Southern Death Cult formed in 1981 in Bradford, Yorkshire. The group's name derived from an old term for the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, a mound-building Native American culture (and the band were also known for their use of Native American imagery), but it also served as a critique of the imbalance of power in the English North-South divide. The first Southern Death Cult show took place on 29 October 1981 at the Queen's Hall in Bradford.
The band's debut, the double A-side 7" single "Moya/Fatman", also referred to as The Southern Death Cult, was released in December 1982 on the Situation Two label (an offshoot of Beggars Banquet Records) and hit No. 1 on the UK Indie Chart. Southern Death Cult toured heavily in the UK to promote the single, including slots opening for Theatre of Hate and Bauhaus at the end of 1982, but Astbury disbanded the group after a show in Manchester on 26 February 1983.
The band's sole album, The Southern Death Cult, was issued by Beggars Banquet in 1983, compiling all three tracks from the single, live performances and BBC Radio 1 sessions.
Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy (of The Nosebleeds and Theatre of Hate) came together in April 1983 to form an act with a similar name, first called Death Cult and then, after releasing an eponymous four-song EP and a single later in 1983, renamed The Cult.