What can one say about Death In June’s NADA! that hasn’t been said before? NADA! holds such a pivotal position in the history of Death In June as it captures the group at the pinnacle of their songwriting partnership – a situation that couldn’t last and one that ultimately forced Douglas P. to pursue a solo vision following the release of NADA!. Combining post-punk credentials with the burgeoning electronic scene NADA! is almost schizophrenic in its approach.
‘He Stood Like Jesus’- an off the cuff remark from NADA! collaborator David Tibet overhead and captured by Douglas P. rates as one of the finest opening lines to any album. ‘The Honour of Silence,’ an Ennio Moriconne inspired track, which follows with its lush acoustic guitars, cascading trumpet, and harmonised voices that are sufficiently pitched enough apart to be sinister and soothing. The beautiful crepescule sleeve design, with daggers and skulls and the trio (Douglas P., Patrick Leagas and Richard Butler) black clad with backs turned to the camera appeared threatening and hermetic: “we honour the silence between ourselves”. Death In June appeared sinister, dangerous and utterly beguiling. This was my first exposure to Death In June and NADA! still evokes the same feelings as when I purchased it as a teenager.
The proto-industrial rhythms of ‘Rain of Despair’ (like a hammer beating an anvil), the slow burning electronics of ‘Foretold’ and the frighteningly accessible ‘The Calling’ may have found favour with dark dance fanatics but it was elsewhere on NADA! that Death In June reached their nadir. That was to be found on the acoustic tracks. A number of classic Death In June tracks were birthed during this period: ‘Leper Lord’ (one of the saddest songs ever penned – perhaps), and live favourites ‘Behind The Rose (Fields of Rape)’ and ‘She Said Destroy’. ‘Carousel’ captures the groups combing the electronic and acoustic natures to best effect. The martial percussion of ‘C’est Un Rêve’ and the flawless acoustic folk oriented tracks herein was responsible, in parts, for inspiring entire musical sub-genres.
This reissued version (in a beautiful embossed sleeve, with booklet featuring rare photographs) compiles a number of other essential tracks from this era including ‘Last Farewell’, and ‘The Torture Garden’, which in many ways proved to be a precursor to the musical direction pursued by fellow travellers Current Ninety Three.
Remarkably, and this is a testament to the strength of Death In June, despite NADA! being such a powerful recording, it is by no means the finest Death In June release. That accolade, in my opinion, could suit either Brown Book, Rose Clouds of Holocaust or any of Douglas’s collaborations with Albin Julius. There’s a moment in time captured for posterity on NADA! when as a group Death In June were unassailable. It will never be repeated, recaptured or, as they say, born again.
It’s always an honour to present the work of Death In June so Compulsion online are proud to present this short interview with Douglas P. focussing on NADA!
i) I’ve always been curious about the photographs on the sleeve of Nada (and subsequently 93 Dead Sunwheels) – where were they taken? What was the significance, if any, of the skull and daggers?
All the photographs for these albums were taken in Brookwood Cemetary which is an old Victorian cemetary situated just outside of London. In fact, it used to have its very own railway station when it was known as the London Necropolis whose entrance was situated almost opposite to where we recorded all of this material near Waterloo Station. It’s a place I’ve frequented since the late 1960s when my parents used to take walks in it.
Two of the bayonets belonged to Patrick Leagas and the dagger belonged to me. Just the look of them in the photographs is great but they do also have significance. They are both aesthetic and meaningful. The skull belonged to David Tibet and I believe it is Chinese in origin. But, I may be wrong about that as there seemed to be skulls popping up from everyone in those days so it could belong to someone else. Anyway, there are different ones in different photo sessions from that period.
ii) NADA! is unique in Death In June’s history as it forged the talents of Patrick Leagas, Richard Butler, David Tibet and yourself. How did you approach compositions in those days? Was their a collaborative aspect or were songs written in isolation?
Patrick and Richard tended to work together at home and bring into the studio the basic backing tracks of some of the more electronically oriented songs and then we would work on the lyrics or I’d add guitar or another keyboard line etc. Tibet’s contribution was really providing me/Death In June with a lot of writings that I/we could use in anyway I pleased. With the exception of ‘She Said Destroy’ nothing he provided was complete. I or, once Pat with ‘The Torture Garden’, would take a title from here or a word or sentence from there. Whatever fitted was used. Tibet came down to Alaska Studios a few times to see how things were going and shouted or growled a bit here or played a thigh bone there but wasn’t involved in any of the production/mixing process. That was really Iain O’Higgins our sound engineer for many years, Pat and myself. All of my material, both acoustic and electronic, was written at home with things being added in the studio as they developed. It wasn’t until we started recording all of these things that we realised that we had something pretty unique on our hands albeit a lot of the writing process for me, at least, was littered with ‘peculiar’ events that were pointing in the right direction.
iii) The entire NADA!, From Torture To Conscience and Born Again period must have been quite exciting. Do you have any recurring memories / pivotal moments of the recording process or related time?
The “NADA!” period for me really began on Christmas Day, 1983 when I deliberately didn’t go to dinner with Jack, my partner of the time but instead stayed at home to write a song using the lyrics Tibet had given me over the previous few months. That turned out to be ‘She Said Destroy’. It was a special moment to start many special moments for the “NADA!” period. Those Yuletide holidays were put to good use by Patrick and myself who I think was writing ‘The Calling’ at about the same time. After we did what turned out to be our final performances with Tony Wakeford in France in early January, 1984 Patrick, Richard, Tibet and I came together for rehearsals and basically compared notes. Hearing ‘The Calling’, ‘She Said Destroy’ and ‘The Torture Garden’ all for the first time was very reassuring and memorable. The photo sessions were always very inspiring and special.
The Champagne breakfast by the banks of the River Thames as dawn came up over London on the morning that we completed the original album recordings was memorable. Touring “NADA!” in Italy in April 1985 was literally magical. There are many special times from those days. But, there have always been in Death In June so I don’t find myself overly preoccupied with what happened nearly 20 years ago. So much has happened since.
iv) NADA! features a formidable mixture of acoustic and electronic tracks. What were the prime influences at the time: musically philosophically, and culturally? Do you ever wonder where Death In June might have gone if the group had continued in this direction?
I think those “influences” have always been the same. The only difference is the way they are used to articulate whatever it is to be communicated/exorcised/whatever at any particular time between 1981 up to the present day in 2003. That said I have to say that I was reading a lot of stuff by The Marquis De Sade and Crowley that Tibet had given me and my first real ventures into the occult were beginning and instantly proved successful. I used to wonder what Death In June would have developed into if Pat had stuck with it but that was not to be and in retrospect probably just as well. So much was yet to come that there are definitely no regrets. Shoulda, woulda, coulda are all irrelevant aren’t they!
v) The careers pursued by Patrick, David and yourself have been widely documented but whatever happened to Richard Butler? And wherever did he come from??
He was in Pat’s original group called The Runners From ’84. During the period between the actual breakup of Crisis, my first group, and the founding of Death In June with Patrick, Tony had worked with this group. So he knew Richard and as DIJ developed into something that became difficult to represent in the live arena as a 3 piece both he and Pat thought it was a good idea to rope Richard in to help with live performances. He was never an actual member of Death In June and by his own admission didn’t really know what we were on about. However, he was willing to work during this period and when his time came to an end he was asked to leave. During the recording of the ‘Born Again’ 12-inch I was feeling uneasy about certain things so as I departed the studio I asked Pat to deal with it. Afterall, I had ‘dealt’ with Tony which wasn’t exactly easy. I think all he has done musically since is help out with Pat during photo sessions for 6th Comm or Mother Destruction. I’m not exactly sure but, he was always good at those things. Richard had a good sensibility regarding striking the right pose.
vii) In the intervening years Patrick has continued to record (and release) a number of these songs. Any comments you care to make?
Pat was always a perfectionist and even in DIJ he would want to do his vocal lines over and over again until he got what he thought was the very best take. I have to admit he always did so I’m not surprised he wants to re-do his songs from the Death In June days. He is probably still searching for the perfect version. I don’t mind in the least!
viii) It’s been mentioned previously that NADA! is NER’s biggest seller. Can you relate any reviews from the time? How did Death In June fans react to the change in musical style at the time? In retrospect how do you feel about it today?
DIJ fans obviously bought it in droves which showed what they thought of it. The Burial album had incredulously been the best selling LP up until then but NADA! zoomed off into the distance – probably never to be caught by anything else sales-figures wise again. It has time and quality on its side. And, still has! The remastering of it last year before World Serpent came up with their out of Court settlement in my case against them was an illuminating experience. I heard the album anew and it reinforced how much of it is perrenial and now even more pertinent to the Zeitgeist. When the now defunct British music paper Sounds gave it 5 ?s rather than 5 *s in their review of the record little did they know how spot on they would be.
ix) Anything else you care to add?
Yes, well we mustn’t forget that the reason behind this interview is the recent reissue of Death In June’s NADA! CD (along with Boyd Rice And Friends’ Music, Martinis & Misanthropy CD/Picture disc LP) which was forced upon me after 4 years of not being able to get my hands on what was rightly mine. So, a big “thankyou” to the 3 Piggies for inadvertantly giving me the chance to reinvent the best of Death In June’s/NER back catalogue during the years that they tried to destroy me/Death In June. Such business acumen is hard to find these days. And, as I write this I have just heard that NADA! has reached #7 in the South Australian album charts during our present tour of Australia and New Zealand. Being up there with the likes of Regurgitator and Pacifier makes me feel so young and contemporary!!