Saturday, January 19, 2008

From Crisis to Death in June

From Crisis to Death in June

We present an extract from I.C.R.N. member Peter Webb’s new book, `Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures’.

This section is taken from Chapter Four of the book: Neo-folk or Post-industrial music: The development of an esoteric music milieu and addresses directly the ideological controversies surrounding DIJ.

The full chapter contents are:

1 - Influences, musical milieu, musical lifeworld,


2 - Death In June and the developing esoteric music milieu of the 1980s


3 - From political crisis to the creativity of the `petit mort' of


4 - From Crisis to Death In June.

5 - Paganism, Heathenism and the spiritual element.

6 - Politics, philosophy and ambiguity.

7 - Conclusion.

As the 1980s started and the post punk element of the music scene developed (see Reynolds, S, 2005) the two founder members of Crisis had decided to move in an entirely different direction than before. Their belief in left wing politics had been chipped away at by the dogma, chaotic organization and blind membership drives of the far left groups they had been a part of. Now they looked away from the politics of the left to an aesthetic and artistic understanding driven by a creative vision that combined some of the iconography of fascism and the spirituality of a European past that looked to its pagan traditions rather than those of Christianity and ideas from writers such as Jean Genet, Yukio Mishima, Mirbeau and Lautremont. Musically a mixture of Scott Walker, Ennio Morricone, The Beatles, Love, The Velvet Underground, Joy Division and military percussion and trumpet calls were folded into the new project of Death in June. The art of Death in June would be provocative and would `aim to please with constant unease’



The main symbols used by the band to identify them and their releases is a modified Death’s Head or Totenkopf which was used by the Prussian army under Frederick the Great through to the Totenkopfverbande (Deaths Head Division) of the SS under the tutelage of Heinrich Himmler. Douglas P has explained the use of the symbol modified to be grinning slightly and with the number 6 beside it as `deaths head for Death and the 6 for the month of June’. Death in June’s first release was called Heaven Street and came out on the bands own label which was titled `New European Recordings’. The cover for the record was a textured brown sleeve that had two gold stripes down one side and an embossed Death in June in brown across the cover. In the middle was set a photo of some cliff top defense buildings or control towers overlooking the sea. These could be German defence systems from world war two in the Channel Islands or systems on the French coast. The lyrics of Heaven Street also indicate the artistic and challenging direction that DIJ had taken:

Take a walk down Heaven Street

The soil is soft and the air smells sweet

Paul is waiting there

And so is Franz

Now only memories run on railway tracks.

This road leads to Heaven.

Waiting feet frozen to the ground

The earth exploding with the gas of bodies

Rifle butts

To crush you down

Now only flowers

To idolize.

This road leads to Heaven

(Taken from the DIJ website – )

The material refers to the period of history that would dominate many discussions of the group who deliberately were ambiguous about any political meaning that they may be conveying. The rise of Nazi Germany and the period of the Second World War was one that was pertinent to all three members of the group. Douglas talks about his father’s action in world war two as a fighter pilot in the RAF (DIJ DVD) and Patrick Leagas (who became the third key member of Death in June) talks of his interest in the area coming from his families’ involvement in the war:

The connection with World war 2 was a very real thing for me since my father fought through from Dunkirk onwards and beyond and so stories around the Sunday roast from my father , uncles and others infused a memory that very much connected me to a romantic but realistic awareness about that time. Wearing a German helmet and playing with old Enfield and Mauser rifles and bayonets for me was my playground. Funny how when you speak to people involved in that war how few had any hate towards the German people. They had a better understanding of the power of the individual in those days and the fact that people on both sides often had very little choice in what happened. (Interview with Patrick Leagas, 09.01.2007)

The lyric of Heaven Street that refers to `Paul is waiting there and so is Franz’ references the book by Gita Sereny about the camp commandant of Treblinka called Franz Stangl (Sereny, G, Into that Darkness: An examination of conscience, Vintage Press, 1983). In the book Sereny finds that Stangl is referred to by both names in his double life at the camp. A life that by day is the commandant who oversees all aspects of the inmate and extermination program and by night is sitting at his home, separated off from the rest of the camp acting as the perfect father and husband to his family. In an e-mail discussion with Douglas P I asked him to clarify the lyric in the song. His response is interesting and instructive:

Sometime late in 1979 I'd seen a documentary on television about a woman who had survived the war by working in the Kanada Kommando of one of the death camps. As you probably know, this was the work detachment of inmates that basically cleaned everything up in the camps from the latrines to the corpses and was so-called because it was like a 'holiday' in Canada in comparison to whatever else was going on in these places. Why Canada was chosen as opposed to, for instance, Australia, as an idyllic 'holiday' destination still baffles me. She was accompanied by her daughter who may have even directed the documentary and what amazed me was how little bitterness seemed to colour her recollections which all appeared very matter of fact-like. This included her remembering the glamorous camp commandant who would ride a horse through the camp wearing his white summer tunic. This was almost certainly Franz Stangl.

On the strength of the documentary I was moved to write the song 'Kanada Kommando' which was the last song I wrote for Crisis and was released on the 'Hymns of Faith' album in early 1980. Shortly after, the group split and Tony Wakeford and myself agreed that we should take a few months off from music, etc and reconvene down the track to see how we could carry on with something different - whatever that would be.

I was working as I petrol pump attendant in this period and during times when no customers would come in I read books. One of these was obviously 'Into That Darkness' which I had found in the local library. I began to write lyrics inspired by this book on FINA note paper, which I still have, and very soon I had the basics of what was to become the very first song I wrote for the still unformed Death In June, 'Heaven Street'.

In the late Summer/early Autumn of 1980 I took my first, of what was to be many, visits to Vienna, Austria. During that holiday I went up to the wine growing area around the city known as the Grenzing and sampled a lot of the first wine of the season known locally as 'Sturm'!

Whilst visiting a toilet in one of the wineries a local man stood next to me and started humming and whistling. He eventually turned to me and said something along the lines of "We Austrians love music!" When I left the winery shortly after on the opposite side of the road was the street sign reading; Himmelstrasse (Heaven Street)! I saw that as a 'sign' in more ways than one.

Eventually, when the first rehearsals and then recordings and then performances took place of Death In June I noticed that "Paul is waiting there and so is Franz" sounded very similar to "Poland is waiting there and so is France" which had even more connotations than any I may have originally thought of. So, that's where I stand with 'Heaven Street'. As usual, with Death in June it's not completely straight forward not even for me - 27 years on.

The lyrics to the original 'She Said Destroy' were written entirely by David Tibet in 1983 and he claimed he based the title around the French novel 'Destroy, She Said' but obviously tipped his hat in the direction of 'Heaven Street' and its influence in the rest of his text. (Email 16.04.07)

Douglas describes the taking of pieces of information and emotive material from a number of sources here to produce a lyric and piece of music that reflects his reading of the documentary and the book `Into that Darkness’ and some of his experiences whilst traveling and reflecting on the material. He is also developing his own understanding and poetic take on the events that he is referencing. This method of creating lyrics and music and juxtaposing different elements is like a more structured version of William Burroughs and Brian Gysin’s cut up method (Calder, J. 1982). It is also located in a particular time period where, as we have seen, the shadow and effect of World War Two was still being directly felt by the group of young people of Douglas’s age. Their parents still had clear recollections of the war and often had been involved in some way or another so had strong opinions of it. Children of this age were still growing up with comics that portrayed the war with titles such as War Picture Library, Battle Picture Library and Commando (Fleetway Press – now a part of IPC) they continued to fire young imaginations about these events. The 1970s was also a period where the TV series The World at War; (Thames Television also claimed to be one of the finest documentaries ever made, it was number 19 in the 100 best TV programmes ever made voted for by the British Film Institute in 2000) which over 26 episodes documented the lead up to and the history of the war and included interviews with still surviving leading figures from all sides, provided an important aural and musical voice. The theme tune of the show, an ominous, melancholic classical motif, played a part in setting the scene and as it developed through each show provided a thematic link that was particularly powerful. This programme, scheduled on a Sunday afternoon and tea time, continued to examine the specific peculiarity, horror and social and cultural importance of the War for a British audience. So in many ways the war and the development of Nazi Germany had a profound effect on the developing psyche of many a young person in the 1970s. Douglas P, Patrick Leagas and Tony Wakeford were locked in to this area of history as much as they had been locked in to a leftist, socialist/communist slant on history from their political affiliations in the 1970s and this would be examined within their art.

The title of the book; `Into that Darkness’ would appear as another Death in June lyric on the track `She Said Destroy’ which became the third single and marked the groups move towards the use of more acoustic guitar work than the more heavy drum, bass, electric guitar and militaristic trumpet of the early recordings. This approach was coupled with tracks such as `C’est un Reve’ (It’s a dream) which would appear on the bands second LP `NADA!’ and contained the lyrics:

Ou est Klaus Barbie

Ou est Klaus Barbie

Il est dans le coeur

Il est dans le coeur noir


C'est un reve

(Taken from the DIJ website – )

The lyrics here suggest that we will find Klaus Barbie (Chief of the Gestapo in Lyon, France 1942-1944, responsible for many deportations of Jews to the concentration camps) in the dark heart and that Liberty is a dream. This fits with a variety of analyses of the role of ordinary men and women in World War Two e.g. Christopher Browning’s book `Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland’ (Browning, Penguin, 2001) which shows how a group of men who had no overt previous history of far right politics could by virtue of man management and group solidarity become instruments of extreme violence, torture and death. This portrays the direction of Death In June’s art which was to combine elements that at once enliven, question, re-examine and provoke a response by juxtaposing many symbols, aesthetics, music and lyrics that in their new context, as part of DIJs art, take on new meaning and provocation. In an interview in Descent magazine the interviewer asked Douglas P:

….i would like to submit some ideas to you. I wouldn't want to stress these questions (that you certainly used to hear all the time, often asked in a tendentious manner) but I feel the paramilitary image as a symbolic warning against all the things the uniform represents. The provocation is a way to incite reflection, not remaining passive, not being easily influenced or manipulated, with a personal and omnipresent rigor and will. But, on the other side, and don't think that there's a mental reservation; the fact that you are homosexual could make the uniform a simple fetish object, indeed sexual (as I’ve read in an interview in '84).


1996-Descent )

In response to this Douglas stated that:

Except for the idea that anything to do with DEATH IN JUNE is "fun" then I can't disagree with the other theories you forward. There is more, much more but, I draw the line at "explaining the line of DIJ". This is because I find that demeaning. Those who understand do and those who don’t won't! Life is too short to spend too much time talking, until you are blue in the face. The time for pontification and overindulgence in analysis are over. Actions speak louder than words! Time is running out like water from a sink.


1996-Descent )

The milieu of Industrial music culture, punk and post-punk contained many contradictions, philosophical and political discussions, use of imagery and aesthetics as provocation and stimulation or questioning, and the exploration of many positions of different politics, ideologies, spiritualities and esoteric matter. Throbbing Gristle, pioneers of British avant-garde industrial music had used a lightening flash insignia which had been used by many different militaries across the world but because a variation of it had been used by the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s questions were raised in the press about Throbbing Gristles politics. The band themselves adapted it from their look at military insignia and David Bowies flash make-up used during his Ziggy Stardust period (Ford, S, 1999). Joy Division, the post punk band who had taken their name from the concentration camp inmates who were used as prostitutes for the guards of the camps, were also accused of fascist sympathies simply on the strength of their name and the groups on stage 1930s look of trousers, shirts and ties. Theatre of Hate became Spear of Destiny in 1983 also were accused of flirting with fascist imagery because of the myths surrounding the Spear of Destiny and the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s. Laibach the Slovenian industrial band were accused of being fascist for being deliberately ambiguous about their imagery and totalitarian statements about their art. Most of these artists were using these ideas, images, aesthetics and ideas as juxtapositions and collage affects for their artwork to have an impact on a culture that during the 1980s in the UK was beginning to become intellectually and artistically depthless and insipid. Just as critical postmodern thinkers like Jean Baudrillard (Baudrillard, 1983, 1994) were beginning to point out the lack of depth and culturally disembedded nature of symbolic goods and ideas this pocket of music makers were making people think on a scale unexpected by popular cultural standards. The book Tape Delay by Charles Neal (SAF publishing, 1987) brought together interviews, essays, lyrics and commentary on a group of musicians who were operating in fairly diverse musical fields but who shared a commitment to challenging music and lacing that music with references to different ideas. These artists and their audiences produced a cultural milieu that was incredibly rich with discussion, theorizing, literary and philosophical references and crucially critical thinking. Artists such as Cabaret Voltaire, Test Department, Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave, Einsturzende Neubauten, Psychic TV, David Tibet, Diamanda Galas, Swans, Matt Johnson, Mark Almond, Coil, Sonic Youth, Mark Stewart and many more were linked together as a type of intelligent independent music scene (even though some of these artists were on major labels). By Independent here I mean in terms of thought and musical development, these artists often produced music that completely worked outside of what was thought of as `popular music’. The reference points in their work are many and varied and include: William Burroughs (the American beat writer and intellectual), Alfred Jarry (the playwright), Salvidor Dali (the artist), Austin Osman Spare (the artist and occultist), the Marquis De Sade (author), Joseph Conrad (author), Mirbeau (author), Aleister Crowley (the occultist), Hakim Bey (anarchist and author), Ezra Pound (author, poet), The Futurists (art movement), Noam Chomsky (Writer and critic). Various types of paganism, magic, occultism, environmentalism, anarchism, situationism, conservatism, communalism, individualism, socialism are also apparent in their references. What is clear from their work is that the using, abusing, borrowing and knitting together of these various reference points is always done in a unique and thought provoking way.

Peter Webb’s, `Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures’, is published by Routledge. ISBN 0-415-95658-7. For further details see:

It is available from:


1 comment:

A Miscellany of Tasteful Music said...

I came across the blog thanks to a posting made on the Laibach-NSK mailing list. It's quite profound work you've done here. I'm surprised more people haven't contextualized Industrial Music and its effect on culture, politics and other fields in general in the past. Great work.