Death in June
Death in June are a post-industrial music group led by English folk musician Douglas Pearce, better known as Douglas P. The band was originally formed in Britain in 1981 as a trio, but after the other members left in 1984 and 1985 to work on other projects, the group became the work of Douglas P. and various collaborators. Douglas P. now lives in Australia.
Over the band's three decades of existence, they have made numerous shifts in style and presentation, resulting in an overall shift from initial post-punk and Industrial Records influence to a more acoustic and folk music-oriented approach. Although sometimes considered controversial (largely due to usage of themes and imagery relating to Nazi Germany), Death in June has become very influential in certain post-industrial music circles. Douglas P.'s influence was instrumental in sparking neofolk, of which his music has subsequently become a part.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Early Death in June (1981–1985)
- 3 Mid-period Death in June (1985–1996)
- 4 Contemporary Death in June (1996–present)
- 5 Etymology
- 6 Neofolk music
- 7 Influences
- 8 Symbolism and aesthetics
- 9 Controversy
Pearce formed Death in June in 1981 in England, along with Patrick Leagas and Tony Wakeford. Pearce and Wakeford had been members of the political punk band Crisis, which formed in 1977. Crisis had gained a substantial following in the UK punk subculture. Crisis performed at rallies for The Right to Work, Rock Against Racism, and the Anti-Nazi League.
Early Death in June (1981–1985)
Death in June soon left the reticent punk scene behind and began to infuse their sound with electronics and martial style drumming, combined with a Joy Division-influenced post-punk sound. Their lyrics maintained much of the poetry and political urgency of the early Crisis recordings. Tracks such as the early single sides "Holy Water" and "State Laughter" demonstrated an ongoing fascination with political systems. Further on, Douglas P. would abandon any overt interest in politics in favor of a more esoteric approach to his work.
The band played their first show on November 25, 1981 in London, England, supporting The Birthday Part] followed by a short British tour in 1982 (the May 28 show was released unofficially by Patrick Leagas later in 1987 as Oh How We Laughed) and a more extensive tour in 1983.
Introduction of folk music
For 1983's The Guilty Have No Pride LP, Death in June began to adopt a more traditional European folk sound, using more acoustic guitars, references to ancient and contemporary European history, and combining heavy percussion with electronic soundscapes and post-industrial experimentation.
Tony Wakeford departs
After some tension in the group regarding the direction it was taking, Wakeford was asked to leave Death in June in January 1984 after a show in Paris, France. Wakeford then began a post-punk project called Above the ruins shortly before founding Sol Invictus. Although relations were bad for several years after his enforced departure, Wakeford re-established his friendship with Douglas P. in the late 1980s. He remains on good terms with Douglas P. and has appeared as a guest on stage during one Death in June show in London in 1998.
Nada! flirtation with dance music
The Nada! (1985) LP introduced a temporary dance sound to Death in June accompanied by other tracks with the previously introduced folk elements. Douglas P. would later state this period was brought about by Patrick Leagas, which is further justified by Leagas' other work as Sixth Comm and later by his joining Mother Destruction, where he would further explore themes of Germanic paganism and historically-inspired music.
Patrick Leagas departs
Patrick Leagas abruptly left the group in April 1985 after a tour of Italy, resulting in many cancelled shows in the UK and Europe due to follow that tour. Leagas, who began calling himself Patrick O-Kill, later formed Sixth Comm. From that point until the present, Death in June has consisted solely of the work of Douglas P. and various collaborators.
Mid-period Death in June (1985–1996)
Creation of World Serpent Distribution
In 1991, Douglas P. named and helped form World Serpent Distribution a British distribution company that specialized in esoteric, experimental and post-industrial music, which would distribute his NER releases until the late 1990s. During this period, Pearce collaborated with many artists who also had material distributed through the company in various ways.
Collaboration with David Tibet
David Tibet formed Current 93 in 1982. After being introduced to Douglas P. by Alan McGee of Creation Records at the Living Room Club, London in 1983, Tibet eventually began working with Death in June. Upon meeting Tibet, Douglas P. began to devote more of his time to a new circle of collaborators, who introduced him to various Thelemic, Satanic and Hermetic disciplines that markedly affected his approach to composing music. Familiar with the Runic alphabet, Douglas P. introduced them to Tibet. Tibet similarly had been long interested in magic and religion and implemented these concepts in his early recordings with Current 93.
Douglas P. introduced a folk influence to Current 93/David Tibet, who in turn contributed to Death in June's Nada! (1985) LP and its remix version titled 93 Dead Sunwheels (1989), as well as the albums The World That Summer, Brown Book, and The Wall of Sacrifice. He continued his work with Death in June, ending their collaborations with a contribution to the 1995 LP, Rose Clouds of Holocaust before their eventual split.
Douglas P. also contributed to Current 93 projects, including the definitive Apocalyptic folk LP Swastikas for Noddy, Earth Covers Earth, 1888, and Thunder Perfect Mind as well as playing live on many occasions from 1986-93 with Tibet's group. Douglas P. has stated that after he stopped contributing to Current 93, Tibet replaced his acoustic guitar works with that of Michael Cashmore, whom Douglas P. had tutored in the songs he had written for Current 93.
Collaboration with Boyd Rice begins
Boyd Rice of NON met Douglas P. on tour in Japan during this period. He was invited to assist on the Wall of Sacrifice LP, where he contributed a spoken word piece. This was to mark a long period of collaborations with Boyd Rice from the early 1990s until 2004, leading to side projects such as Scorpion Wind and albums bearing both the Boyd Rice and Death in June names.
Collaboration with LJDLP
Les Joyaux de la Princesse collaborated with Douglas P. on the Ostenbraun double cassette release. Douglas P. sent LJDLP source material, which LJDLP would remix and send back after making any musical or aesthetic changes. "First, it was only planned to edit an interview with Douglas P., the text for “Death in June Collaboration : Carried Away By Despair”, used as a womb, is gone after. Douglas was apparently very enthusiastic about the music I sent to him. At the time, he wrote me : “We have a similar path!..”. The use I was doing of the Poly-800 inspired to him, I think, like a kind of following to “The World That Summer”… This same keyboard was used as a base-line for the release of the double album but I learnt this after and in my ingenuousness, maybe, I had completed something! During this collaboration, at every musical as well aesthetic change, I sent it to Douglas… That took me a lot of time to have his entire approbation and his benediction when the product was finished." Douglas P. would later appear live with Les Joyaux De La Princesse for a joint show in 2001.
Collaboration with John Murphy begins
Douglas P. having recently moved to Australia, he came back into contact with John Murphy of Knifeladder and previously of SPK. Murphy began playing live percussion with Death in June during tours from 1996 onwards. From 2000 a period of very stripped down, largely acoustic live performances for Death in June began up until Douglas P. announced no further live shows in 2005.
Contemporary Death in June (1996–present)
Collaboration with Albin Julius Martinek
After queuing to meet his idol Douglas P. backstage at a performance in Munich in December 1996, Albin Julius Martinek of Der Blutharsch later collaborated and toured throughout Europe between 1998-2000 with Death in June. Together, they produced the albums Take Care & Control and Operation Hummingbird, as well as the live album Heilige!. In comparison to previous Death In June works these were remarkably extroverted yet plagaristic, courtesy of Martinek's contributions, sampling musical motifs from the likes of Richard Wagner, Franz Schubert, French '60s pop icon Serge Gainsbourg amongst others. This resulted in a bombastic, neoclassical, post-industrial and extremely martial sound with few traces of the previous folk elements. The music created during this period could be classified as a part of the martial music genre which Pearce had initiated in 1986 on "The World That Summer" album with tracks like 'Death Of A Man' and again in 1989 on "The Wall Of Sacrifice" album with the title track and 'Death Is A Drummer'. Pearce wrote a song loosely inspired by an untitled Der Blutharsch song for the Fire Danger Season Der Blutharsch tribute compilation. The track title was later created/revealed as "Many Enemies Bring Much Honour", which also appears on the rework and rarities album entitled 'Abandon Tracks!'
Demise of World Serpent Distribution
The late 1990s marked the beginning of a court case between Death in June and World Serpent Distribution regarding payment and distribution issues with several other artists that were then on the label. This led to many artists that had sided with or had a similar experience to Pearce's leaving the distribution company and largely moving to Tesco Distribution Germany, as well as other then well established labels such as Eis & Licht. Eventually, Pearce was issued an out of court settlement for the case, leading to the demise of World Serpent Distribution. This led to reissues of most of the major albums in the Death in June discography being made freely available, with overhauled, deluxe packaging and a considerably cheaper price.
Collaboration with Andreas Ritter
On the All Pigs Must Die LP, Pearce was assisted by Andreas Ritter of the neofolk group Forseti who played accordion on a few tracks on the first half of the LP. This marked a return to the previous folk sound of Death in June. Death in June have also appeared live with Forseti and Pearce appeared on Forseti's Windzeit LP.
After Andreas Ritter suffered a stroke and subsequent loss of memory and ability to play musical instruments, Pearce contributed acoustic versions of Death in June songs to a tribute album to Ritter entitled Forseti Lebt released in August 2006.
Collaboration with Boyd Rice ends
After completing the Alarm Agents LP, Pearce announced it would be his final collaboration with Rice, citing the decision as having been mutually decided during the recording of Alarm Agents in a studio situated in a valley in Wellington, New Zealand as helicopters flew beneath the two of them. Pearce recalls:
"We turned toward each other and said, 'This is going to be the last collaboration. It can't get better than this.'"
Much has been made of the origins of the name Death in June. It is sometimes considered to be an allusion to the Night of the Long Knives Sturmabteilung purge on June 30, 1934, or alternately to the 1914 Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo that helped spark World War I. However, "Death in June" is actually a mondegreen, Pearce has said that he once misheard Patrick Leagas during a rehearsal and he "heard" it as "Death in June" and settled upon this chance mishearing. The group then subsequently applied it to the project in 1981. Pearce has stated that the name does not express any single idea for him and remains multifaceted.
Pearce's influence was also instrumental in creating a genre of music called neofolk throughout Europe. Pearce often plays live with artists that are considered a part of this genre and guests on their records.
Film and certain television programs have been a major influence on Death in June, sometimes being worked into compositions or referenced directly in album titles. Influential films and television shows include The World That Summer, Take a Closer Look, The Night Porter, The Prisoner, Night and Fog, and Come and See.
Pearce has cited Friedrich Nietzsche, the Norse Eddas, Yukio Mishima, Saxon poetry, and Jean Genet as strong influences upon his work. Although some of these influences have waned as the discography has increased, Genet and Mishima were quoted in the booklet of the rare track retrospective Abandon Tracks (2001).
Pearce has stated that Nico, Scott Walker, Ennio Morricone, Industrial Records-era Industrial music, Forever Changes-era Love and traditional European folk music have all had a considerable impact upon his musical output.
Symbolism and aesthetics
Death in June has always used symbolism, in lyrics and aesthetic approaches. Often these symbols are sometimes slightly modified European historical or ancestral symbols or point to general areas of time, with a small 6 applied.
MasksAccording to Pearce, since its inception Death in June:
"[We] did not want to become a part of a normal rock 'n' roll thing. Pretty boys staring into the cameras with huge cocks and IQs of one million... It doesn't work like that."
Since the early days of Death in June, the band would appear on stage wearing various masks and uniforms pertaining to the subject matters presented. The band shunned group photos, with very few ever taken, usually featuring the band masked or with their back to the camera.
In 1992, during a trip to Italy, Pearce encountered a unique mask at a carnival shop. Fans were so taken by the mask, it became iconic for Death in June. Pearce often wears the mask when playing live and it appears on various Death in June releases, most visibly on the live Something Is Coming double LP.
Specific varieties of camouflage are regularly worn by Pearce and appear on various Death in June releases. Most commonly, the variety of camouflage used is the German World War II Waffen SS autumnal Erbsenmuster/"pea pattern" (usually on original items) though sometimes the modern Bundeswehr Flecktarn or possibly the post-World War II Austrian fleckerlteppich pattern is used.
The subject of camouflage has also appeared in the lyrics of Death in June, notably in the song "Hidden Among the Leaves", a reference to the Japanese Hagakure.
A slightly grinning skull, framed by a circle and a small 6 in the lower right corner. Death in June has, since at least the State Laughter / Holy Water 7″, used variations of the Prussian Totenkopf or "Death's Head" symbol. Pearce has stated repeatedly that the symbol is not an endorsement of extermination camp atrocities and the symbol far predates the Third Reich, having been used by the Prussian army under Frederick the Great. Although the particular version used by Death in June is a modified, faintly grinning version of the SS insignia, Pearce has stated the symbolism is clear: "The Totenkopf for Death, and the six for the sixth month - June."
A studded, gloved hand holding a whip surrounded by a circle and a small 6 in the lower right corner. This symbol has been used by Death in June since at least the She Said Destroy 7″/12″, stated by Pearce to signify control and relates to having the whip hand, a British expression. The hand is gloved, giving it both a medieval and fetishistic element, and is often used either in place of the Totenkopf or with it. This symbol was used later than the Totenkopf and is usually secondary to it. As with the Totenkopf-6, the 6 presumably refers to June.
Three parallel, up-standing vertical bars accompanied by a small six in the lower right corner. Although a very basic symbol, this symbol likely originates, for the use of Death in June, from the 1943 Kursk version of the insignia of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. This symbol was used as vehicle markings on the vehicles of that unit. It may have been used to signify the three members of Death in June at the time. Scantly used afterwards for the purpose of Death in June, it first appeared on the Lesson One: Misanthropy! LP and is rarely used when not referring directly to this period of Death in June.
Germanic paganism has been more and more a common theme for Death in June with each successive release. Runic text has appeared on many Death in June albums, as well as references to runes in the lyrics of the songs themselves.
In a 2005 interview, Pearce states: "I'm very happy about that because I see Death in June as part of a European cultural revival. I'm pleased that the Old Gods are being resurrected, for want of a better word. Old symbols. I feel very pleased that I am a part of that process and that I have had influence. At this stage in the game, so to speak, it's not false modesty to say that I am content with my influence."
According to Pearce:"In 1986 whilst staying with Tibet in his flat in Freya Aswynn's house in north London over a period of 3 nights I dreamed I was falling in a sort of rain of indistinct runes. On each separate night I managed to concentrate enough on one particular rune to stop it from spinning and moving so I could actually see which one it was. When I awoke I made a note of it. After 3 nights the dream stopped and I decided to try and form an 'appropriate' bind rune from the original 3. This I did and after Freya saw it I basically was given a 'thumbs up' about the whole thing. It definitely does not refer to my name but it definitely does refer to ME.">
The Odal rune has sometimes been used by Pearce. This can be seen very visibly on the Come Before Christ and Murder Love 7″ cover. The algiz rune has often been used by Pearce for non-album Death in June purposes, appearing sometimes with a circle around it as seen on The World That Summer 2×LP, on the official website and elsewhere.
Detractors have accused Death in June of engaging in dog-whistle politics, crypto-fascism, and harboring neo-Nazi sympathies. Pearce said, "At the start of the eighties, Tony and I were involved in radical left politics and beneath it history students. In search of a political view for the future we came across National Bolshevism which is closely connected with the Sturmabteilung hierarchy. People like Gregor Strasser and Ernst Röhm who were later known as 'second revolutionaries' attracted our attention." The Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers) were a paramilitary unit of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), and Strasser and Röhm were Nazi leaders who vyed for Adolf Hitler's power.
Protests have been staged and some performances have been cancelled due to these accusations. Justification for the cancellations stem from strong aversions to the symbolism of Death in June coupled with an interpretation of select lyrics as containing deliberate Third Reich-era imagery and tropes. When questioned about his interest in the Third Reich, Pearce responded:"I've an interest in all aspects of the Third Reich. It has had such a huge influence on the world, who could fail to be intrigued by it? However, I've still read more pages of Das Kapital than Mein Kampf!"
Pearce, who is openly homosexual, has collaborated with various ethnic Jews throughout his music career. The official Death in June website site featured the flag of Israel, and Death in June played a concert in Israel on June 18, 2004 for a predominantly Jewish audience.
Banned in Lausanne, Switzerland
On November 19, 1998, Death in June was scheduled to play with Boyd Rice, Fire + Ice, and Der Blutharsch in Lausanne, Switzerland. A day prior the scheduled show, Pearce appeared wearing a sign, restrained by two men (Boyd Rice and Albin Julius) in ape suits wearing Third Reich-era swastika arm bands. He gave a press conference announcing that he had been banned for the first time from playing live. After pressure from a local activist group, the decision was made by the local chief of police Bernard Metraux, due to perceived ambiguity, to not allow Pearce to appear on stage. However, Rice, Fire + Ice and Der Blutharsch were allowed to take the stage.
A petition for the resignation of Metraux circulated amongst concertgoers at the show and eventually equaled 184 signatures. At the concert, a man appearing to be Pearce took the stage and revealed himself to be Rice. Rice performed an altered rendition of Death in June's "C'est un rêve" to commemorate the event. This rendition of the song was later credited to "NON & Freunde", and was released on the Der tod im juni compilation. After the concert, a website was created by Swiss fans featuring photographs recording the event. Pearce later recorded a song about the situation on Operation Hummingbird in 1998.In a 2005 interview with Pearce, he recalls the event:
This has to do with politics, not to do with me because they had a local election and they thought I was going to bring an army of skinheads to Lausanne and destroy the city. Because they've heard from someone in Germany who contacted a policeman in Bern. And the policeman in Bern contacted the authorities in Lausanne. This is like gossip. This is like fishwives. This is like old women. I don't care about old women gossiping. If at the end of the day, it means I don't play, good, I don't want to play in the city of old women talking about people behind their backs. And they are so stupid they believe in all the rumours.
When I had a meeting with the Council a day before the concert, they were absolutely petrified of me. I wanted to play the records and say 'I am not going to destroy you' but they were just so scared. Because they were worried about their political future. They were not thinking about Death in June as Being a Nazi group, they are thinking that I, Jean Pierre Nobody, want to be Mayor of this town and I must win the good citizens over of this town to my cause and, therefore, I will be a knight in shining armour, I will always stand up to those things that everybody hates. So, I will stand up to Nazi, skinhead hordes that are coming to destroy Lausanne.'
Of course, there were no Nazi, skinhead hordes and I didn't play and they got elected. So, life goes on. The fishwives got their way.>
Banned in Chicago, Illinois
Death in June were banned a second time in Chicago, Illinois. The concert was scheduled to take place at a venue called The Empty Bottle on December 13, 2003, with Der Blutharsch and Changes. Initially, pressure from a group calling themselves the Center for New Community was applied to the owner of the club, Bruce Finkelman. Finkelman, who is Jewish, and his staff, which contains African Americans, initially decided the show would go on, feeling there was insufficient evidence to cancel the performance.
Debate continued on The Empty Bottle's website, fueled partially by an email and ten-day telephone campaign waged by the Center for New Community to ban the event. Finkelman offered a compromise: He invited the CNC to distribute anti-racist information within the venue, as well as any other group that wished to do so, and offered to give the venue's proceeds of the concert to the Anti-Defamation League. The CNC refused.
Finkelman, feeling the pressure, started to relent and decided to remove Changes from the bill. As the controversy mounted from complaints regarding the band due to the Center for New Community's campaign, he eventually cancelled the night altogether. Due to the mounting pressure and threats of violence by other groups, Finkelman expressed regret for this decision, describing the censorship as a "black mark on the arts community" and continued to encourage open discussion instead of censorship.
The venue was moved to Deja Vu, another venue in Chicago that Saturday. Members of Anti-Racist Action began to gather at the venue. The concert was cancelled by the venue owners just before it was scheduled to begin, due to violence between Anti-Racist Action and fans of Death in June.
Federal restrictions in Germany
On December 21, 2005, the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien banned all sales and distribution of Rose Clouds of Holocaust to minors, which had been available to everyone in the country since 1995. Early in 2006, discussion on the Death in June Yahoo list resulted in a response from Pearce, who revealed that he had been asked several months earlier by his distributor, Tesco Organisation Germany (based in Mannheim), to explain passages of his work to the German government. Pearce provided his original response to the government, which featured, for the first time, Pearce's explanation for numerous aspects of Death in June, including lyrics, song titles, events and use of aesthetics as well as dates, people and locations. Pearce issued a second letter stating that Tesco Organisation Germany had filed an appeal against the ban. At the request of Douglas P., who viewed it as a demeaning waste of time and money, the appeal was abandoned in November, 2007.
A third email was sent regarding the ban, in which Pearce expressed concern for further arbitrary action by the German authorities in banning further albums and artists within the "Neo-Folk/Post Industrial/whatever you wish to label it scene." Pearce requested the organisation of a "Fighting Fund Festival" to help raise funds for legal support.
Meanwhile Brown Book has been banned as well, and selling it is totally illegal in Germany because it contains elements of the song "Horst Wessel", which was the official anthem of the Brown shirted S.A.(Sturmabteilung). This happened according to Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, which outlaws "use of symbols of unconstitutional organisations".