Death In June - Biography
Death In June were pivotal in the development of industrial music. They played a key role as it transmogrified from a narrow genre concerned primarily with the aggressive textures of noise, to a far more open and inclusive art form, one that absorbed aspects of folk, rock, dance, psychedelia, and even pop. The group formed in 1981, from the remnants of an outfit called Crisis, which had included singer and multi-instrumentalist Douglas Pearce and bassist Tony Wakeford; when Crisis dissolved, the two enlisted drummer Patrick Leagas, and christened their new project Death In June. Crisis had been a far-left enterprise that summoned verbal and visual cues from Nazi Germany, in an attempt to be post-punk polemicists; Pierce would wrap Death In June in the most superficial aspects of totalitarianism as fascism fashion, a stance that would generate much enmity within the UK press. A reasonable counterargument could claim that Death In June and Pierce were making a culturally sly parody of Nazism and the various control systems inherent within all forms of political governance. Fair enough, in a Burroughsian sort of leap, but it takes a pretty intense and resolute commitment to successfully pull off such theatrics (e.g., the laughable intensity of Laibach); otherwise, it just reads like a juvenile indulgence in shock tactics.
The first Death In June gig was an opening slot for the Birthday Party, in London, in late 1981. They released various recordings in the first few years, dabbling in guttural post-punk, dark atmospherics, and apocalyptic industrial brouhaha, but the real breakthrough came with the release of Nada! (1085 Tesco), which features Pierce’s first extended excursion into acoustic guitars. It’s volk rather than folk, a romp into pagan territory, but the themes of decay, death, rape, crypto-fascism and general misanthropy are intact; much of the album was co-written with David Tibet from Current 93. Still, for the formalists of industrial music culture, this was a heresy (which was, undoubtedly, the point), and a wave of contrarian acts would follow in its goosesteps. There were further martial rhythms and more strident strumming in The World That Summer (1986 Ner), which also relies on contributions from Tibet. It still maintains plenty of experimentation, shrieking, wailing, and electro-acoustic pastiche, but it’s clear that Pierce is heading in a new direction.
Pierce eventually takes control of Death In June, and makes it his solo project, augmented by various supporting musicians. Rose McDowall from Strawberry Switchblade contributes vocals to The Brown Book (1987 New European Recordings); The Wall of Sacrifice (1989 Tesco) is replete in Third Reich references, doom-and-gloom posturing, and military stomp (original vinyl pressing in an edition of 666 copies, natch), with appearances by Tibet and Boyd Rice. But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? (1992 New European Recordings) contains covers of several songs from the 1973 Peoples’ Temple LP, He’s Able: “He's Able,” “Something's Got a Hold of Me,” “Because of Him,” and “Black Baby” (i.e., Jim Jones, the Jonestown, Guyana mass suicide, et cetera). Rose Clouds of the Holocaust (1995 Ner) has highlights that include the shadowy “God’s Golden Sperm” and “13 Years of Carrion.” Pierce collaborated several times with Austrian musician Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch, on the titles Take Care and Control (1998 Ner) and Operation Hummingbird (2000 Ner); the later utilizes extensive orchestral samples to illuminate its druidic path. In 2004, Pierce expanded his partnership with Boyd Rice, creating Alarm Agents (2004 New European Recordings). Death In June subsequently released The Rule of Thirds (2008 Ner), which firmly establishes Pierce as an antecedent to the now-popular freak-folk scene. It may be difficult to fathom, but with the SS imagery and Satanism stripped away, Death In June ends up occupying the same off-kilter territory as Devendra Banhart.