Week 8: Red Sky at Night, Death In June
It was one of things you end up at, following links. From Psychic TV, to Coil, to Current 93 via little notes in fanzines, on record sleeves, even a couple of sentences in the NME.
20 years ago, at the ripe old age of 17, I asked the bloke behind the counter of Our Price if I could hear “The Brown Book”, an LP by a band called Death In June which I knew nothing about other than that there was some involvement by David Tibet, Rose McDowell and John Balance.
It sounded fantastic – nice and loud over the shop’s great system and headphones. Dark ballads, weird imagery and simple folky songs. The sleeve gave very little away – a skull and the title of the album. The inserts were seriously weird – some leaflets about occult supplies and some very sinister t-shirts.
The final track on side one was a dreamlike spoken word piece over a soundscape. When it finished I handed over my cash.
Death In June were one of the ultimate bands for fans who like a bit of a treasure hunt. Very few clues were ever given away. At 17, before google or discogs had even been thought of, this was quite exciting.
Putting the pieces of the jigsaw together became my new obsession, but when I saw the finished picture I was older and wiser and didn’t really like what I saw. The skull on the cover was a totenkopf and one of the songs on the album was an acapella of “Horst Wessel”. These were the first steps in the “are they dodgy or aren’t they?” tango that DIJ plays with all their fans. The consensus seems to be that everyone can get off on this elitist/faux-nazi imagery without actually being a fascist.
This flogging of “aesthetic fascism as pornography” is dealt with at length in Stewart Home’s definitive Death In June Not Mysterious.
But there were other things which set me on edge as well. Not least this, from one of the group’s newsletters: “1988 (HH) held such promise but, like the man (AH) has only proved to be treacherous”. The bands which followed in DIJ’s jackbooted footsteps took the uniforms, runes and nudge nudge nazi references several steps further without anyone raising an eyebrow.
Musically, the strummy folkiness lost its appeal when I finally got to hear Nick Drake.
The totenkopf tango continues to this day, with Douglas P (DIJ’s only permanent member) doing very nicely out of the proceeds. Dull. I’ve even grown tired of misguided attempts by anti-fascists to get worked up by the band and its posturing. I take some comfort in the fact that I never felt the need to own a Death In June wristwatch.
I didn’t have enough 12″ envelopes to get rid of my vinyl, but I had managed to keep a book about the group written by a fan, some newsletters, fanzines, etc. I knew this stuff was rare and that there would be an eager audience for it. In some ways this entire ebay exercise felt like handing down this material to a younger generation who may or may not be like I was at 17. Needless to say I had very mixed feelings about this and it was all too easy to feel a bit paternal and worried about people who were buying up all this shit off ebay. But the twin realisations that I wouldn’t have listened to anyone else at 17, and that the 37 year old me wanted cash money, stopped me making an arse out of myself.
Sure enough the book was up to just under 20 quid 2 days into the auction. I also received a number of emails begging me to end the auctions early and sell multiple items off-ebay. The book ended up at £26.00, the newsletters at £16.00, the zines etc between £2 and £12.50. Once again, the majority of this stuff went to one person to the tune of about eighty quid. A good week, all in all.