RUMORE # 225 Ottobre 2010 interview with Vittore Baroni
Artists are often annoyed by classifications that define their music, while it seems that you do not have objections to the neofolk tag being attached to some of your albums (you even elaborated on it: Post Industrial Neo Folk Toten Pop!) and also being used to describe the work of many musicians who have been influenced by DIJ: what are your feelings towards all these bands and how do you feel for being considered the main originator of a proper musical genre?
When an artist starts out in any field whether it be painting, or photography or music etc, it’s only natural to shy away from being classified and ghettoized as you try to forge your own path. But nearly 30 years have passed since Death In June was formed in 1981 and I feel comfortable enough with what Death In June has achieved in music and my Life during that time to not only accept that I was the main originator of a new “musical genre” but also to have some fun with that and develop new permutations. Afterall, how ‘neo’ can ‘Neo Folk’ be after so many years without changing, developing etc?
Which DIJ album would you consider to be the most accomplished blueprint for the neofolk genre, and why?
I would consider 1987’s ‘Brown Book’ album as the true beginning but most reviewers would appear to disagree and think that the genre started with the 1992 release of ‘But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?’ So, who am I to say? Certainly I didn’t see or hear the commercial use of terms like ‘Neo Folk’/’Post Industrial Folk’ etc until after 1992. Perhaps you could also say that you can hear the beginning of ‘Neo Folk’ as far back as the first DIJ album with the title track ‘The Guilty Have No Pride’ and ‘Heaven Street Mk II’? Whatever marks the true point of real lift-off I knew I had a date with Destiny with Death In June and if I kept true to it that ‘IT’ would take me somewhere different. I didn’t realize it would be ‘Neofolkland’!
What do you think, after so many years, of another seminal album that you co-produced, Swastikas for Noddy: is the so called Apocalyptic folk really something different from neofolk?
“Apocalyptic Folk” was david tibet playing with words in 1986 when we were living together at ‘Enclave Ex’ in London and I was beginning to write DIJ’s ‘Brown Book’ as well as writing, or at the very least, interpreting most of the music for c93’s ‘Swastikas For Noddy’. He was really referring to a small group of people who knew each other via tibet himself but, those words somehow became part of catagorizing a musical genre we unknowingly were creating at that time. He put those words out into the ether and they almost alchemically materialized into a phenomenon. “Apocalyptic Folk”, ‘Neo Folk’, ‘Post Industrial Folk’, ‘Folk Noir’ etc are all much of a muchness to me and part of the same thing that I think came out of that Zeitgeist. The true ‘Apocalptic Folk’ were Geff and Sleazy from coil, Tony Wakeford, Boyd Rice, steven stapleton, Hilmar Hilmarsson, Ian Read, Rose McDowall, Bee, tibet and myself. As regards the ‘Swastikas For Noddy’ album even though I haven’t listened to it for possibly 10 years and will probably never listen to it again I think it ranks as one of the finest recordings I’ve ever been associated with, as well as one of the very best albums ever made. It easily ranks alongside other groundbreaking work by the likes of The Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, The Beatles etc. If that album had never come out most people would have never heard of current 93. It deservedly made waves.
Though you are rightly considered a godfather and main inspiration for neofolk, I have the impression that your musical background is more rooted in pop (from Gene Pitney to the Pet Shop Boys, to mention two names that have popped up in interviews) than in ancient folklore. Did you listen and research, at some point in your life, also Celtic folk and other forms of traditional music, or is the connection with the past more of a thematic type (runes, heathenry, esoteric traditions, etc.)?
I never did any research into what’s normally considered traditional folk music because I hate it. I always have. Out of the people that were in each other’s orbit at the time in the mid-1980s when I think this was all being cultivated in our minds, let alone on record, I think only Ian Read of Fire + Ice had any true interest in traditional English folk music. His favourite group is the wonderfully named Strawhead. But that was never played when tibet and I were living/working together at ‘Enclave Ex’. Life was miserable enough without hearing that stuff. What happened came about purely by instinct and preparation meeting opportunity – at least on my part. Be it ‘Brown Book’, ‘Swastikas For Noddy’ or ‘…Symbols Shatter?’ they were intense albums and intense times with intense interests and intense people and some of that had to be reflected in the final musical approach or expression.
Were Ennio Morricones scores ever a conscious influence on your music, as it is on many recent neofolk bands, or are there other musicians and folksingers that were more particularly influential and formative for you?
I’ve been asked this question many, many times over the years and I’ve listed many recordings, books and films that, if not, directly influencing me have certainly inspired me and to now mention them briefly in a sort of shopping list of “what influenced Douglas P.” would not honour them sufficiently. And, it would take too long to run the gauntlet from Joe Meek, Yukio Mishima, Dirk Bogarde through to Love, Hawkwind, Jean Genet and Charles Manson. Far too long.
Even Sixties bands like Comus have been indicated as forerunners of neofolk, but more than musical influences, what really defines the genre is maybe the wide range of literary-philosophical themes and symbolisms, the Eurocentric melancholic-poetic mood, the critical attitude towards the prevailing cultural and political climates: would you agree with this?
All that – and more!
Is neofolk, from your point of observation, still a thriving and vital phenomenon, or does it run the risk of copycat mannerism, like many other genres? Are there any neofolk bands that you appreciate particularly, for some reasons?
Yes, of course, over these years there have been many of the so-called ‘Neo Folk’ groups that I’ve found truly inspiring and exciting and I’m pleased that with most of them I’ve had some sort of concrete association with them in terms of them either performing alongside Death In June or, we somehow guesting on each others’ recordings. Strength Through Joy, Fire + Ice, Dies Natalis, forseti, :Of The Wand And The Moon:, Sonne Hagel, Beastianity, Darkwood, In My Rosary, Werkraum, and Luftwaffe have all provided me with some very special moments in my Life that I’ll never forget. I can only recommend them. But, naturally, as with anything, there is always a danger of repeating oneself and I’ve been accutely aware of that trap and have tried to steer clear of it. Whether others have I don’t know. I don’t think everyone has to keep changing to remain interesting or likeable. However, having said that I’ve noted that American groups like Luftwaffe (and their off shoot Gnomonclast), Awen and Thomas Nola et Son Orchestre are developing their own particular sound which is at the same time more spikey and aggressive as well as being melodic. They’re refreshingly different from the European groups. It is only too easy to become cynical and jaded after one’s heard yet another very poor imitation of Death In June or Sol Invictus etc but like “the swirling sound of Swastikas… threshing the wheat out from the chaff” quality will always shine through. And it’s that quality we have to look out for and not blandly accept the voices of jealousy and derision. World wide, Neo Folk and it’s variations has been as important in music as early Rock ‘n’ Roll, Merseybeat, Psychedelia, Punk/Post Punk etc were – and are. Yet, tellingly it’s still viewed as being very much an underground music form. Perhaps its that underground nature that will ultimately maintain its integrity and the poor copycats and insincere will fall by the wayside and be forgotten?
Tsunami editions in Italy are about to publish Nascosto tra le Rune (Hidden among the Runes), that promises to be the most lavish and official book to date about Death In June: how did this publication come about and in which ways does it differ from Le Livre Brun and Misery and Purity?
It started life as an idea mentioned to me by the journalist Aldo Chimenti whilst I was touring in Italy perhaps 10 years ago. In about late 2001 the first of the massive amount of questions started arriving for me to answer and, in fact, the last of them were asked only in March this year. So, one of the things that does set this book apart from the others you mention is that it is very much up to date. The others are over 15 years old and A LOT has happened with Death In June since then! There are also a massive amount of black and white and colour photos included in ‘Nascosto Tra Le Rune’, many of which are previously unseen, plus an hour long CD with a completely separate interview with me in English for those who cannot understand the Italian in the book which also includes 8 DIJ songs.
There seems to be a certain link between Italy and DIJs history (the white mask you often use, certain landmark concerts, etc.) and you surely have a large fan base here, why do you think it is so?
I don’t know for sure as you could possibly say the same for countries like Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, U.S.A. or even England where it all started. Each place has a good fan base and special memories and events that have significantly effected Death In June. Certainly Italy now stands out because of the publication of ‘Nascosto Tra Le Rune’ so it does bring to mind the “NADA!” tour of 1985 which proved to be fundamental in my view of Death In June because of the Italian fans views of my group. I saw Death In June in a different perspective courtesy of conversations with some of these interesting people I met in April, 1985. They ultimately inspired and reassured me for the next phaze of Death In June which I didn’t realize was just about to happen. Also, importantly, it’s where I first met Aldo Chimenti and 25 years on we now have a book to celebrate the fact!!
While your decision to stop touring with DIJ is probably definitive, does this also exclude any possibility for one-off performances or special appearances on stage with other musicians?
One-off performances or “special appearances” are almost as hard work and time consuming in preparation as doing an entire tour and realistically, as I live in Australia, these are also logistically out of the question and make no real sense. Besides, when I did come out of retirement to perform a special guest slot (as Douglas P. not Death In June), for Ostara in Adelaide on Walpurgis Night, 2009 I felt like I’d hit a brick wall in any progress I’d been making in writing a new album. I’d been side tracked from what I really should have been concentrating on. Driving the 20 minutes home after the show that night felt completely and utterly wrong. I should have been driving to a hotel or an airport and flying to the next show on a World tour. I couldn’t get that feeling out of my mind for weeks and weeks after. And, all song writing also suddenly stopped during this period! I’d put myself into ‘tour mode’ by preparing for that one-off show and then didn’t go anywhere. But psychologically I was ready to! It really unsettled me and made me feel wrong and quite ill. It was weird how I reacted and won’t do that again. I retired in 2005 from live work and if I ever decide to come out of retirement I’ll do as much of a World tour as possible. Nothing less. And, probably nothing more thereafter! But, please don’t hold your breath waiting for that unlikely change of mind. I’ve got so much else to do with Death In June I really think those days are over.
Have you written any new songs that may combine sooner or later into a new studio album, as a follow up to The Rule of Thirds?
In fact, as I write in June 2010 I’m presently in the last stages of recording the final of 13 tracks for a new Death In June album called ‘Peaceful Snow’ which should be released by about September/October, 2010. A limited edition coloured vinyl 7″ only release of the title track and another song called ‘The Maverick Chamber’ will be issued shortly from the Portuguese Extremoccidente label. For good or for bad I think people will be a little surprised by them.
Through Soleilmoon, NER has published a series of quite impressive reissues, like those with stone covers: are there going to be other products of this kind in the near future?
There could be some commemorative issues of some other titles but there’s nothing confirmed as such. There are a number of special anniversaries coming up soon for some titles but I’m not sure if they warrant the “stone cover” treatment like ‘The World That Summer’, ‘Brown Book’ or the ‘…Symbols Shatter?’ and ‘Rose Clouds…’ albums. They were extremely special Death In June albums. But, then again, which Death In June album isn’t?
Heilige! Douglas P. 26.VI.10.
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