Laibach and think of North Korea

Kim Jong-Un with a guitar!

Last week, the great, if slightly deranged, Slovenian band Laibach announced they would soon become the first Western group to play Pyongyang.

Yes, Pyongyang, North Korea.

Their press release talks a lot about building bridges and includes lots of slogans like, “We are millions and millions are one.” It sounds, in other words, very ‘on message’ for a band about to play a dictatorship.

But I’m pretty sure on 21 August, the day after their main show, you’ll wake up to headlines saying, “Rock band locked up in North Korea.” Why? Because Laibach have a habit of covering the national anthems of the countries they play in, subverting them, drawing out their ridiculousness, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to resist North Korea’s.

For a start, it’s suitably grandiose, but it’s also filled with lyrics like this: “So rich in silver and in gold you are…Korea shall ever thrive.” Quite easy to mock, I think you’ll agree.

(The Song of General Kim Il-Sung, the country’s “real” anthem is even worse in that respect).

The news does, though, provide me with a chance to post one of Laibach’s amazing anthem covers, all available on their album Volk. So, drum roll please… here’s Russia’s made weird as hell:

Yes, maybe an acquired taste. But look, here’s some North Korean accordionists playing A-Ha’s Take on Me, so stop complaining!

Update: They didn’t play the anthem, dammit! But here’s a very funny BBC video of North Koreans giving their reaction to the performance. I don’t think the band will be invited back.

Anthem of the Day: South Korea!

The music: South Korea once had the world’s greatest anthem: Auld Lang Syne. Scottish missionaries introduced the drinking tune to the country, and the Korean government bizarrely chose it as their anthem in 1919 (giving it Korean lyrics, obviously).

Unfortunately, some Koreans felt a tune normally sung on New Year’s Eve wasn’t likely to command respect on the world stage, and one of those was composer Ahn Eak-tai (pictured).

In 1930, while living in San Francisco, he heard it at a church service and decided it was so bad he was going to write a new anthem there and then. He didn’t even wait to get home; he borrowed a pen off the vicar. His final anthem, unsurprisingly, has a lot more pomp to it.

As much as you have to admire Ahn’s patriotism, it should be pointed out that the tune to Auld Lang Syne is known globally; the tune to the Korean anthem is only known in South Korea.

The lyrics: Like a lot of anthems, the lyrics to Korea’s are a tourist brochure’s list of the country’s highlights. Mount Baekdu, the East Sea, hibiscus flowers and autumn skies all get a mention. The wonders it conjures will be slightly lost on anyone who hasn’t visited the country, but it’s evocative nonetheless.

What does it say about a country? They have little respect for Scottish folk music.

Will you hear it at the Games: Many times. Korea won 13 golds at Beijing and can be expected to do well this time too. Archery may be their sure thing. The Korean women are defending champions, and twentysomething Dasomi Jung is the talk of the world’s archery press. Although that might only be because she’s a twentysomething woman.