Death In June (aka DIJ or DI6 or very rarely Der Tod im Juni) is the musical project of British singer/songwriter/guitarist Douglas Pearce. Death In June has gone through several stylistic and lineup changes since the band's founding in 1981 with Pearce being the only constant member throughout its thirty year history. Together with Sol Invictus and Current 93, Death In June is generally recognized as having effectively created what is alternately known as the neofolk, apocalyptic folk, dark folk, or folk noir genre of music (I personally prefer the first although Pearce himself seems not to care). Neofolk music has very little in common either thematically or aesthetically with what most people consider "folk music" in the American sense of the term.
While strummed, chorded acoustic guitar passages are the backbone of both genres, neofolk has nothing at all to do with the blue-collar, politically progressive sound that represents the commonly understood meaning of "folk" music exemplified by Bob Dylan or Joan Baez. Neofolk would probably be more accurately described as neovolkisch music since it derives primarily from the stylings of traditional European ballads from the nineteenth century rather than as some sort of revival of commercialized 1960s left-wing protest music. Many neofolk bands, including Death In June, have also used instrumentation and stylings familiar to fans of industrial music with harsh, distorted mechanized drumming, martial rhythms, and synthesizer accents. Sampling is also prevalent, with the main forms being old military marches from the early 20th century, political speeches, odd film dialogue, and other random sounds.
>Death In June had its origins in the ultra-left-wing punk band Crisis. Although fairly obscure today, Crisis was a big hit in that scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with their final show being played in support of Bauhaus in 1980. Douglas Pearce (guitar) and Tony Wakeford (bass) decided to form their own band after meeting drummer and vocalist Patrick Leagas in 1981. The band's name was chosen during a band practice when Leagas said something that Pearce misheard as "death in June." They released a three-track EP called Heaven Street the same year, with the songs generally conforming to the minimalist post-punk standards best exemplified by Joy Division at the time, with the exception of the strange track We Drive East, which is a shouted (perhaps ironic) paean about killing communists over a thumping bass, a sad trumpet, and a militaristic drumbeat.
1983 saw the release of The Guilty Have No Pride, which expanded on the themes and the sound of the previous release. A significant goth element is present here with the album sounding like an even bleaker version of Closer, if you can possibly conceive of that. The addition of an acoustic guitar for certain passages in a couple of songs (including an acoustic rerecording of the title track from Heaven Street) anticipates the direction the band would take later on. Burial was released the next year and the lyrical themes are significantly more political, focusing on the idea of a broader European consciousness rather than the stale class conflict mentality of Crisis and most of the rest of the "engaged" musical world.
Tony Wakeford quit/was expelled from the band after the release of Burial apparently because of disagreements over the artistic direction of the band and his involvement in the British National Front, a white nationalist organization. He subsequently formed the band Above The Ruins, featuring himself on guitar, Ian Read (who would later form his own band, Fire + Ice) on vocals, and George Smith of the white power band No Remorse on bass. Above The Ruins sounded like a harder-edged version of early Death In June with lyrics and themes based largely on the writings of Italian fascist philosopher Julius Evola. They released one so-so album called Songs of the Wolf before disbanding. Wakeford then formed another, more folk-oriented band involving Read called Sol Invictus.
Middle Period and Collaborations
Around this time, Pearce and Wakeford had made the acquaintance of David Tibet of Current 93 whose group up to that point had released several strange noise albums. These three began a rotating collaboration also involving, among others, Ian Read, American musicians Boyd Rice and Michael Moynihan (later of Blood Axis and the author of the book Lords of Chaos), Scottish singer Rose McDowall of Strawberry Switchblade, John Balance of Coil, Steven Stapleton of Nurse With Wound, and the Dutch mystic Freya Aswynn, who would later go on to lend her rather, eh, interesting voice to Fire + Ice and Sixth Comm. Trying to come up with a full chronology for these projects is almost impossible, so I'm not going to bother unless it's something important. As an aside, it is funny to me that while Wakeford and Pearce were not on speaking terms at this point, they still managed to share guitar playing duties for Current 93, whose sound began to transition to a more recognizable neofolk sound.
Death In June released NADA! in 1985 and it was quite different from the band's previous releases. It managed to enhance the acoustic sound heard on Burial while simultaneously bringing in something of an electronic dance element as well, the latter of which would be phased out in relatively short order. During a European tour in support of the album, Patrick Leagas abruptly quit the band and returned to the United Kingdom to form the band Sixth Comm (which would feature reworked versions of songs he had written for Death In June in addition to other material). He had provided vocals for the bulk of Death In June's songs up to that point (in addition to writing a great number of them), which complicated things to the extent that the remainder of the tour had to be canceled. Despite this setback, the next group of releases from the band would represent the most artistically fruitful and prolific period of Death In June's discography. The World That Summer (1986) and Brown Book (1987) featured a core lineup involving Pearce, Tibet, Read, and McDowall with assistance from Balance. The industrial neofolk sound is fully developed on these recordings as well as on contemporaneous releases from Sol Invictus and Current 93 like Against the Modern World and Swastikas for Noddy, respectively.
As a brief digression, this is also the time when Death In June's fixation on and flirtation with elements of the Third Reich really started to come to the forefront. The use of something resembling the SS Death's Head as their logo as well as runic inscriptions were old hat to the band, but The World That Summer derives its name from a homoerotic film about the Hitler Youth while the real Brown Book was a 1965 exposé of ex-Nazis still prominent in the government of West Germany after the end of World War II. The latter album featured a sample of the marching song Viktoria Sieg Heil played over what sounds like Viktor Lutze's speech to the Sturmabteilung regarding the death of his predecessor Ernst Röhm. The title track from this album is Ian Read singing an a cappella version of Die Fahne Hoch, also known as the Horst Wessel Lied, which was the official anthem of the Nazi Party. Pearce himself has said that he and Tony Wakeford had grown bored with socialism and had instead begun examining National Bolshevism, a bizarre melding of National Socialism and traditional leftism with ideological predecessors like Ernst Röhm and Otto Strasser that is most popular today in Russia. In fact, this sort of thing is common to the entire genre of music, but it is difficult at times to determine where the seriousness of fascistic sympathies ends and the search for an ever-more transgressive aesthetic begins.
In the late 1980s, Pearce's collaboration with Rice deepened, resulting in 1989's mediocre The Wall of Sacrifice. This album is more noise-oriented and is to me, with few exceptions, highly unlistenable. Pearce teamed up with Rice, Moynihan, Wakeford, and McDowall to form Boyd Rice and Friends, which largely featured typical neofolk-styled music as a background over which Rice could deliver his monologues. Pearce and Rice would later record and release similar collaborations under the names Boyd Rice and Fiends, Scorpion Wind, and finally as Death In June & Boyd Rice. The same year, Death In June also recorded an ok experimental ambient album called Östenbraun with the French electronic group Les Joyaux de la Princesse.
The next Death In June album was 1992's But What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?. Four of the songs from this album were reworked versions of gospel tracks previously recorded and released by Jim Jones' Jonestown Choir on the album He's Able (mainly the lyrics; the compositions themselves are unrecognizable). It was released at roughly the same time as Current 93's Thunder, Perfect Mind, and the two albums are generally regarded as the best from both bands and indeed the two best neofolk albums out there. The lineups for both releases were pretty much the same but are somewhat dissimilar in sound. Symbols... is hazy and almost exclusively acoustic with no percussion to speak of and only sparse electronic passages; Thunder, Perfect Mind is more rich in instrumentation and has a more "traditional" sound. This same year, Douglas Pearce also appeared on the debut Fire + Ice album, Gilded by the Sun, which (strangely for a neofolk album) features primarily the electric guitar rather than the acoustic.
Death In June's next studio album was 1995's Rose Clouds of Holocaust. It is pretty much identical to Symbols... but not quite as energetic. This also marked the end of Pearce's assocation with Tibet. The reasons for this were fairly obscure at one time, but from what I've been able to gather, it had something to do with Tibet's strange and apparently strong friendship with the American outsider musician Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim it seems was prone to making homophobic comments which didn't sit well with the openly gay Douglas Pearce and Tibet was prone to defending him. Things further deteroriated when World Serpent Distribution, the record label responsible for distributing the works of many of these bands, began to experience financial difficulties. The label started making royalty payments later and later to its artists and eventually Pearce decided to pursue legal action against the owners. In the end, the lawsuit brought by Pearce bankrupted the company. Folks like Boyd Rice and Ian Read supported him in this, while others like David Tibet and Rose McDowall did not, forcing a break between the two "factions." While Pearce was eventually able to reconcile with Wakeford, he has as of 2012 apparently not renewed his association with Tibet or anyone else who did not take his side in the controversy.
Death In June's most prominent collaborations with other musicians after Tibet and Current 93 have been Boyd Rice, the Austrian martial industrial artist Albin Julius (of the Moon Lay Hidden Beneath the Cloud and Der Blutharsch), the singer/songwriter Andreas Ritter (formerly of Forseti before a stroke caused him to be unable to continue to play music), and the Australian neofolk band Strength Through Joy (later named Ostara).
Death In June albums after 1996 are of inconsistent quality. Operation Hummingbird (a reference to the planning behind the Night of the Long Knives) and Take Care and Control were recorded with the help of Julius and sound very similar to Der Blutharsch's body of work, meaning that there's very little live instrumentation and the albums are primarily samples of marches, war sounds, and heavy drumming. Pearce also found time to record another collaborative album, this time with Strength Through Joy called Death In June Presents...KAPO!. KAPO! is quite similar to later Strength Through Joy and Death In June with the standard acoustic style, violin accents, and chime-based percussion (provided by ex-SPK drummer John Murphy, who performed that role live for Pearce from 1998 until 2005). 2001's All Pigs Must Die saw a nice return to the style found on Symbols... mixed with the odd but fitting addition of an accordion played by Ritter, although the second half of the album is just five of the first six songs done in the atrocious noise remix style heard on Wall of Sacrifice. The album's title and themes are apparently a reference to the folks at World Serpent who angered Pearce, in particular three unnamed little piggies. The next album, the Rule of Thirds, was released in 2008 and is a starkly minimalist recording. The only participant seems to be Douglas Pearce as I don't recall hearing anything other than his voice and his guitar (along with some samples here and there), and the whole thing overall sounds like a series of outtakes from the 1992-1995 period. All of the songs follow a virtually identical format of four-chord verses and two-chord choruses reminiscent of Rose Clouds of Holocaust. While several of the songs are very enjoyable, they tend to get a bit repetitive. 2010 saw the release of Peaceful Snow, a primarily piano-based album significantly different in style (but not tone) from older works.
The works of this band are fairly easily categorizable into distinct eras based primarily on the collaborator(s) involved during each timeframe. Basically, you can identify five main influences: Tony Wakeford, Patrick Leagas, David Tibet, Boyd Rice, and Albin Julius. For me, the Tibet years (1986-1995) were definitely this band's best, with the prior releases being rather too derivative or not fully realized in some ways and the two subsequent albums not really presenting anything new or unavailable on most Der Blutharsch records. It should be noted that Pearce and Julius are no longer on speaking terms following some bizarre incidents on the part of the latter. For example, venues hosting "rival" acts in locations close to similarly-timed Der Blutharsch shows would be inundated with calls from a German-accented man claiming to be an anti-fascist activist threatening a major protest the night of the event; almost invariably these events would be cancelled while the Der Blutharsch shows continued unobstructed. There are also a ton of live, remix, compilation, and bootleg albums I wasn't able to really get into, but most of them are frankly redundant and not that fascinating. Death In June sounds ok live, but most of this stuff was clearly meant to be heard in its studio format (although the Live in New York DVD from 2002 is excellent). There are basically three compilations worth pursuing, especially if you don't have access to any of the full albums: The Guilty Have No Past, a compilation of the pre-Burial material; The Corn Years, featuring the best tracks from Brown Book and The World That Summer, including some rerecordings better than the originals; and Symbols and Clouds, the title of which should tell you that they're songs from But What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust including a limited edition album of about 15 rerecordings of songs from that period (almost all of which sound better than the originals).
Death In June has a tendency to alienate people primarily because they feel uneasy about the themes presented by the band. Currently, the sale of Brown Book and Rose Clouds of Holocaust is illegal in Germany because of existing laws there prohibiting the use of Nazi imagery or themes for anything other than strictly historical purposes, although Douglas Pearce has claimed the use of the word "holocaust" in this context refers to its original definition as a type of burnt offering (which I suppose is possible as there's nothing Nazi-related on the album when contrasted with Brown Book). Death In June caught heat for playing a benefit concert in Croatia in 1992 and for donating all proceeds from the following live album to the renovation of a veterans' hospital in Zagreb. Allegedly, the clinic primarily served members of a nationalist/fascist militia and the crowd at the show was comprised largely of this group. Of course, there is no way to prove this one way or another, so who really knows?
The subject of Douglas Pearce's political orientation is deeply tied up with his sexual one. Two common retorts are "oh, he's gay, he can't be a Nazi" and "oh, he's gay, so the fascist imagery is just a fetish." These types of comments are non sequiturs because they imply the incompatibility of homosexuality with the extreme right, even though there were several gay Nazis (including Pearce's hero Ernst Röhm, whose surname he formerly used as an internet alias on a gay dating website) and because of the silly implication that "of course" gay people are attracted to leather and sharp-looking uniforms. Even assuming these were valid points, they say nothing about his almost exclusively heterosexual musical collaborators who do and say the same things, or lyrics like "dressed not in mourning but in black/see the fire in our eyes/always ready to fight back/never hidden in disguise," from the song "Many Enemies Bring Much Honour," or the use of a still image from the propaganda film Der Sieg des Glaubens for the cover of the live album Night and Fog.
I honestly find this aspect of Death In June's presentation to be a tedious subject but it needs to be addressed. Among this core group of musicians I've discussed (with the possible exceptions of David Tibet and Rose McDowall), a strain throughout all of their works and many of their statements is a form of barely concealed nostalgia for the immediate pre-war period in Germany. I guess this is better than eagerly giving two thumbs up to the war itself, but even that is a recurring theme in songs like "Fields" ("Dresden burning in the night/Coventry is still alight/above the pain and blood and fire/there rose a sigh: we're ruled by liars"), which appears (in different forms) both on Death In June's Burial and Sol Invictus' Lex Talionis.
My personal take on it is that this Eurocentric group of bands (specifically Death In June, Sol Invictus, Current 93, Fire + Ice, Blood Axis, Der Blutharsch, Strength Through Joy, and Boyd Rice's various projects) has an idiosyncratic worldview that places an emphasis on a shared mystical Indo-European consciousness based on pre-Christian/gnostic traditions and a disdain for the modern world that finds its closest relations in modern Pagan revival movements and turn-of-the-century theosophy, which of course was a spiritual precursor to the ideology that eventually would become National Socialism. Somewhere along the way in examining these ideas, cause and effect became reversed and more familiar overtly fascistic elements were chosen to represent these rather esoteric and abstract ideas. Backing down from this sort of thing is hard to do, especially when the same core group of about eight people floods the market of ideas with their various projects, which makes the overall ideology seem more prevalent than it really is. Additionally, some of these people have definitely been involved in tasteless or unseemly things; for example, Boyd Rice and Michael Moynihan appearing on televangelist Bob Larson's radio program and making fun of Sharon Tate's murder to her mother or Douglas Pearce graphically describing the type of penis he prefers. At the same time, though, there is a lot of hysteria surrounding this group demonstrated by wild claims such as the idea that Tony Wakeford and Ian Read were responsible for harboring in their shared apartment Italian fascists wanted for murder and terrorism in their home country. This is one of those things that people have to either take or leave when deciding whether or not they want to listen to this type of music in general or Death In June specifically.
As a final note, I want to say that the write-up that hapax used to have here was better than mine.