My roommate would occasionally find and buy DIJ’s pricy imported CDs, which all had beautiful packaging and design. Death In June’s records are usually expensive but it’s clear where the money’s going. I’m not aware of anyone who puts out more picture discs than Death In June does. When you hold a Death In June album, you get the immediate sense that it’s more real, more permanent than the other albums you own.
The first album of DIJ’s that I was aware of was All Pigs Must Die. The cover showed Douglas in the mask most commonly asso- ciated with DIJ, slitting the throat of one of several stuffed pigs that are having a tea party in a little playhouse. It blew my mind when I saw it, and whenever I pull my copy of the picture disc from my shelf, I always stare at it for a minute before I listen to it. Someone told me in disgust that the album was about Doug- las’s hatred of the people at World Serpent, a music distribution company he’d helped start and had been betrayed by. I liked that too, being someone who is primarily motivated by revenge and feelings of “I’ll show you all!” P.I.L claimed that anger is an energy, and they’re right, because I’ve never felt more energetic than when I’m angry and I’ve never felt better being angry than when I listen to the records that Douglas has made.
There’s nothing dispensable about what Douglas does. Everything he produces feels like a special and singular object or experi- ence. As someone who’s obsessed with beauty, I appreciate that. The Internet cheapens everything at an increasing rate, but Death In June continually pulls back while others desperately cram themselves onto the Internet like trash floating in space. Everyone rushes to MP3 format, and Douglas releases a CD in a carved marble case. Other people tour and try for ultimate saturation, but Douglas picks particular places to perform. It’s the total opposite of Black Flag’s “get in the van” mentality.
I was lucky enough to see Death In June perform at New York’s Pyramid Club during DIJ’s last (although not positively final) tour in 2005. He was doing two shows on a Sunday, and for some reason, they were at 1PM and 4:30 PM. I was confused by it then and even more so now. Maybe it was to make the event feel like a church service. Someone I was friends with claimed that the location of the show was being kept secret until the day of its happening to keep away potential protesters, but there’s evidence that it was openly promoted.
My three best friends and I arrived at the show in the bright sun wearing our best attempts at militaristic goth looks. We pored over the expensive merchandise. I got a Whiphand 6 patch for $10 and a copy of “Nada!” on CD. My friends picked out their own prizes, which we all took turns admiring later at home. There were a few Hassidic Jews there, which is surprisingly common at goth/fetish events. Before the show began, Douglas emerged into the bar from a side door and was set upon by the autograph-seeking fans who wanted to know him. He quickly retreated and we didn’t see him again until he was performing onstage.
During the show he changed from his white, neutral mask to a mop-like mask (it’s a camouflaged sniper’s veil), which probably signified something I didn’t understand, and performed songs that we all wanted to hear. After the show ended we were quickly ushered out of the club so the next show could begin, and then we never saw Douglas tour again.
It’s difficult to find a casual Death In June fan. If you like his music, it’s because you hunted for it and then paid more than you would for most other records. He makes it challenging to love him but the rewards are worth it. I think I’ve developed an intense, one- sided relationship with Death In June. I’ve mailed fan art to him through his record label and now here I am, working for Mishka, getting to ask him things.
Before we were to talk, Douglas asked me to e-mail him the topics I wanted to discuss since he was going to be going on a ‘walkabout’ and wouldn’t be accessible. I did, and later received responses to what I hadn’t considered to be questions along with Douglas’s declaration that the interview was complete. His responses to the discussion points I’d hoped to discuss were all well written and interesting. While I was initially disappointed at not being able to have a deeper interaction with Douglas, I recognize that part of what makes him interesting is his distance from me and the mystery of his personality. I think that Mishka has made some beautiful clothing items with Douglas that will be available very soon, and I hope that you enjoy the e-intercourse that we created.
I feel that I should begin the interview with the first aspect of your persona that many people are confronted with, the mask you wear of the pained face. I once heard a story about how the mask you’re most commonly associated with relates back to your father having his face paralyzed with nerve gas during WWII, but I’m guessing that’s not true.
That’s some sort of fanciful mishmash of the truth retold by someone without much knowledge of World War II. Nerve gas, mustard gas or whatever gas wasn’t used during that war against combatants. (Please note I mention “combatants” before any boring twat gets on their high horse and starts accusing me of holocaust denial, re: Zyklon B, etc.). The dreadful consequences of the 1914-18 WWI gassings held too much fear for all sides to re-use it in the battlefield in 1939-45, although all sides car- ried gas masks ‘just in case’ until near the end in 1945. Most gas mask holders were really used to carry extra food rations.
My father was in the British Royal Air Force before, during and after WW II, and was in two bad plane crashes, one of which resulted in him having to have some of his face reconstructed after he hadn’t parachuted out of the plane in time. He looked perfectly normal thereafter, but it was only in the reverse reflec- tion of his image in a mirror that you could see that not every- thing was quite precisely straight or aligned. In fact, his face was a bit crooked. As a little kid, I first saw this when I was in the bathroom watching him shave in the mirror, and he told me what had happened. It’s as simple as that. He certainly wasn’t an ogre in appearance and he knew he was very lucky that he not only survived the plane crash, but also that he wasn’t more mutilated. A lot of aircrew suffered from terrible burns, which affected the rest of their lives, regardless of which side they were flying on. However, that’s nothing to do with why I chose to wear the mask, whose expression is considered ‘neutral’ by the Italian makers. It’s only when I wear it that it appears to take on its own Lifeforce, and even to me I don’t look like I’m behind the mask! It’s possibly why I was so strongly attracted to it when I first saw it through the shop window, hanging up at the back of the premises in Ven- ice in late 1991. When I went in to have a closer look, a whole new world of possibilities seemed to open up to me, and I knew I must have it.
I’d been using masks consistently in Death In June since the photo shoot for The World That Summer album in 1986 and later in 1988-89 for The Wall Of Sacrifice album and video, with a black leaf mask I’d found in Florence whilst performing at a festival there a year earlier. But, this ‘neutra mimo’ – neutral camouflage mask – declared it was the future for Death In June. And I saw that very clearly. I could pontificate ad infinitum on a pseudo-intellectual level about ancient Greek theatre; the desire to separate oneself from the art itself and the masses of consum- ers, critics and fans; and the yearning for anonymity as to why I use masks but, at the end of the day, the bottom line was that it really looked great! It felt natural and no one else did it. Now, of course, everyone from Slipknot to the latest incarna- tion of a Neo Folk group, including that of former members of Death In June who didn’t even wear masks when they were in the group, wear them, and I now, in turn, get accused of copying them! It’s not only distasteful, it’s laughable. People should try to learn the timeline of events before coughing up their ill-informed opinions in the press, or on the World Wide Wank – the great misinformation highway.
I’m guessing that you’re reading this after having left for your ‘walkabout’. Is this the first time you’ve done this?
I’ve been going on real ‘walkabouts’ since the age of 17 in 1973, when I decided to walk and hitchhike from London to Paris and back. As a teenager I would spend months on end walking and hitching around Europa, sleeping under the stars – or under bridges on freeways and bandstands in city parks, if it was raining heavily! I was thinking about that only recently, as I now have to consider at the grand age of 55 how long it will take me to walk in a nearby National Park, and I rarely spend more than a couple of hours doing that. Back in the early 1970s, I’d take a couple of months!
‘Walkabout’ to me now is anything from driving into the desert in South Australia, which is where I now live, and disappear- ing for a while, or flying to a favorite city and hotel and hiding away there for several days or weeks whilst I write, think, explore, have sex with strangers and live away from the ‘norm’ of my Life. Even I have some routines that sometimes need to be broken. Contact via computers doesn’t figure large in that World I retreat to, and I dislike being in contact with anyone, even my partner, for most of those occasions.
I’ve thrown away three mobile phones as a consequence, and unless someone is a very, very close friend with a very, very good reason for making contact, they soon get shunned if they start becoming ‘needy’ and sending too many emails about the minutia of anything, etc. But, that’s the case whether or not I’m on ‘walkabout’.
The first record of yours that I listened to was All Pigs Must Die, and it’s remained one of my favorite of your albums. I’d like to discuss that album. I have no idea if other people consider it a pivotal album of yours or not, but I like it a lot. The cover art shows you at a meal with pigs, except you’re holding a knife to the throat of one of the pigs. There’s a lot more color and hu- mor in this album cover than your others. Can you tell me about the process that led to this cover? Were the environments and pigs set up specifically for the album cover or did they already exist?
You are correct in that I, too, feel it’s a pivotal album. Not only for Death In June, but also for that whole milieu of the Neo Folk/Post Industrial/Totenpop/whatever scene that I’m usually so closely associated with. It drew a line in the sand. It declared its intent. It was Magick, in theory and practice: direct, stripped back and revealed. It upset a lot of people. And, it sold very well! But, most importantly, it worked! That unnerved a lot of people who only want to talk rather than act! I was tired of talking, and it was time to hold a bloodied knife to the throat of pork!! And, there’s not one bit of humour about that. It’s a deadly serious album.
Doing the photo shoot for this album was the easiest, most natu- rally strange thing in the World to do. Everything fell into place and was meant to be. No doubt about that. Near to where I live in the Adelaide Hills is a small town that was settled by German immigrants in the 1830s called Lobethal. In an effort to help make this new, strange and harsh land more like home, they im- ported from Germany a whole range of different little Bavari- an-style cottages that each held a nursery rhyme such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Goldilocks, and the Three Little Pigs of course, besides many others. You name the old European nursery rhyme, and its characters are there on this massive piece of land in the Australian bush in their own little Bavarian- style cottage. With the press of a button on the outside of the cottage, many of the different characters would spring to ‘Life’ and start moving.
It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever come across any- where, but here in the Hills, you can find such things that I feel very at home with. Best of all, this property is called ‘Fairyland,’ and its entrance is bordered by two castle turrets overlooked by the owner’s house, which resembles Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest on the Obersalzburg.
Because I visited it so often myself and then subsequently with other friends and colleagues, I got to know the owner quite well, and that led to me being given the keys into the Three Little Pigs cottage and us being able to do the photo shoot there. It cost me a bottle of Scotch, a handshake and a thanks. We later used the same location for the Boyd Rice And Fiends Wolf Pact album photos. Oddly enough, the ‘Fairyland’ property occasionally had problems with snakes taking over the area and it used to have to be cleared. Little did I realize at the time, there was one very poisonous one right amongst Boyd and I when those photos were being taken!
The perception of you held by others, your followers, your detractors?
I think if you asked 11 “followers” and 11 “detractors,” you’d get 23 different answers as to why they love, like, loathe and/ or obsess about Death In June. It’s probably the reason why, after thirty years, DIJ is still in existence. There’s a quality about all the work from its presentation through to its songs, through to the character(s) involved with the group, that has managed to set Death In June apart and into its own sort of display case. But why anyone would want to listen to any of the whining, jealous, misinformed bitches that try to smash that display case and de- tract from Death In June and its truly great legacy is beyond me. Where were the whinging bitches when the medical equipment was being given out at my/Death In June’s expense and largesse in Croatia during the war in 1992? NOWHERE! They’re such low dogs they should just be shoved back in their kennels, their tails between their legs, keys thrown away and left to starve to death, their constant yapping gradually fading into the distance. Or, perhaps they should have been used to clear minefields?
I don’t think even former original members of the group would totally agree as to what or why Death In June was, or is about. Even my reasons possibly change daily. But the dogs that are de- tractors? They don’t deserve me even pissing in their mouths, no matter what lies they spout. Golden showers are too groovy for them. It’s unfortunate that a lot of them seem to be American. So much for the guaranteeing of freedom of speech, etc! As an out- sider looking into America, that particular right does seem to en- franchise a lot of dumbasses who should have had their tongues and fingers cut off years ago for a whole load of reasons.
Your collaborators, the members of Crisis and former DIJ members, David Tibet, Boyd Rice, Richard Leviathan/Strength Through Joy, Down In June, Miro Snejdr, etc.? The ways in which you work with others, which naturally leads into talking about your experience working on the clothing line with Mishka?
You’re asking about a thirty-four year career, during which I’ve worked with a lot of people – some a great deal more impor- tant than others – and all probably very different to each other. Trying to compare working with people in Crisis in 1977-1980 to working with the two other original members of Death In June between 1981-85, or people associated with Death In June now in 2011 like Miro Snejdr, the Slovakian pianist who plays piano on my latest album ‘Peaceful Snow’ to the people at Mishka, is like comparing chalk and cheese and concrete. It’s not really pos- sible or fair to all those involved, or even relevant.
Everyone and everything is relevant to the moment. They’re the personnel of the Zeitgeist. But I would say that in their respective days, working with all those involved was, and is, a 95% pleas- ant, exciting, often creative and interesting experience.
Truly the only time when I thought things weren’t genuinely ‘right’ and that there was a bad feeling abroad was during the recording in Australia of the Boyd Rice And Fiends album Wolf Pact (hence the group title!) Boyd had asked me to keep the project strictly between him and me, but I had other intentions. Silly, headstrong me! In retrospect, I should have pushed Boyd further on the subject, listened carefully to what he had to say, and then probably agreed to his wishes. However I didn’t. But equally, Boyd was nervous about telling me what he really, truly thought about the intentions of someone else. (He was unchar- acteristically coy on that occasion. Strange!) What we ended up with is a great album, but with a very bad feeling. I never listen to it now. That goes for a couple of other Death In June albums. But, outside of that, all else is up for grabs and groovy all these years on.
Your experiences on this walkabout?
There was a time when I would talk about such matters, but the World has become an increasingly irritating place where people, whether or not they’re in the public eye, seem desperate to qualify their existence and ‘tweet’ or email their every mundane movement. I don’t wish to partake in that in any way, not because I think what I’ve just done is mundane and really of no interest to anyone except myself – far from it – but more to do with pre- serving what’s special for me and mine. Advertising your where- abouts or where you go can only lead to others copying you or, worse still, following you! There are enough nutcases out there for me not to want to encourage them, and some have gotten far too close in the past. However, a lot of what I do and where I go eventually ends up as a promotional photo or a CD/record sleeve, so perhaps this last ‘walkabout’ will see the light of day in that way, one day? At present, with over 3,000 photos taken during the last trip, I have yet to steel myself into viewing them. I’m still reeling from the experience itself.
Your withdrawal from touring as Death In June?
It felt like the right thing to do after the last series of perfor- mances in 2005 in Australia, America and Europa. The past few years had seen some very intimate and good, if not great, performances by Death In June to its fans around the World. In nearly twenty-five years, Death In June had performed several times in twenty-five different countries, which almost certainly surpasses any other group in this genre regarding overall ex- posure and access. One day whilst waiting to check in at some airport somewhere in the World, it felt that enough was enough, and if I wanted to retain this feeling of the Death In June perfor- mances being special, almost ritual-like gatherings, then it was time to stop. It was best for all concerned, group and audience alike
That was six years ago, and with 2011 being the 30th anniver- sary of Death In June forming in London in 1981, releasing its first recording (the Heaven Street 12”) and playing its first show, I might reconsider some of the many offers that are now coming my way to tour the World again, but I’m not sure. In truth, I could have toured the World five times since I retired in 2005, but I haven’t. Sometimes the past is best left being simply that.
Certainly, if I hadn’t stopped performing, there wouldn’t have been many of the new back catalogue releases that have come out since 2005, such as the commemorative stone editions of The World That Summer, Brown Book and Symbols And Clouds, or brand new albums like The Rule Of Thirds and the recent Peaceful Snow. Retiring from live performances gave me more time to concentrate on the legacy of Death In June, which is really important to maintain, and I see the Mishka capsule as being part of it. Iconic logos combined with iconic imagery on great clothing is a beautiful way of displaying the importance of Death In June. Every group under the Sun has T-shirts, but not all groups have a line of groovy fashion wear available for fans and group members alike to wear. I’ve made sure that every item that Mishka is producing are things I would myself wear in public. The jacket, the shirts, the T-shirts, the badges and hopefully the gloves have all been personally suggested and approved by me. If I’d have been performing more live dates around the World, I’m not sure if I would have had the time or inclination for such a large project. But, this is the now and the future, and that has to be taken care of more so than performing live.
But as I said, that is no longer the case for Death In June. There is much that is now in order. It’s a lovely position to be in. A certain degree of order has descended. So a change to not wanting to perform live could be on the horizon in 2011? Who knows! It was never really an ordinary experience as far as Death In June was concerned, so perhaps it’s now time to resurrect that special live event and feeling? After all, I never really did get to prop- erly say “Good Bye” to the majority of the fans in the different countries so, if nothing else, that could be the perfect opportu- nity? Or, perhaps that’s too corny – not to mention dangerous.
How you feel about the world?
Like I don’t have enough hours, days, weeks, months or years left remaining in it to be bothered about talking about it – even though it probably is one of the most interesting/exciting times anyone could choose to be living in, and we’re on the brink of World War III. The opening salvoes have already been fired as civilizations and cultures line up against each other.
The next World War won’t be one of nation states or political ideologies against each other. That time has worn itself out. The next war will revert to the World our ancestors lived in hundreds of years ago, with the same old enemies not only knocking on the gates of our Fortress from without, but also trying to knock down our defenses from within. And, that’s for a whole variety of reasons. It’s already happening. It’s on the news every night.
It’s not only the most obvious suspects that we have to worry about, it’s also our respective so-called ‘free liberal social democratic’ governments that gradually and nefariously encroach upon our everyday lives, making them more surveyed, more controlled and less secure in the meantime. But the majority of people are not simply too complacent to take this in, they’re also too scared to accept it, as the future will eventually be a hard one, full of hard choices. This is too much for most people to fully comprehend at present. But there will be a defining time when none of us will have any choice as to what the situation truly is. The World can be Heaven or Hell, and is often a combination of both. The trick is trying to get more of the Heaven side of things and give the other side Hell. Regardless, the ultimate end is inevitable, and Man is remembered by his, or her, death and deeds. That’s something I will carry to my grave.