Dystopian Future Movies are one of the best post-rock bands around at the moment, with a new single about to drop and a tour with Fvnerals in the offing.
We sent Peter Darrington to have a chat with them.
It’s a cold drizzly Saturday afternoon in Nottingham. I arrive at fairly non-descript door between two shops that face the Market Square. There’s no bell or buzzer so I dial my go-between’s number to check this actually is my rendezvous point.
Daniel answers, confirming that I have the right place and that he’s on his way down to let me in.
Everything to do with this band has an air of mystery about it. It’s like they’re part of a secret world, going on right under our noses but that we’re totally unaware of. The last time I wrote about them for Louder Than War, the whole adventure had an ‘other worldly’ feel to it and today is no different.
The door opens and a gentleman in a three piece Tweed suit and a frankly exquisite moustache ushers me inside, and up a flight of stairs.
I’m in the bar that time forgot. Like a cross between a 1950’s jazz club and a prohibition speakeasy, this is The Chameleon Arts Cafe. Aptly named as it blends in with its surroundings so well that unless you’re in the know, your chances of finding it are somewhere between slim and none. And slim is out of town.
Daniel, for it is he, clears the remains of last night’s revelry (an endless sea of empty beer and wine glasses), then makes me a cup of tea. He sits behind the tiny bar and we chat about the growing DIY music movement while Miles Davis emanates from a dusty record player.
The band, Dystopian Future Movies, are fashionably late for this interview, but I don’t mind. Daniel is easy going, good company and has lots to say about music in general, so much so that I record our chat and instantly think I’ve scored two articles for the price of one.
Time seems to stand still in here – maybe it’s the decor? Just when I’m thinking I could spend the rest of the afternoon chilaxing with this dapper fellow, waxing cynical about the state of popular music while watching a blissfully ignorant city go about its business through the large window over looking the square, the band, my editor Sarah and our photographer Kristen all arrive at once; shattering the calm.
We’re here to shoot first, ask questions later, so without further ado, we all trudge up another flight of stairs to ‘the venue’ where the band are going to play some songs for us, while Kristen gets their collective good sides.
You know that scene in Bladerunner in Tyrell’s place, where it’s all dark and spooky with velvet drapes and dusty baroque marble? Yeah, this room is that. But without the robot owl dude. It couldn’t suit this band more, as their epic reverb drenched bitter sweet sound is crying out to be the sound track for a noir-SF film where the future has gone quite quite wrong. Are you listening Denis Villeneuve?
I perch on a battered chair (probably a Louis Quinze, knowing this place. Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen would lose his shit in here) and let them carry out their guitar based necromancy on me.
Three songs later (I think it was that many – I suspect I had an episode of lost time that would make Mulder and Scully suspicious) Kristen tells us she ‘has what we need’ and we decamp to a couple of tired old leather sofas so I can finally get some answers out of these guys.
I want to start the interview by asking them what they would do if they were in the dessert and found a tortoise on its back, but I refrain. Instead I ask them some proper questions.
While their music might seem tinged with melancholy the band themselves are anything but. Caroline Cawley (vocals and guitar) is a twinkly eyed Dubliner with a cheeky sense of humour, while Bill Fisher (drums) clearly enjoys being Caroline’s counter balancing dry droll other half. Emily Azadpour (bass) while, quiet is far from bland – like the rest of the band, she oozes cool, like a cat in a diamante collar. (Maybe it’s the faux fur coat – it is freezing in here).
When I ask how they got together, Caroline’s opening gambit is ‘Well I was swiping through tinder one night when…’ the whole room cracks up and the ice is broken immediately. “Seriously though,” she says, composing herself, “I’d been writing bits and pieces for some time while working in a bar. Bill was in a blues band playing there one night. I liked how he played and when he came up to the bar I thought I’d steal him. Me and Ems have known each other for about six years. I used to put on gigs in Dublin for Club AC30, a shoegaze label. I got to know loads of English bands and a couple of bands from Nottingham came and played and I met Ems through them. So I moved here (Nottingham) because I needed a break from my teaching career at the time.”
Because it seems so apt, especially in this place, I can’t resist asking the obvious. “How did you come up with the name, Dystopian Future Movies? Is it because you sound like the kind of band that should be soundtracking an arthouse future-flick?”
“We went through a lot of names. There were a load that didn’t mean anything, that she liked, but I didn’t like.” Bill quips, nodding to Caroline.
Caroline nods, rolling her eyes. “Well, we do all like those kind of movies, but when we formed, we didn’t have an idea of how we were going to sound. The sound evolved as we experimented. I really hadn’t been playing guitar for very long, so we just started playing together and trying different things. But it’s like the name predicted our future almost. Because we ended up with that kind of vibe, just through trying ideas out.”
“The Sonic Youth comparisons probably come from that fact Caroline basically didn’t play guitar before we started the band, so there was an element of no pre-conceptions of riffs or anything like that.” Bill adds.
“I just make stuff up and go with what I think sounds good, ” interjects Caroline. “I’ve never had lessons or tried to learn to play guitar in a classical sense. Both Ems and I played piano in the past, so we know quite a bit about music”
“But it’s great because there’s no frame of reference – that this is a recycled Sabbath riff or whatever. It’s what makes it so interesting to play to. I’d then play what I think is the obvious drum beat to what she was doing and Caroline would just say ‘no, no’ do something more weird!” Bill grins from under his Russian style trapper hat (did I mention it’s very cold?).
“I just naturally gravitate towards things that sound off kilter. Not just the drums, but the guitar, the vocals. I like things to sound almost disconcerting,” says Caroline, chuckling, “Maybe it’s just my brain!”
I point out that when I watched them play, I noticed that Caroline’s guitar was not in standard tuning, because at no point did she seem to form conventional chord shapes.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Nods Caroline. “That was advice from Bill when I got the guitar first. It’s DADGAD, which gives us room to let a lot more open strings ring when I play, that sort of defines our sound. I stuck with that tuning because I can’t play technically and that tuning sounded like a lot of the music that I like to listen to.”
“It’s a folk tuning, but it doesn’t sound folky at all in this context,” Bill adds.
To date, Dystopian Future Movies have only released one EP, but it doesn’t sound like a band’s first record by any means. Surely they must have been locked away for ages crafting away, for a debut record to sound this good? I’m finding it difficult to believe when Caroline says she hasn’t been playing guitar very long.
“Well, when we released the record last January, we’d only actually done one gig previously,” she responds, modestly, “but Bill was known around town for being in various bands so there was a lot of interest surrounding us even then. We did the record launch gig here and the place was packed out.”
I tell them they’ve obviously not read the rule book, their first gigs are meant to be to empty rooms. “Well, our very first gig was. That was in Sheffield to three people!” Caroline laughs. But Bill’s large circle of musical friends aside, it’s a testament to the quality of their first record and now they’re about to release their second. Eagerly, I ask them about the new single.
“We’ve recorded two new songs with Joff Spittlehouse, up in the old library in Mansfield. He’s recorded some really good stuff for lots of our friends. Bill Recorded, mixed and mastered the EP himself in our studio but for this single we wanted to try somewhere new – plus I was interested to see what they process was like, playing for someone else,” says Caroline.
“Plus, we’ve got our own studio, so when it’s just us working together, it feels like you’ve got infinite time,” chips in Bill, “which leads to you constantly adding, re-tweaking and re-doing and that can sometimes be a bad thing. There’s a danger that you’ll just keep going forever and never get anything out. We wanted the discipline that comes with working within a time constraint.”
The single release co-incides with the band’s first experience of touring – six dates with Glasgow slow-core band Fvnerals. I ask them how that came about, how they’ll juggle being a proper rock n’ roll band with having real-world day job and whether they’re looking forward to it.
“They just heard us, liked what we were doing and got in touch”, Caroline explains. “Me and Bill are both teachers, so it’s difficult to arrange doing something like this. We can’t just suddenly take time off work – in the conventional way working people in bands might usually do. They originally asked us if we could do something in like, May or June and we had to say no, but we can do one week in April. Whereas they (Fvnerals) have just relocated to Glasgow and are still looking for jobs, so they had the time free to do what they want. But we’re really glad we could sort something out. We’re really looking forward to it.”
For both bands, the Tetris-like problem of arranging a string of dates around each other’s ‘real life’ commitments is now pretty much the norm. The days of quitting your job to go on your first tour backed by your record company are now a thing of the past. It’s part of the DIY culture that bands like Dystopian Future Movies have had no choice but to embrace. But a key difference between then and now is that, if done properly, bands now have complete control how and when their career progresses.
“It’s infinitely better in some ways, but the main problem is the exposure that you’d get being backed by a decent sized label just isn’t really an option for bands like us”, explains Bill. “The ideal situation for us would be a small but self-sufficient indie label basically pressing proper records for us so we don’t have that expense and handling the distribution so we don’t just have a box of records under the bed, but we’d still be having to pay for the recording. There are limitations, but there’s a fair bit of that kind of deal going around.”
“Yeah that would be awesome,” adds Caroline, “as usually they take care of promotion and let you get on with making the music. But it is a whole different world now. We’re in our mid thirties now and we’re coming to this arguably quite late, compared to a lot of bands. But it’s interesting just how many bands are in their thirties and forties now and still getting out there and doing it.”
I ask them if they think the internet has facilitated that shift. Twenty years ago, making music really seemed like the property of the young, driven by a fashion and youth culture obsessed music press that was pretty much your only window on to what was out there. But now music fans are perhaps not quite so much dictated to by weekly music magazines and are able to explore a globe-full of music made by people of all ages, shapes sizes and colours at the click of a mouse without big brother telling them what is or isn’t cool this week. Caroline agrees, in part.
“There is that, but life in general has changed massively too. A generation ago, most people of our age were married with kids. People spend much longer building their careers and don’t even settle down until their forties. So the way we live our lives has changed too, which makes it perfectly acceptable for us to be doing what we are doing and we have no reason to think about stopping.
“There aren’t any rules any more, we’re allowed to make music however old we are, whereas before people would have said to us ‘what do you mean you’re in your mid thirties and you’re fucking about in a band?”
Dystopian Future Movies’ new single NYD/Nova is released via their bandcamp page on 1 April 2016.
On Tour with Fvnerals:
- March 31 – West Street Live, Sheffield
- April 1 – Chameleon Arts Café, Nottingham
- April 2 – Star and Garter, Manchester
- April 3 – Northumberland Arms, Newcastle Upon Tyne
- April 4 – Opium, Edinburgh
- April 5 – 13th Note, Glasgow.
All words by Peter Darrington. You can find Pete on Twitter and read his other articles for Louder Than War here. You can also hear him on Radio Andra each Tuesday night from 8pm, bringing you the best of underground and alternative music from around the world.
Images by Kristen Goodall.