Death In June is a controversial band. Let’s just get that out there right at the start.
The first time I heard of them was earlier this year, maybe late last year, and it was the album cover of Brown Book that first caught my attention. And the reason I noticed it was the use of the totenkopf on the cover. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a version of the “death’s head” emblem appropriated by the Nazi SS in the 1930s and 40s. Needless to say, it’s jarring to see an image like that on an album cover, and it gives one pause. Is this some white power band? Now to be fair, the totenkopf pre-dates the Nazis… in fact it goes way back to the 1700s when it was used by the Prussian military. But it’s association with Nazism is what we all know it for today, much like the runic “SS” combination, the swastika, and even the style of Hitler’s mustache, all things that existed way before the Nazis but that the Nazis basically “ruined” for all time (Michael Jordan seems like he’s trying to bring back that Charlie Chaplin mustache style… though I have no idea way because it’s terrible in and of itself. I say good riddance to it.). So using the totenkopf on your albums is bound to generate an emotional response, which I’m sure is intentional. But that leaves us with the “why” behind it – is it about shocking the viewer, like Sid Vicious wearing a swastika shirt, or does it mean something more.
Frankly I have no idea. If you read about Death In June online, you’ll see people firmly entrenched in both camps. While I don’t know of anything overtly National Socialist about vocalist Douglas P.’s politics or world view, he likes to agitate. I don’t know what to make of it, though I will confess to being curious about the music to hear what the fuss was about. Their albums tend to be a bit pricey on vinyl, but I found a live record down in Portland a few weeks back for a decent price, so I figured this was my chance.
There are multiple versions of Uonna Club, Rome Italy, December 10th, 1991, and frankly I have no idea if any/some/all/none are official, unofficial, bootlegged, or what. The whole thing is pretty confusing. My version is a hand-numbered limited edition of 99 (mine is #92) that includes two postcards, both showing Prussian (pre-Nazi) soldiers sporting the totenkopf. The recording quality is unfortunately pretty poor – it’s very low and hollow, so I’m not sure how representative what I’m hearing is of the overall Death in June neo-folk/post-punk sound. I would say it’s much more on the folkish side of things, but definitely in an experimental, almost industrial way, which I agree seems to make no sense, but you’ll just have to listen for yourself. Because the recording is so low grade it’s hard to get into it and get a feel for the performance, even after repeated listenings. The opening track “Ku Ku Ku” is the most distinctive, if for no other reason than the repeated “Ku ku” lyric throughout the song. Much of the music is acoustic guitar driven, with fairly minimal percussion and an emphasis on the vocals. Mind you, it gets crazy at times too, such as on “Fields Of Rape” (as you can see, Death In June likes to just piss people off in general).
I doubt I’ll be buying more Death In June, though if something random comes my way I’ll probably at least give it a brief listen. I’m generally not too into people who are over the top in an effort to shock, but I do try to let the music speak for itself, so I’d still be interested to hear something of theirs that is studio quality.