a middle-aged dude in a superhero cape. Actually, these days, every electronic act from the Bloody Beetroots to Deadmau5 dresses up in weird costumes, so maybe Ivan was really ahead of the curve.

Anyway, after laying low for a few years (apart from being a contestant on a reality TV show called Who Wants To Be A Superhero? and making this amazing appearance on VH1’s The Fabulous Life), Sir Ivan is back and promising to release a full-length album called I Am Peaceman later this year. The album features 15 tracks done in his inimiatable style, which he calls rocktronica, which is actually a pretty major improvement over “Technippy”, which is what he used to call his stuff (cause it’s techno + hippie music…get it? yeah, nevermind).

The first single from I Am Peaceman is a techno version of—I shit you not—”Kumbaya.” The video for it is below. It’s pretty painful stuff, but tough it out til the 1:38 mark, when there’s a batshit-crazy closeup of Ivan that’s well worth the price of admission. He’s like the Jewish Tom Jones—if the Welsh tiger had gobbled some shrooms at Burning Man and stumbled into one of the dance tents.

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Mo Wolpert

We’re kind of going a little off the reservation with this one: Moritz “Mo” Wolpert is clearly not a band, or even, strictly speaking, a musician. He’s more of a multimedia artist who specializes in designing unique, very ornate instruments in a style that a lot of blogs refer to as “steampunk”–a somewhat annoying term that apparently refers to the fact that Wolpert’s creations have a sort of Victorian sci-fi quality about them. If this guy isn’t a huge Jules Verne and H.G. Wells fan, then slip some laudanum into our absinthe and say goodnight.

Wolpert has designed several amazing gizmos, including an analog sequencer called a Schaltzentrale, with a brass body covered in elaborate etchings, and something called a Trafokasten, which as near as we can tell is sort of a cross between a musical saw and a Theremin. His most well-documented contraption is also his most complex: a massive, multipiece device called the Heckeshorn, which uses various cranks and pulleys and tubes and God knows what else to produce all sorts of eerie tones that a player can apparently manipulate via a set of lap-steel-like strings across the top. It also sports what appears to be a rubber mouse, but we’re not really sure what that’s for.

Wolpert’s website and MySpace are all in German, as is most of his press–and even though Jake took two years of German in high school, all he really remembers is “Ich habe hunger” and “Wo sind die toiletten?” so he wasn’t much help. So we honestly know very little about this guy, although we could at least figure out that he was born in Bremen, Germany in 1966 and is now based in Berlin. He hand-lathes all his devices himself, and works with a guy named Christian Gunther on the electronics. Pretty nifty stuff.

Update: Apparently the purpose of the Schaltzentrale was to semi-automate the performance of the Heckeshorn and the Trafokasten; after a bit of digging, we finally found this video of Wolpert and a group of musicians putting all three devices through their paces. The video is nearly two hours long and kind of demystifies Wolpert’s creations a little, since it’s all shot in a brightly lit studio and features a bunch of people in street clothes wandering in and out of frame to tweak whatever’s playing. But it’s worth watching just to get a sense of how many moving parts there are, and how many bizarre, creepy sounds it can all produce when everything’s patched through the Schaltzentrale (which we’ve also since learned, via the comments on another blog, is German for “central switchboard”).

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