Authentic and true music has the potential to upset people. Good music should provoke. It can provoke emotionally or on a political level. Is there a limit? Is there anybody authorized to set a limit for how far artistic provocation can go? Since the early days of Punkrock, controversial symbolism has been used in order to provoke, to arouse and shake things up. The legendary early punk icon Siouxsie Sioux wore not only rubber stockings, but also swastika armbands. Back then outrageous and scandalous, now a part of music history.
The Swedish Band DOWN IN JUNE released 14 cover songs, that aim to interprete the controversial British band DEATH IN JUNE in a complete new way. DEATH IN JUNE, a band that started in the early 80ies, originally with a quite similar sound and aesthetic as the mythical Manchester band JOY DIVISION, has been highly disputed since their very beginning. Especially in Germany are DEATH IN JUNE and their main actor Douglas Pearce more than controversial, because of their usage of Nazi-imagery, aesthetics and lyrics.
I interviewed the Swedish cover-band DOWN IN JUNE in order to find answers to several questions. How far can artistic provocation go, especially when it comes to explicit symbolism? Should there be a limit, a barrier, that must not be crossed? How is the relationsship between art, music and politics in this matter?
I had to face a lot of discussions after I completed this interview, which I think is a good sign. Please read and judge for yourself.
Could you describe your first contact with DEATH IN JUNE and what effect it had on you and how DOWN IN JUNE got started ?
DOWN IN JUNE is a love story. One of DOWN IN JUNEs members, Mr Catjar brought a DEATH IN JUNE song he thought we should try to cover (Little black angel) and we had a really good session in the studio. After that, listening to DEATH IN JUNE songs became something like a treasure hunt, but without struggle. We felt really rich from the wealth of these songs and enjoyed working with this material and the process was very fast, sometimes one song per day.
What aspects of DEATH IN JUNE did you find fascinating at first?
The quality of Douglas Pearces songwriting. His songs are really exceptional in modern music history. To deal with his songs changed our idea of what we do, and this still fascinates us.
DEATH IN JUNE are especially in Germany more than controversial, because of their usage of Nazi-imagery, aesthetics and lyrics. What is your opinion on that?
Our consumist culture stipulates some cliché alternatives for human subjectivity, all constructed to help us forget our history. We have no problem in understanding that DEATH IN JUNE might be controversial. Everything important must be controversial, only then may a discussion be possible. Tarrying with the negative might scratch a few scars, nonetheless, we see Douglas Pearce as a very serious artist that did some brave moves in his career. Probably at a great personal cost sometimes, and we respect him for that.
Your record appears on the official DEATH IN JUNE Homepage. How is your relation to Douglas Pearce?
Well, Douglas P signed our record deal so off course he has an interest in marketing our record on his homepage. To what and where our collaboration will lead us in the future is yet to be explored.
Do you think its possible or necessary to find a balance between artistic/aesthetic freedom of expression and respect for in the case of DEATH IN JUNE - the victims of the holocaust?
The victims of the holocaust do not benefit from an understanding of art that doesnt make room for DEATH IN JUNE. It is a stupid idea that art should serve the purpose of societal wishes to keep things in a neat order. What made the holocaust possible is still here and yet to be dealt with. Pointing out the use of controversial symbols as the disease is just a way to avoid the symptom.
The record Roseclouds of Holocaust is one of DEATH IN JUNEs most controversial albums. On the 31. of December 2005 it has been put on the index of the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien, because of its nationalsocialistic tendencies, especially because of the songs Rose Clouds of Holocaust and Lifebooks. The text of the songs Rose Clouds of Holocaust was supposed to portray the holocaust as fiction. Douglas Pearce claimed that this song had nothing to do with the holocaust in Nazi-Germany, but refers to the ancient greek word holokáutoma (burnt offering) and was an expression for a nature experience he once had on Iceland. What is your opinion on this whole issue?
We dont know we dont have the information but the holocaust is ofcourse a fiction in the sense that it is the most powerful narrative of absolute evil in our times. Therefore we should have an open debate of how to use that narrative and for what purposes.
In Punk Nazi-symbolism has been often used, mostly to provoke and as artistic means. How far do you think should/can provocation go?
Provocation is inevitable for anyone who wants to raise a discussion. But the confirmative habits of avoiding societal antagonisms will always condemn those who provokes/raises questions. Since our times are dominated by structures that aim to hide its ideological premises, art might have a mission.
Could you describe your life performances?
We are very much a band that favours chance as we let the live situation provoke us into some uncertainty. Its actually a question of reality and fiction. We do not represent our performance but try to become it as we go along.
What is the future for DOWN IN JUNE?
Hopefully we will go on tour through Europe and USA. That would be a dream come true! Till then we stay in our studio working on the next album with our other project BABY BLONDE & THE DOWNS. We have an album title by the way: Apes of a cold God.
recommended song: Kameradschaft