While in the Grassi Museum in Leipzig during the 2015 edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen, my eye fell on this massive book about Death In June for what seemed to be a very reasonable price. However I am not a huge fan of Death In June, I was curious enough to bring back home the book to read the story of Douglas Pearce and his friends.
The book was originally written in Italian. The German translation was published two years later. The original edition has the notorious ‘death’s head’ logo on the cover (the ebook version even more clearly). My guess is that that cover on the German edition would lead to the book being banned like some of Death In June’s albums. It looks like there is no English translation. This immediatly makes me wonder: did Douglas give his interviews in English and were his answers first translated to Italian and then again to German? I certainly would have preferred to read the man’s answers in his native tongue. What is more, the German in the book already does not always seem too good to me, but some Germans confirm this. This already starts with the title. The Italian title is Death In June, a l’ombre des runes which (I think) means “in the shadows of the runes” rather than “hidden below runes”. Perhaps the German title make a little wordplay with the Hagakure that Pearce seems to love.
Chimenti proves to be a big and longtime fan of the band. This is often quite annoying, because everything the band does is brilliant and everything that can be explained negativelly is incorrect. (Towards the end the publisher of the German edition felt to need to correct Chimenti on a few occasions.) Even everything people did who at some point worked with Douglas Pearce seems to be idolised. This makes the book too praising and uncritical to me.
My first acquaintance with Death In June must have been somewhere in ‘my martial industrial / neofolk period’. My guess is that the 1995 album “Rose Clouds Of Holocaust” was the first album that I bought. I did not buy many other lateron. By the time the two cooperative albums with Albin Julius (Der Blutharsch) were released, I had been more than aware of this Austrian musician and that was the reason to listen to DIJ again. Chimenti suggests that it was this cooperation that brought Der Blutharsch its fame. Speaking of Julius. I find it very strange that every musician that Pearce worked with is written about at length. Tony Wakeford, Patrick Leagas, David Tibet, John Murphey, Boyd Rice, Richard Leviathan, Timothy Jenn, Andreas Reiter, etc. while Julius is hardly menioned when Chimenti describes “Operation Hummingbird” and “Take Care and Control”.
Back to the beginning. Chimenti starts with Crisis, the punkband that Pearce started with Tony Wakeford and Lester Jones. I was very curious to learn how Pearce and Wakeford went from very leftish political activists to provocateurs accused of being far-right. This did not become entirely clear to me. It seems that Pearce already had a big interest in WWII related subjects in his punk-period. Perhaps only later did he start to use them in his ambiguous works of art. What also does not become entirely clear is how Wakeford left the band. The break with Leagas seems better documented.
Chimenti works from the early days (1980) upto around 2012. Some periods contain a lot of ‘biographical’ material, other are not much more than his experiences, songtexts and a few lines in between. Interwoven are pieces of interviews / conversations that the author had with Pearce during their long friendship. Sometimes the information is interesting and funny, sometimes rather dull (like when the author gives physical descriptions of releases). Also it is nice to get some perspective around the band. I -for example- sometimes wondered how a band ‘from the neofolk scene’ can make a living with the music with so few releases, also on Pearce’s labels; and inspite of all the fuss around the imaginary that Pearce uses. It seems that this is mostly due to the three years that Crisis existed. Pearce quickly made a name and gathered a whole crowd of loyal fans, many of whom followed him into his new endeavors. For DIJ a 2000-copy edition of an album is limited, while for many releases that I buy, this is a regular number. Death In June is bigger than I imagined.
What is also nice is to learn about ‘the neofolk scene’ from the perspective of people who had been doing their thing for years before this whole ‘neofolk thing’ sprung up. It sounds like for Pearce there are just a few bands doing something similar, but it is not there where his alliances seem to lay.
Something I had also hoped to learn a bit more about are the dealings with World Serpent, but this seems to be a subject Pearce gets so crossed over, that details are not really mentioned. And however many shows are described and mentioned and also some that controversy prevented, there is nothing about the disastrous 9th edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen (2000) when the band was not allowed to play.
So what do we learn about Pearce’s actual philosophy or politics? Very little! His artwork and lyrics already show that Pearce likes his audience to think for itself and of these lyrics, there are many, if not all. Reading them they often make little sense to me and there most certainly is not a coherent message in them. Sure, out of context some artwork, lyric or piece of an interview can be provocative, but read the lyrics, the interviews, Pearce’s musings, his ups and downs in life and than again think about the point if this man is as dangerous and some want him to be.
As a person Pearce grew on me because of this book too. His use of runes proves not to be merely provocative. He has had a long interest in Germanic history and runelogy. His other interests are varried, but for a large part historical. He likes ambiguous symbolism that forces the onlooker to think, the same for the lyrics. Perhaps the biggest problem with Death In June that people have is that they cannot easily tell what the message is (if there is any), so they take things out of context to give the band a context for themselves (and worse: for others). I do wonder why Pearce would be so blunt to use the SS-deadhead as a logo (even though I understand the symbolism), wear SS uniforms on stage, sample the Horst-Wessel song (the meaning of which usuage is explained by the way) or use a swastica-like arrangement of dog-heads for artwork when people are already suspicious (or worse); but even if this is meant to provoke, are there not more dangerous types to worry about? Pearce does provoke, but he provokes us to think and that is what comes out of this book most clearly.
The book itself is not magnificent. Here and there it makes a nice read, at other places less so. Like I said, the book is a bit too praising. On the other hand, you will have a massive amount of DIJ lyrics, photos (b/w and colour), covers of hard-to-get releases, snippets from interviews, reports of performances and what not. The book did not make me a bigger fan, but does give more colour to a ‘big name’ from the scene where much of my music comes from.
2012 Plöttner Verlag, isbn 9783862110308