We Still Hear the Calling
Celebrating 30 Years of Death in June’s “Nada!”
Written by Conor Wrigley | Co-written by S. L. Weatherford
If you consider yourself a fan of the neofolk genre, then at one point in time you have most assuredly crossed paths with the music of Death in June, if indeed Douglas P. wasn’t the one to lead you down that path on his own to begin with. Born from the ashes of late-70s punk band Crisis, Death in June was started by Douglas as a trio in 1981 along with two other founders of the genre: Tony Wakeford, who would go on to form Sol Invictus, and Patrick Leagas, who later formed Sixth Comm. Originally, the music was more of a post-punk style without the heavy acoustics, reflecting the path of an artist that would seem destined to follow in the footsteps of acts such as Joy Division. This would later change as the band began to both shed members and evolve towards a progressively less experimental direction, finally leading to a sound that has dominated its releases for some time now: acoustic guitar-driven neofolk. Those early albums contain elements of many different styles that would all fall under the post-industrial umbrella, and it’s safe to say that many showcase the artists’ individual talents as musicians across a wide range of styles. A perfect example of this is the now thirty-year-old album Nada!
Nada! was first released in 1985, and encompassed a brief era for the band that further developed and nurtured the folk elements that were hinted at on Burial with “Death of the West.” It also introduced a rhythmic sound that was, by all accounts, Leagas’s influence, hence the evolution away from it upon his sudden departure soon thereafter. Wakeford had left Death in June after Burial, so this would also be the first album without his influence. Nada! is where fans of the band would experience the beginnings of Death in June’s then-unique, trademark sound. This uniqueness is present in Nada!‘s truly diverse collection of tracks, which range from post-punk-inspired industrial dance music (“The Calling [Mk II],” “Carousel,” “Rain of Despair”) to stripped-down acoustic folk-noir (“Leper Lord,” “Behind the Rose [Fields of Rape],” “She Said Destroy”). The album also features another founder of the genre, David Tibet, who was credited as recording under the moniker Christ ‘93’. In fact, one will notice that “Behind the Rose (Fields of Rape)” is also featured on the Current 93 album Dogs Blood Rising—whose 30th anniversary we celebrated last year— albeit in a different style altogether from Death in June’s acoustic version.
The album’s significance remains evident to this day as it represents the beginnings of not only what would become the neofolk genre, but also its firm placement within the umbrella of post-industrial music in general. In this post-industrial vein, the album features the experimental, rhythmic song “C’est un Rêve,” whose oft misinterpreted theme surrounds the notorious Gestapo member Klaus Barbie. So not only do we have the beginnings of both Sixth Comm and Death in June’s recognizable sounds, but we also see the beginning of the controversial themes which Douglas P. would incorporate into virtually every fragment of the project, from stage performances to photographic imagery and lyrical themes. The album also features more pop-oriented songs like “She Said Destroy,” which has become a crowd favorite at performances and remains just as memorable as when Nada! was first released thirty years ago this month. In fact, the album is riddled with songs that could be considered as venturing into pop territory, and this is partially what has led to the album’s success with fans. The songs featured on Nada! may not be the most accessible thematically, but they certainly are when the music is the only part of the equation.
As mentioned earlier, much of the album’s rhythmic inspiration is credited to then-member Patrick Leagas, who would later go on to remake the track “The Calling (Mk II)” multiple times for Sixth Comm. In retrospect, when listening to Nada!—and then the early works of Sixth Comm—one can tell that this really was the beginning of Leagas’ journey into his own musical universe and one which would inspire many artists in both the neofolk and greater post-industrial scenes. But it doesn’t just stop there; the legacy of Nada!—as well as the albums that would come to follow over the next decade—is one that has truly inspired many different artists across a broad spectrum of genres. Even the well-known electro-pop group Ladytron would go on to cover But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?‘s most iconic track (and one of Death in June’s most enduring), “Little Black Angel.”
Yes, it is obvious that Nada!‘s legacy is incredibly far-reaching, branching out over three decades to inspire artists the world over while continuing to acquire newly dedicated fans, some of which—like the two authors behind this article—weren’t even born yet when the album was originally released. With Nada! reaching its thirtieth year of unyielding relevance this month, we encourage our readers to go back and listen to this album and take note of its significance. Keep in mind the lengthy discography that both Death in June and Sixth Comm have managed to create throughout the last three decades while listening, and try to immerse yourself in the memory of that first experience with the album. Sit back, turn on your record player, and enjoy one of the most significant and iconic albums that the last three decades have had to offer.