How do you introduce Death In June? If you’ve never heard of them (?) I can guarantee that some fragment of their extensive and diverse history will appeal to you, because few musical styles have been left untouched. Whether it’s the early snarls of guitar driven punk, the shrieking distortion, the silvery wind-chimes, the melodic apocalyptic folk, the deafening ritual drums, the winding neo-classical soundscapes or the curious and wonderful looping samples, woven across the entire Death In June spectrum – a native DIJ element lies beckoning within each song – a hook. And once that gains the whip-hand, you will find yourself instinctively seeking out each release and every collaboration Douglas P. has had a hand in – and there are a multitude. Whatever you call it, this is always compelling music, as are the lyrics, spanning across political, religious, emotional, conceptual and natural landscapes, on a stark backdrop of the personal experiences of Douglas P. in Croatia. All at once, the music of Death In June is frightening and uplifting, raw and eloquent, primal and prophetic. It is strong music to take us forward, up and out of stagnation. This interview took place in London’s Powerhaus on the purplest sofa I’ve ever seen. With that evening’s additional entertainment sound-checking at deafening intervals in the background, and the dusty afternoon sunrays lengthening over our heads, we settled down to listen to the story of Death In June…
What were the ideas behind your latest release “Kapo!”?
Kapo’s actually something you put in cooking I think! Initially I wanted to do a single with Richard Leviathan from Strength Through Joy and I wanted to start a new project, so it was going to be a two or three track single. I suppose I had an inclination that this was going to be more classically orientated…so we started doing these songs and it went really quickly – we suddenly had too many songs for a single, and the ideas were very intriguing for me – I began writing again which I didn’t think I’d be able to do. I don’t really like explaining my work too much, but I think it’s fairly obvious that it’s about my experiences in Croatia and my feelings about Europe – then and now I suppose. So Kapo! was the exorcism of things I saw during the war in Croatia and Bosnia and up to this very moment.
You started out in punk band Crisis – how was this period for you?
Crisis was so many years ago that I don’t really remember anything good about it. It was a very negative period for me, but at the same time I think it was very necessary for myself and for Tony Wakeford. The punk thing was a great liberation for me. It wasn’t the cliche that it is now – the boundaries were down, all forms of art, sexuality, music and basically of interest were open to everybody. You didn’t have to go to a record company and beg them to release something for you – if you had the wherewithall to know how to do it, it wasn’t such a big deal to get a record out. That for me was really important – that you could survive on your own and be independent and start making waves.
How did you get into music in the first place?
I’ve been interested in music since a very young age and when punk rock came along and you didn’t have to necessarily be highly proficient it was the perfect vehicle. I mean literally, Tony Wakeford called me one day and said have you heard of punk rock?
So you were friends already?
Yeah – we had both been involved in far left-wing politics and had met through demonstrations. Anyway I could play the guitar and he could play bass. This was in 1976 and it was a very weird time for us – there was a total feeling of being disillusioned with the 70s. The 70s meant nothing to me, except for Bowie and Roxie Music – I was really listening to the 60s stuff. I didn’t feel part of anything, I was disenfranchised. I was like 20 years old and I didn’t want to have long hair anymore, I didn’t want to wear flares, I’d already cut all my hair off and I was really into french anarchist films and I looked like the people in them from the 60s – you know, black polo neck sweaters, black drain pipe trousers and little bob haircuts – then suddenly you started seeing other people who looked like that and so something was going on. Then you started seeing posters for the Sex Pistols and The Clash and hearing about this “new thing”, and we actually just gravitated towards it. We were probably the first in Surrey to do that.
It’s hard for me to imagine anyone having actually witnessed punk coming into being, rather than it just being the inanimate point of reference that it has become. Probably because during the course of my “thinking” life so far, there hasn’t been any original, radical waves made – unless you count grunge but that was pretty manufactured. It must have been incredibly liberating to actually hear about this new thing called “punk rock” and to have seen it spreading…
Yeah – it was a very weird feeling. I mean you’d pass someone on the tube and think “God, he’s wearing straight trousers”! It really did make a difference – and you would look at each other and think “we really are the aliens”! And because it was so sudden and we looked so different from anything else that was going on, it was such a buzz. Plus the fact that everyone hated you which made you more of a hermetic society, which in turn made it even more exciting. When people hate you, you feel better for it, like you’re this little gang and it keeps growing every day and becoming more powerful.
And it was black and white – today it seems to have splintered into dead-end “image” groups without any real ideals…
Maybe, I don’t know – I mean I don’t really equate myself with anything in particular because I’ve gone through that, so that was probably the only time in my life that I’ve ever felt as if I really belonged to any mass group. I’m glad I did it but it was a very, very negative time as well – I’ve never been in such a… “troubled” state, let’s say. I won’t go into it any more than that, but I’m pleased it happened – it was brilliant, but it was also terrible.
How did the transition go from Crisis to Death In June – was it a natural progression from punk?
Sort of, I think there were about 9 months where we didn’t do anything, we just had vague rehearsals. When I decided I’d had enough of Crisis, I just said I’m not going to do any more, but if it continues then fine – I knew if I stopped doing things then it would fall to bits so it eventually died a natural death. When it did I think Tony and I both felt quite relieved – the others just disappeared into the ethos. In that 9 month break I really reevaluated my life in quite an extreme way, and a lot of odd things happened to me, there were a lot of big changes going on – I was 24 years old, I thought I knew everything – I didn’t. Strange things happened to me and to Tony, and at the end of it we had Death In June. It was a 9 month sabbatical – we knew we would work together musically again after Crisis, but we didn’t know what it would lead to.
How did the name Death In June come about?
It literally came about, as I’ve said before but people probably don’t believe me, when we were recording our first 12″ “Heaven Street” and we still didn’t have a name for the group. We were in the studio and Patrick Leagas, whose now in Six Comm, said something and I have very weird hearing, and I thought he said Death In June and so I said it – and everyone just stopped and it really seemed, naturally the best name for the group!
You’ve collaborated with various artists – how does it work, how do you decide who does what?
I think it’s like a natural course of events – whoever I happened to collaborate with, whether it be David Tibet, John Balance or Boyd Rice, people come into one anothers lives at the right time and it seems the natural thing to do. Tibet started coming to some fairly early Death In June concerts and I knew of his reputation because of 23 Skidoo and Psychic TV, and he knew of us from Crisis, so there was this link. Anyway we got to talking, and I already knew that DIJ phase one was about to end and I thought I’d like to work with this new “artiste” on the scene! It just so happened that Tony then left – or rather we asked him to leave – in January ’84. Actually Tibet and I had already started writing that Christmas. I wrote She Said Destroy on Christmas day ’83 with Tibet’s lyrics in front of me – I manipulated them and did the music.
Do you think you work best with Tibet?
No, I work best with whoever’s around at that moment in time. I think Tibet and I have done some really good stuff, never to be repeated, but I also think I’ve done some brilliant stuff with Boyd Rice. Obviously Tibet and I have a special relationship.
Is there anyone you would particularly like to collaborate with?
At the moment I’m sick of collaborations! I’ve really had my fill of them in the past three years, I mean I’ve worked with Boyd Rice and John Murphy on Scorpion Wind, I’ve produced two Strength Through Joy albums, I’ve worked with Richard Leviathan on Kapo!… But yeah, there are people out there I wouldn’t mind working with, but whether it would ever come about I don’t know. I mean Scott Walker, Marc Almond are both brilliant artists, but I don’t have any plans to work with anyone in the foreseeable future.
Is Scorpion Wind’s “Heaven Sent” a sequel to “Music, Martinis and Misanthropy”?
Well basically it has to be perceived as that – I think musically it is quite different, but logically yes, it’s the follow up. I’m really pleased with it – I think really they are two seperate items because there has obviously been 6 years of development. Each one captures that moment in time – Music, Martinis and Misanthropy captured us in Japan and Denver in ’89/90, whereas Heaven Sent is really Boyd specifically coming out to Australia to do this album, and then going on to do the film Pearls Before Swine.
How do you feel about the fact that your vocals are on two techno tracks in Croatia?
Yeah well, I’ve had a number one hit in Croatia and Italy! The videos get shown on MTV and stuff! They asked my permission to use my voice so it was fine. I did specific vocals for them – the first happened completely by chance – I was at a rave party in Sagreb during the war and I said some stuff over the microphone, and they actually recorded it. It was something like “May a thousand heads roll in Sagreb, while the white roses bloom”, and it was put over this techno track. It was brilliant – I must admit I liked it!
How does their techno differ to ours?
It’s a lot harder – when I did those vocals people were going nuts under the strobe lights – and a lot of them were soldiers – the next day they would be going to the frontline. When Death In June played in Croatia in ’92 – the weird thing was that people were coming in uniform and leaving their machine guns at the door. Sometimes people get a bit weird – it didn’t happen at my gig I hasten to add – but at one of those techno parties they started juggling with hand grenades…(WOW!!) So yeah, it’s hard techno!! It gave it a definite edge anyway!
How powerful do you think music really is?
I think music is actually the most interesting of artforms because it can be so mentally evocative of anything – it can evoke time, senses, emotions. It’s much more powerful than say painting or cinema, because that’s like an image that is already there – music evokes the imagination 100%. That’s why I’ve always been reticent about getting involved in videos, because they suddenly make your work earthbound…
What about literature?
Literature is more of a long-winded process – music is more instant – with literature you really have to sit down and read for hours and hours to finish a book…I must admit I haven’t read any novels for years now, I’ve been reading more factual books but I still find it difficult to read books to completion now, whereas ten years ago I was going through hundreds. It was a really informative and brilliant time, but I still think music is the highest of art forms, maybe outside of sculpture.
Throughout the period of Death In June you have employed strong imagery – what is the significance of symbolism such as the Totenkopf, most commonly associated with extreme right-wing philosophy, to you?
The Totenkopf is used all over Europe as a sign of total commitment, so I’ve never really had any problems with it. When I thought of Death In June it was really the be all and end all of my life – it still is – so that’s why I chose to use that symbol, plus the fact that the simple symbolism reads easy. The Totenkopf for Death, and the six for the sixth month – June. I’ve always been interested, intrigued…and I suppose obsessive with symbols in so many ways and that particular one is a perfect representation.
What is the Whip-Hand?
It is control. It is obviously representative of a sado-masochistic side – it was in fact designed by an extremely special friend of mine. He always had a good story to tell as far as I’m concerned, he had a good view on life, and he designed this Whip-Hand. It’s “having the Whip-Hand” isn’t it – the old english expression meaning having control. I believe you have to have control in your life, and there’s also the sado-masochistic overtones.
How do you feel when people take offence to your music and the symbolism?
I think the people that do, don’t really know my music at all. It is probably those that have only appreciated it on a shallow surface level, and have been told that they shouldn’t like it. When I’ve approached those people about how much they actually know about my music, they actually don’t know anything. They just go for titles or imagery, basically they are the kind of people that judge a book by its cover – the most prejudiced, bigoted, narrow-minded, small-minded individuals there possibly are. I mean if they actually gave a proper critique of my work, and still said they didn’t really like it, then fair enough, but they don’t, they just moan about nothing. To me it’s just like Mavis-Nobody moaning in a pub somewhere! Who cares? I don’t!
Have you ever encountered any extreme adverse reactions though?
No, none. I think, at the end of the day, most people realise that there is more to it than what meets the eye. If anyone is going to do anything violent, I think they would have to be very intrigued in the first place. These people that react hysterically are like yappy dogs – they always bark at the neighbours, but when the burglar comes they are the first to be asleep. They bark at shadows.
What are your personal philosophies on life?
Survival. That is really number one now in the late twentieth century, and survival will unfortunately become harder and harder. To be as happy, and surrounded by love as I can be means everything, in what is inevitably the decline of humanity. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I think we are all in for a big surprise. I’d like to think that you get to a certain stage in ones life where you shut the doors, and hope the world goes away. It doesn’t work – the world is too serious – it only ever comes back to personal survival, whatever way you can.
Do you follow a religion?
Not in the go to church on a Sunday type of a religion, but I’m a religious person. I believe in the Northern myths, the Nordic mythologies, the religion of the runes if you want to call it a religion. I’m a bit uneasy about words like religion or pagan, because it seems to lump you into certain sections. However I do have beliefs, I pray every day in my own way, and er, hope for the best!
Do you believe in an afterlife then?
Yes, I believe we do get recycled – born again. I think Karma does play a part of it – I call it Wyrd, the web of Wyrd. We are all given our own destiny, and I think what we do in this life does have an effect on the next – it causes repercussions down the etha of life. I try to lead my life in the best way possible. I try to react to bad things rather than cause them, but I’m not a saint.
What music do you listen to?
At the moment I’m listening to Kula Shaker and the Poppy Family, and Erma Victoria whose a Danish diva.
Kula Shaker have been experiencing some hassles recently..!
I know, I couldn’t believe it – I always knew there was a reason for my liking them, from the very beginning!! I’d always been raving about them, there was always something and I was bloody right wasn’t I!!!
What are you planning to do next?
To continue playing live more this year, I don’t have any plans for any more actual recording, but something will declare itself and develop. I think Death In June/myself is in a particular stage, along with a lot of music like this – we are going to have to see where the world is taking us, and where we are taking the world. I personally think the world could be our oyster – this type of music could be absolutely huge. An ever increasing amount of people are interested in it. I mean, DIJ have sold a quarter of a million records – it’s phenomenal. With a push it could go a lot further. We live in a disintegrating world – maybe we are just documenting that disintegration and all it is at the end of the day is witness music.
Do you like playing live?
To me it’s a special event, and I think people appreciate it as a special event. I mean, none of us tour very often, but I think now is the time to break out, break cover and do more of it. I’m 41 years old now and I’m not going to be doing this all the time – I don’t want to, I find live work very strenuous and hard and I do prefer being in a studio because I have more control. I’ve spent the best part of three years in a studio and I got a bit bored with that, so now I want to do more live stuff.
What would you do if Death In June no longer held anything for you?
It’s not even contemplated, darling! Defeat is NEVER contemplated – don’t you remember Thatcher during the Falklands war! No, I hope to be doing DIJ till the day I drop, and hopefully that’s not tomorrow! It’s a long term project.
You’ll be on stage with a zimmerframe, then?
Yeah – miked up with wind chimes on! And you can quote me on that!!
Appeared in Judas Kiss magazine issue 3, July 97. The Judas Kiss P.O.Box 154 Gateshead NE8 4WL U.K.
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