Thursday, 21 April 2016

Death In June - Nada! (1985)

There has been, over the years, a seemingly infinite tide of complete bollocks written about this bunch, so a few more paragraphs probably won't make a whole lot of difference. Even in taking the disparaging view towards which I am driven, there will inevitably be some reverse-McCarthyite on a witch-hunt protesting that the voices raised in condemnation are not quite loud enough and Herman Goering once used the phrase not quite loud enough in a letter written to his mam, therefore aha! To such persons I say screw you too, and congratulations on turning into a model of the inflexible ultrapolarity to which you claim to be opposed.

Anyway, I used to go nuts for Death In June back in the nineties, back before it all went bad, or was at last exposed as having been somewhat minging all along depending on which version you prefer; and it wasn't even like I had to rush out and buy everything I could get my mitts on because I was at the time in a band using the same distribution company as were Death In June. The company was World Serpent and their office was just around the corner from where I lived in Lewisham and I was prone to sporadic bouts of hanging around and blagging freebies simply because I could. I still have about thirteen or fourteen Death In June albums in my collection - depending on what you define as an album - and I think I paid for maybe two of them; although it could be argued that being pals with World Serpent's David Gibson was itself a form of payment, and a much harsher form than any more conventional numismatic equivalent.

Then, around the time of Take Care and Control, the release of which segued directly into Death In June parting company with World Serpent, the word seemed to get around that Douglas P's continuing exploration of controversial ideas and images might derive from political views of slightly more astringent composition than a simple dislike of reggae. The embarrassing thing about this was of course that it had been staring us in the face all along in so much as that it was specifically because Death In June were so fucking scary that we'd been drawn to them in the first place. I know a number of people who've since got rid of their Death In June records; and I can understand why because, if for no other reason, the possibility that those responsible might genuinely believe the wrong side won the second world war feels like a betrayal given how hard we all worked to sustain the benefit of the doubt for so long; and it makes us look like idiots.

I, on the other hand, still have these things in my possession. I don't listen to them because it was a long time ago and I've moved on, but I once played the shit out of Nada! and others, and it can be difficult to completely let go when you loved something that much; plus they still sound decent - or at least artistically interesting - regardless of what retarded motives may have informed their recording, which can't really be said of Skrewdriver.

So let's take a look at this thing, and if possible without getting hysterical or denouncing anyone as a Nazi just because we have a picture of them smiling whilst eating a frankfurter.

Death In June, if we assume for the sake of argument that Nada! is just a record, expand on the sort of faux classicism which Joy Division first introduced to the hit parade, which was itself probably somewhere between a slightly pretentious poetic tendency and a desire to put some distance between itself and its belching punk rock roots. Much popular music at the arse end of the twentieth century has been about pissing somebody off for chuckles, usually parents who don't understand, but also those of our peers who don't seem quite sufficiently elevated, obscure, cool, poetic, back-combed or whatever and might be better served staying at home with their ghastly working class Showaddywaddy albums, or whatever else it was that Morrissey didn't like that week. In terms of the vague genre which has been posthumously and somewhat ludicrously dubbed industrial music, the pissing someone off for chuckles often amounts to cheap liberal baiting because what could be funnier than sticking your tongue out at your biggest fans, at those who would defend your dubiously rendered outsider art with the most passion, those bleating sheep-like losers! Exploring controversial ideas and imagery is of course always a chortlesome means of alienating those thou wouldst deem to be but twats and serfs, which isn't to say that Porridge's interest in Charles Manson wasn't absolutely sincere; but sincere or not, the subtext always came across as here's a horrible thing and there's a possibility that I might actually approve of what it says or does, and I'm amused that this upsets you. It's the same as that not-particularly-fateful school dinner of my distant youth during which my friend Paul pointed to the tiny brown husk of a watercress seed in my salad and told me, 'those things are poisonous,' before adding with glee 'my family eat them!'

As four million heavy metal bands are my witness, this is not a new idea, it being in the tradition of all those album covers with Old English lettering and a leering Satan looking at women's tits. The difference is that whilst leering Satan looking at women's tits patently belongs to some kind of showbiz tradition and is therefore inherently theatrical, supposedly industrial equivalents employ poetic faux classicism so as to pull a serious face thereby presenting the suggestion that they might actually mean it - hence all those groups pretending to be dubious organisations rather than merely noisy rock bands. Death In June are Adolf Hitler looking at women's tits, and the art is in the ambiguity: maybe they're for real, or as it is written within the run-out spiral of this very album, we aim to please with constant unease.

The above two paragraphs account in part for why I had Death In June records in my collection in the first place, but probably shouldn't be regarded as the whole story.

Nada! works as an album because it retains a sort of dark beauty which bypasses whatever intellectual argument you might set against it. It hints at dramatic and horrifying acts or emotions - death, pain, betrayal, and all those other po-faced martial clichés - in a pseudo-mystical language invoking mournful looking statues and other reet classy stuff, all a long way away from the great belching leviathan of rock and roll. Nada! does it's job very well, or did it's job very well at the time by sounding like nothing else of its day - kettle drums, acoustic guitar, trumpet, golden voices and pulsing electronics; and it did it's job very well, contrasting all the skulls and daggers and ambiguous threats with an audio palette which sounds like it wants to be a Titian landscape when it grows up, yet without actually saying anything.

Blood flows...

Fields of Rape...

She said destroy in black New York...

...what the fuck? Black New York? You mean like the black neighbourhoods? Did he really say that?

Où est Klaus barbie...

Il est dans le coeur noir...

Claudette va à l'école tous les jours...

I suppose you might say the problem with Death In June - or at least one significant problem - can be reduced to whether they mean it, maaaan, but have been playing the get out of the art gallery free card all this time so as to prevent horrible working class Showaddywaddy fans calling them names and saying that they smell and that they're a bit like Hitler; or whether the ambiguity really is the whole point, and it's just art - and art and politics don't mix as one former massive knob put it, presumably because he was playing drums for Death In June at the time. Unfortunately, if ambiguity is the whole point and allusions to the Third Reich are all just one big convoluted metaphor for feeling a bit glum, then as art it's too repetitive and clumsy to have been informed by the sort of intellectual classicism to which it purportedly aspires, not least because even after all this time Death In June still don't seem to have actually said anything you wouldn't find on any other tenth rate goth album, not even by accident; and in case anyone was wondering, I've picked on Nada! because it still sounds like an actual record. More recent efforts would have constituted shooting a fish in a barrel - The Rule of Thirds from 2008 for example just seems to be strum whine moan strum strum angels and stuff strum Martin Boorman was nice to his goldfish blah blah blah... It sounds like he's making it up as he goes along, just more generic neofolk product by which to pay off a substantial tab at Millets. Those camouflage underpants ain't cheap.

Yet whilst Death In June don't appear to have actually said anything, Douglas P himself certainly has, and it's all over the internet and isn't difficult to find. Mostly it seems to be nebulous crap along the lines of how the European gene pool has seen better days - stuff at roughly the intellectual level of someone you knew from school who turns up on facebook after twenty years, working for an insurance company and who thinks that UKIP are only stating what many people feel they aren't allowed to say due to political correctness. In fact, Douglas P's infrequent almost but not quite political observations seem to present an intriguing third possibility that he hasn't really thought about it all that much because the fucker simply isn't that bright, and the fact of his having got away with singing veiled tributes to Adolf Hitler all these years has really been sheer dumb luck - not so much a Nazi as just something of a berk.

So in conclusion, I don't know whether he is or he isn't, and I'm not sure how much I genuinely care. On the other hand, my bottom line is that when fans turn up to your gigs wearing full SS uniform to appreciatively sieg heil your songs, and this doesn't inspire you to take a long, hard look at just where you've gone wrong, then you're a fucking twat regardless; which I'd say applies just as well when you see no ideological problem in sharing a stage with acts who openly endorse racist or otherwise extreme right-wing ideals. Whether it's art, or you like to keep an open-mind, or you're thinking outside the box, or you're simply exploring controversial ideas and imagery, you're still a fucking twat.

The bottom line to this bottom line is that it won't necessarily stop me listening to your records, any more than I'll ever stop listening to and enjoying MC Ren urging us all to buy guns and take out as many white people as we can before the cops arrive - which is different for too many reasons to go into here - but it may somewhat change my regard of you as an individual with a presumed ability to think in a straight line without either falling over or shitting yourself. So feel free to continue to listen to and enjoy Death In June, but please don't pretend it does anything deeper than what little it has the courage to admit on the tin. Sometimes if it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it looks like a duck, then maybe it's a fucking duck. It might simply be pretending to be a duck for reasons best known to itself, but we could be stuck here all day debating just what the difference is.


  1. Really enjoyed reading this and others on here tonight Lawrence.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this and others on here tonight Lawrence.