The Odin Hour An interview with Douglas P. / Death In June.
Conducted by AAC on November 7th, 2003. http://www.helixes.org/livsbok
The dawn is ours if the dream is pure Who invites the world to the final cure?
For well over twenty years Death In June, headed by the enigmatic Douglas P., has remined true to its vision. Being one of the primary founders of an entire genre of music, Death In June is still uncompromising and sometimes controversial, and is surrounded by an aura of mysticism that still continues to both inspire and confound.
Birthed in 1981 by Douglas P., Tony Wakeford and Patrick Leagas from the ruins of the left-wing punk group Crisis, Death In June has since 1985 had one constant member, Douglas P. The music of Death In June ranges from the early classic albums Nada! (1985), The World That Summer (1986) and Brown Book (1987) to the stark and cold soundscapes of The Wall of Sacrifice (1990); from the genre-defining apocalyptic folk albums But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? (1992) and Rose Clouds of Holocaust (1995) to the gloomy Kapo! (1996); from the decadently neo-classic Take Care and Control (1998) and Operation Hummingbird (2000) to the aggressive and almost schizofrenic folk/noise album All Pigs Must Die (2002). Notable are also the numerous collaborative works which Douglas P. has been involved in, such as the albums Boyd Rice and Friends: Music, Martinis and Misanthropy (1990), Scorpion Wind: Heaven Sent (1996) and Boyd Rice and Fiends: Wolfpact (2002). For various Death In June albums Douglas P. has been aided by a variety of individuals such as David Tibet of Current 93, John Balance of Coil, Rose McDowall, John Murphy of Kraang/ Knifeladder/ Shining Vril, Erik Konofal of Les Joyaux de la Princesse, Boyd Rice of NON, and more recently Albin Julius of Der Bluharsch, Richard Leviathan of Ostara and Andreas Ritter of Forseti.
Death In June is simultaneously traditional and modernistic, and despite the changes and variations in style and approach, the aura or essence of Death In June remains essentially the same today as it was many, many years ago. To try to pin down specific inspirations behind and themes in Death In June would only defile and ultimately fall short of adequately describing its multi-faceted and often dreamlike body of work. One thing that can be said, however, that is central to Death In June, is the purity of intent.
For the first time ever, (and maybe the last?) Death In June performed in Tampere, Finland, on November 7th, 2003 (photographs of the event can be found here). Death In June performed as a duo, with Douglas P. on vocals, guitars and percussions and John Murphy (formerly SPK, Current 92, Whitehouse and many others, and presently of Knifeladder, Foresta Di Ferro and Shining Vril) on percussions and backing vocals. It is strange what magic can be conjured by such a minimal set-up, and it stands as a testament to the strength of the music of Death In June. The beginning of the concert, with Douglas in his mask and camo-oufit, waving a huge Totenkopf banner, followed by furious drumming by the masked personae on stage, was totally overwhelming and seemed more like some ritualistic invocation than a mere concert. The photographs really dont capture the sheer visual and emotional inensity of the situation. The concert began with a set of drum-accompanied songs, Till the Living Flesh Is Burned, Bring in the Night and Cest Un Rêve. After this followed a very comprehensive set of Death In June songs, both old and new, many of these accompanied by the seemingly ever-relevant pig-squeals. The set included Ku Ku Ku, Smashed to Bits, All Pigs Must Die, Runes and Men, The Honor of Silence, Rose Clouds of Holocaust, Fields of Rape, Fall Apart, She Said Destroy and many more. Because of certain personal situations that night, the last song before the encore, Death Of A Man, was possibly the most intense, surreal, emotionally overwhelming, and even terrifying. But the experience was overwhelming for many others as well, and the concert and night as a whole seemed to be an uttrely magical event. That night, Something was definetly in the air.
Despite his tiredness, having only slept for a few hours the night before, I found the man behind the mask to be a very compassionate and inspiring person. The following interview with Douglas P. was conducted some hours prior to the concert.
AAC: This is your first visit to Finland- do you have any specific impressions of our country?
Douglas: Ive been asleep so far, so besides the flatness, no, not really. And pink stone. We were flying in over the country to land in Helsinki, and I noticed how pink the countryside was- it was granit, Ive been told since…
AAC: That was really interesting…
Douglas: You have a very pink country! (Laughter)
AAC: You had a concert in Norway yesterday. How well did it go? I understand you had some protesters over there?
Douglas: Overall, as it was the first performance of this present tour of Europe and America, I think it went quite well. There was a lot of anxiety on behalf of the organizers initially, due to the bad publicity that the so-called protesters were creating before the show some weeks ago. Its evidently been in the national press a lot how Norway was going to be raped, pillaged and plundered by myself, and there was some pressure to cancel, but fortunately that didnt happen. I found the audience there extremely knowledgeable. They were very, very enthusiastic, and it nullified any negativity that the protesters might have generated. There were maybe twenty protesters outside the venue distributing the same complete lie-propaganda, not based on any reality, which has been circulating within the past year or so. Ive noticed the same stuff mentioned in America this time last year, where it said Ive supposed to have raped, pillaged and murdered in Croatia during the war, and done nothing good, and Im the epitome of evil stomping my jackboot on the face of humanity, but sadly its not true (Laughter)… Although it is an idea, isnt it?
(AAC note: Death In June was the first British band to perform in Croatia after the war broke out, and also released the double-album Something Is Coming, the profits of which went to a hospital in Croatia treating people who lost limbs during the war, a total of more than 30 000 Euros.)
AAC: So what do you generally think of these protesters? They certainly dont seem to be very well informed; as we were talking earlier, there were actually some gay-rights activists protesting against you in America…
Douglas: That was a few years ago, and I dont know how that kind of happened. Overall, when you consider the amount of performances Death In June has done, the amount were there are protesters is very, very small. It never really bothers me, because it is based on ignorance, and no matter what you say will never, never change their minds. Its like looking at headless chickens running around the farmyard, I mean, its not upsetting me. They are just going around in ever-dwindling circles. If they cant base their antagonism toward me on any fact, then its sad for them, not for me. It just affirms what I really generally belive of humanity.
AAC: Currently Death In June live consists of yourself and John Murphy. In the past, I remember youve had probably four or five people on stage simultaneously doing things. Why have you now chosen to have a very minimalist approach to Death In June live?
Douglas: Necessity is the mother of invention in many ways. When we were on tour with Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch, who was doing keyboard and extra percussion in 1999 in Greece, we did a second concert in Athens, where it was just a stripped back affair of just myself and John, and it worked very well and got me thinking. Albin wasnt available for any further work in the following year because his mother was ill and he was very busy and has been since, and so I thought: I really liked what I did and its how I hear the songs, its how most of them were originally written. I wanted to strip back Death In June to the pure basics. We did a performance in July 2000 in a castle in Germany where it was like that, but it wasnt really the performance by Death In June. It was when I went outside into the woods- this castle was situated on top of a mountain. People were having barbeques and fires in the woods, and there was a group called Dies Natalis that had got their guitars and some drums out and were performing beneath a lamp in the wood. It sounded so brilliant, it was so atmospheric and so correct. I thought if thats what Im like, and if Im better than that, then thats brilliant, because I love that. It was one of those quintessential moments I will never forget. It just looked so emotive, so romantic, so emotional, on an extreme level, and yet so simple. So thats why I am doing Death In June as youll see tonight for the past three years.
AAC: You are presently working on a collaboration with Boyd Rice titled Alarm Agent. Could you give us a preview of its contents? What style and direction will it have? Will it be in some way a continuation of the Boyd Rice & Friends series of albums?
Douglas: I think it is an extension of what was beginning to be written musically, at least for myself, for the new Death In June album, if it ever happens, which is The Concrete Fountain, which I have been trying to write for the past six years. I was on tour with Boyd last year and we started recording again, and I started using some of that material which seemed to be a natural thing to do. I had been playing some of the music during soundchecks and it felt right for Boyd at that time. We continued to do that in New Zealand and Australia when we toured there in April and May. Hopefully we will finish it in America this forthcoming December. It has taken a year to record. To me it is for the first time a real cross between the early industrial noise of people like Boyd, and the unmistakable kind of sound of Death In June. We have still only half-completed it, Boyd has yet to do a lot of vocals, but if we can get the balance right, it will be different again. It really will be more like Death In June meets NON, rather than a Boyd Rice collaboration with Douglas P., Michael Moynihan or whoever. It does have a different feel once again. I think its great, its new again, its exciting to listen to, its fresh. As long as I continue to be stimulated by the work I am involved with, especially with other people, then it gives me a good reason for carrying on. So, its in a different field again, and until you actually hear it, you wont know what I mean, so…
AAC: As we are sort of on the topic of Boyd Rice and Friends, specifically Music, Martinis and Misanthropy which has just been re-issued… Those familiar with the first edition of Music, Martinis and Misanthopy might notice that the Wolfsangle runes on the sleeve have been photo-manipulated in such a way that they now resemble the number 3 in roman numerals (I I I). I presume this is because in some European countries runes like the Wolfsangle, Algiz, Sol and Odal have been banned, because supposedly they are hate-symbols because they have been used by extremist rightwing-groups. This has probably caused some problems with the distribution of Death In June albums. What do you think about this kind of censorship that is being used against symbols that are an essential part of European spiritual and cultural heritage? Although I must admit that I personally found a sort of wierd twist of meaning with the number 3 in reference to the last Death In June album All Pigs Must Die (on which the number 3 is in constant use)…
Douglas: To put it bluntly, I despise the censorship of our ancient religious and spiritual symbols, and you cant really say much more than that. Some symbols are banned and some arent- I think it is really only two or three. But I did have to censor those (on Music, Martinis and Misanthropy) because the German company that distributes it said it is impossible to manufacture there. Once I had done the alteration, the sort of double-meanings or more, triple-meanings, began to affect me. I agree with you that even though I had to alter it, it has only took on other meanings, and all of them we kept finding were quite good, so it never really worried us. On the sleeve-photographs, we looked like we had formed some sort of new society, and thats what some of the first letters said, what is this group that you all belong to, and why are you wearing that armband?! (Laughter) So no matter what we do, its okay in the end of the day, I think.
AAC: Some questions about the visual side of Death In June. What do the covers of Take Care and Control and Operation Hummingbird portray and where are those photographs taken? My friend was guessing that the covers are showing photographs of the Extrensteine?
Douglas: Both covers of those albums are from the same day I spent at the Externsteine. A lot of the photographs were taken in twilight in the dark, so I didnt actually see all the detail that was to be revealed when I saw the outcome. I took the photographs on flash, and it worked out very well. I knew the series of photographs I took around there were featured in the Kenneth Anger film Lucifer Rising; and the grave thats on the front (of Operation Hummingbird) is where Marianne Faithful rises as Queen Isis in the film. The front cover of Take Care and Control is a split in opinions, that its either a pagan warrior holding an axehead to the entrerance of a cave, or it represents a monk holding a bible. Some people actually thought it was the burnt corpse of Adolf Hitler that I had taken a photograph of, but… (Laughter) You can pick and choose, but the reality is that it is the Externsteine.
AAC: I actually thought that Operation Hummingbird had a really strong sort of phallic symbolism, but my friend actually has a question about that cover…
Friend: Since I visited the Externsteine at one point I thought, since the cave under one of the stones where you probably took that picture of the grave- nobody really knows what that is, but did you find a meaning for it for yourself which you would like to share? Because it could be an isolation-chamber for meditation or an actual grave, but no one seems to really know…
Douglas: For me, its really pure and simple- Ive seen so many stone graves that the Romans used to use that I thought it was a grave. It had extra importance for me because it was featured in the Lucifer Rising film, which Bobby Beausoleil had done the soundtrack to, so there was that connection, besides the Kenneth Anger one. It has all kinds of nice occult connections, and I like Marianne Faithful. Its very simple really, it has lots of nice connections for me… It was during the same day that I had visited Wewelsburg. It was outside of it- I dont know if you have ever seen the Death In June postcards, which have a life rune outside, I think, the post office, and it had my name…
Douglas: Yes, printed in different colours around it. It was just a very strange occurence. The whole day was filled with meaning.
AAC: Many Death In June releases feature the impressive artwork of Enrico Chiarparin. How did you become aquinted with Chiarparin and get him to create artwork for Death In June? I have also seen his artwork for the Sol Invictus album The Blade, and I remember reading on the Death In June-egroup that he designs things for Calvin Klein, was it? Where could one find out more about Chiaparin? Is there art by him outside of album-covers that one could track down?
Douglas: First of all, he has only really worked for me, as he puts it, for love. He worked for Tony Wakeford for money. He doesnt do other artwork for album-covers. He has done a vast array of work that I have that has never seen the light of day, and that I would like to work with in the future. I met him in the mid-eighties when he was a student and even before he went to Milan Fine Arts school of Design. He would turn up at Death In June performances in Europe, in Paris or in Italy, and we just naturally got on. He volunteerd his services and showed me examples of his work, which were fantastic. So I thought it would be nice to bring Enrico into the fold sometimes, and we have continued to work together over the years. I just saw him last year when I was in New York and we went to see cabaret together, along with other friends and huge pitchers of coctails- it was a brilliant evening. He does no longer works for Calvin Klein, but he is very high-up with another fashion house who, amazingly, though being Jewish, has one of the largest collections of Third Reich militaria in existence. But unfortunately, because the person concerned takes samples from the jackets and trousers, theyve got holes cut in them… (Laughter) So a lot of that fashion wear is actually based on something that was happening sixty years ago, with the fabrics. Enrico brought along a fob-catalog of the fabrics, and I couldnt belive it. Its very strange- these people are extreme in some weird ways (Laughter)…
AAC: The inner sleeve of the Death In June album Rose Clouds of Holocaust has pictures of you performing a ritual called Nidstång, which is based on northern European pagan tradition. I am curious if this curse-ritual was actually directed at someone specifically at the time?
Douglas: It was not really meant as a curse. It was really meant as a ritual for really wanting, really needing something to happen- and it came about. It was fantastic. It took place in a wood just outside of Bryssels in Belgium. It was the only country where we could easily buy horses heads. I tried in England, and they said according to some law they would only sell them to me if they were stripped of the flesh, which wouldve been really, really hard to manipulate in the end, and extremely macabre, so I am pleased that didnt happen. I flew to Belgium, and it was as easy as walking into a shop, and bying three horses heads, please. Then we went to a garden-center and brought some staves, went to a petrol-station to buy some petrol, and then we found the place in the woods. It all worked very, very well. The photographers then were a bit disturbed by what was happening, so I had to manipulate the heads onto the sticks myself, and I have to say that horses heads weigh a ton- theyre really, really heavy (Laughter). Thank goodness I managed to get it to work. I was covered in blood while I was doing this (Laughter). And horse-fur is really hard to set alight, we had to really soak it in petrol to get the flames showing. But once the whole thing began, the horses heads were no longer dead pieces of meat- they sort of took on life again. It was actually quite glorious. We left them burning in the woods as we walked away. In the end the photographer and his assistant realized it was a beautiful shot and they even asked me to take photographs of them by the horses heads. At first they had been a bit freaked out by what was happening- they didnt realize it was going to be that kind of photo-shoot! (Laughter) But in the end it worked. And as said, it was not meant as a curse- it was more a sort of a blessing and a request.
AAC: I read that you did the track The Only Good Neighbour, which appeared on The Pact compilation CD, that you did it as an actual curse against a neighbour of yours, and that it worked…
Douglas: …The best kept magic is the best kept secret!
AAC: Do you belive in music as a form of magic; do you think that music can actually have the power to either bless or curse something?
Douglas: If it is pure enough in its intent, absolutely. I gain strength from what I do, and I know it can be used in whatever way if you wish it to… however you want. I absolutely belive in the power of it. I was just actually reading only yesterday from one of the old assistants of The Beatles, who was mentioning how strange they were when they were writing songs. It would be two or three oclock in the morning in the studio, everyone would be really tired and think oh my god, this is going on and on and on- yet they seemed to get more and more manic and inspired by every time they played something; that they, as he put it, found an energy from the music they created. And it made them more special, and they made the music more special. So I do really belive that. If even other people can notice that with ostensibly the most popular commercial group in the world, then certainly it can happen on a more esoteric level with groups that specialize in the area.
AAC: In several Death In June tracks there are direct references to violence. And again, having read many interviews with Boyd Rice where he mentiones some quite violent episodes involving you, I wanted to ask you, are you a violent person?
Douglas: I am not quite sure which episodes you are referring to with regards to Boyd, but I am not and would not describe myself as a violent person unless necessity dictates. And that is the end of the story. I dont feel comfortable with people who glamorize violence, because I think there might be something lacking in them mentally, or they have never really, really experienced terrible violence. I think I realize… There are things that have happened over the years in my life, including the war in Croatia… and it is purely by necessity, not by desire. If you put anyone in a life/death situation, I think you will find that most people will struggle to survive, and that may necessitate violence. But it is something I would always steer clear of and walk away from, given the opportunity. Unfortunately a lot of people are never given that opportunity- hence the world.
AAC: I thought about why some people have such strong negative reactions to Death In June, and I think one obvious reason is some of the symbols you use, namely the Totenkopf. You have said that the number 6 in the Death In June Totenkopf refers to the sixth month, June, and that the Deaths Head obviously refers to Death- and that these together become a sort of emblem for total committement. I thought that you might have some deeper personal interpretations of or feelings toward the symbol, because I know it means a lot to you: you have it as a tattoo on your arm, and you have continued to use it over the years, even though it has certainly given you a lot of practical problems. Could you expound on this?
Douglas: No, I think you have really said it in a nutshell. It is total committement. It is a sign that appealed to me at a very early stage in Death In June; the 6 made sense, so I added the 6 there. It has been there for over 20 years, so… It is perfect. But so is the whiphand 6, and I noticed that even though the whiphand 6 was bought in with Nada! in 1985, everyone always, always, always will remember the Totenkopf 6, even though it was not used for years and years. It made such a strong impression on everybody else as well, so it is a perfect symbol.
AAC: One question that I actually thought of now as you were talking: did you and Boyd Rice discover the Totenkopf indipendently, because you both have it as a tattoo and you have both used it extensively on your works?
Douglas: Yes, I was surprised when I saw Boyds tattoo. It took some years before we actually met, but I was aware of his work in the early eighties, and it was some years before we met. It was Stumm 3, the catalog-number of The Black Album that he had released on Mute- that influenced my artwork for Heaven Street. I was selling that when I worked at Rough Trade, and I thought it was a beautiful sleeve; so plain, but so fantastic. So eventually it was very intriguing that we got to meet each other. I had the Totenkopf with a variation, and he had the Totenkopf as straightfoward, so it was meant to be.
AAC: There have been several books and magazines dedicated to you, countless articles written about Death In June, a tribute album and probably a lot more than I am not aware of as well. Most people into Death In June I have met seem to regard Death In June as a lot more than simply a good band that plays good music- many consider themselves spiritually aligned with or inspired by Death In June. What quality of Death In June do you think it is that evoces such strong feelings in people?
Douglas: I never like to dissect my work, and say this is this because of that. I can only refer back to the fact the the best of my intentions have always been pure. The purity of intent is installed in that, its the only way I can realistically work in a true way, and hopefully, obviously, that comes through to other people.
AAC: A personal question. From my point of view, many people are, in the western world at least, devoid of any sort of real meaning, depth, identity or spirituality in their lives, the sense of Being that Martin Heidegger alluded to. In the inner sleeve of Heilige! it says: To All Those Who Fight in Isolation; am I correct to assume that this fight is against the sort of meaninglessness and nothingness that permeates the world nowadays?
Douglas: I think it is possibly part of the thing. That is a fraze I was using in the early eighties and first showed up on Brown Book, so it was an affirmation of that. I think I received some sort of news about things from some people, and I just thought that would be a good way to just reaffirm how I feel toward those people, as well as myself, and hopefully things will change. But, I think that is the curse of our age, personally speaking.
AAC: There are many references in Death In June to rituals and magical practices, and yet you have said (in Compulsion magazine #1) that you no longer feel the need to pray at altars and…
Douglas: I pray every day.
AAC: Really? Well, I think you said in the interview that magic or the esoteric has become such an integral part of your life, that you can no longer separate the two. I was going to ask you about this, so…
Douglas: It is such an everyday part of my life that I do not consider it as an esoteric type of action or anything. It is part of getting up, having breakfast, taking a shower. As far as I am concerned it is like that…
AAC: As above, so below.
Douglas: Yes. And I dont like talking about because I think that defiles it and weakens it- thats for other people to do. But no, it is very, very much, I think the fraze I used was, part of the furniture. It has to be.
AAC: In the feature-film Pearls Before Swine, you have a part as an erotic book-seller, Marion Gough. I know you shot some extra scenes for a DVD release of the film, and so a tiring question- will this film ever be released on DVD for a wider audience?
Douglas: As of two weeks ago when I last spoke to Boyd on the telephone, yes, it will be. There is a Swedish company that will distribute the DVD in Europe, and there will be an American company distribuitng it there. It will include the extra footage of interviews etc., which was shot about two-three years ago in Adelaide. Its long overdue. Its a great shame that the film wasnt released years ago. Its been a constant source of frustration for Boyd and myself, because we have performed it all over the world, realistically. Many times we have played it before the perfromances, so people have actually seen it from as far afield as Poland, all of western Europe, Russia, America and Australia. More people have probably seen it at our performances than have bought the videos of it that might be available on the bootleg-markets. It is destined for release, but I have been hearing that for about six years, so dont hold your breath! (Laughter)
AAC: Will there ever be a Death In June book? There has been talk years and years about it.
Douglas: There will probably be several in the end of the day. Im currently working on an Italian one, and Ive yet to talk to the author about maintaining the rights of the English version for me. Outside of that, there will possibly be sort of an overall history of Death In June, rather than a personal perspective, which is what I am presently working on. Then there will possibly be two more books. There could be a book purely of photographs with some interviews- that was something that should have come out years ago, but it will be an extension of that. C’est un Rêve was a book that should have been released possibly ten years ago now, quite a time. It will have sort of a coffee-table effect, I suppose. And also one will feature the words and musical script of songs. I have a lot of ideas, but until I get around to doing them, you dont know where its going to go. Its something to be viewing when I am fifty in two and a half-years time. I think thats the way I am seeing things, that you always have projects on the go, especially at this stage.
AAC: Could you mention future projects? There has been talk about a DVD and a rarities-album?
Douglas: Both of those are being done. The rarities-album I was mastering just before I left Australia. In fact, in England I have got the CD-Rs I have to listen to to think about track order. That contains a lot of material that has been issued, but is rare and deleted, and also unissued material. Going through the recordings, which I had to do when I was in litigation with World Serpent Distibution, I was seeing what was really there, what do I have. I found some complete gems: like different versions of songs, and I have no idea why I didnt release them at the time…
AAC: I love that song Unconditional Armistice.
Douglas: That was like a five-minute wonder on a Saturday…
AAC: Death In June goes John Lennon.
Douglas: Yes. That particular song, for instance, was something that Ken Thomas, the sound-engineer I worked with for But, What Ends, When The Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust, asked me to do during one evening when we were doing some mixes. I dont actually play on it- he just gave me an idea what he wanted the lyrics to be. He said he wanted to make it sound like happy Christmas, war is over, John Lennon. And that was my interpretation! (Laughter) He wanted to do a christmas-single with me, and that was what I thought was christams, but evidently other people didnt (Laughter). It never got issued for that, so it finally came out as an extra thing to use as a ticket for the Burg Falkenstein concert…
AAC: …On that same CD there was also this great track with Boyd singing your song C’est un Rêve- changing the lyrics from “Ou’ est Klaus Barbie” to where is Doug. P?…
Douglas: Yes, that was in Lausanne. I was in the audience that night, because if I would have gotten up on stage, I would have been arrested. So, the rarities album is very much happening. It is going to take a while to do the artwork, but the photo-shoot is finished. Hopefully it will be out within six months. There is always the video/DVD things that will be happening, those things need to be worked upon. There is a lot of stuff. This is why next year, I probably will not do any performances. I have done more performances recently really to keep the name in the press, because during the litigation that started with World Serpent in 1999, they withheld everything, so I didnt have any records or CDs available in the shops. They were trying to murder me, trying to strangle me out of existence. Gradually that situatuion got better with re-issues. I won a good out-of-court settlement with them last year, finally, after three and a half years. But with all the live-work, it stopped me from doing other things too, and that is why next year I want to concentrate more on studio-aspects of my work, recording or writing more new material, getting these other projects out- so there is actually a lot on the boil.
If it has to be, then let it be now Light the Odin incence for the Odin hour!