North Korea rocks out with foreign music gig

  • 20/08/2015
Slovenian group Laibach is the first foreign rock band to play in North Korea
Slovenian group Laibach is the first foreign rock band to play in North Korea

With a 45-minute set that included cover versions of 'Edelweiss' and 'Do-Re-Mi' from the Sound of Music, the avant-garde Slovenian group Laibach has become the first foreign rock band to play a gig in North Korea.

Foreigners who attended the Wednesday evening concert in Pyongyang said the Slovenian rockers were accorded a warm, if slightly muted, reception by the 1500-capacity crowd at the capital's Ponghwa Arts Theatre.

"They seemed to really enjoy it. It wasn't an audience pulling faces of distrust or confusion," said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours which arranged a special trip for foreign 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 around 150 foreigners - including diplomats, NGO 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 has courted controversy with its deliberately 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.

The North Korean popular music scene, is largely limited to state-approved bands making state-approved 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 a medley of songs from the Sound of Music, which is well known in the North.