Ahead of their gig at The Black Heart in Camden with Darkher and Soden this Friday 2nd February, Aditya Bhatt had a conversation with Caroline and Bill of Dystopian Future Movies about all the things that make them what they are.
Listening to Time fills me up with a strange feeling – for which there is almost certainly an epigrammatic word in another language – an unnerving stew of dread and familiarity. The spacious instrumentation drenched in reverb, the precise hypnotic drumming and the soul-wrenching vocals are woven into a thick fog of of opiate ambivalence. It hangs heavy with a foreboding of something terrible about to happen, yet it lulls me into a strange tranquillity born of helplessness, finding solace in the inevitability of it all. When I finally emerge from the fog, I am breathless but surprisingly lucid; and in that sonic deluge, ”all my designs simplified”.
My conversation with Bill and Caroline from Dystopian Future Movies obviously begins with something about dystopia and movies. Bill agrees with me that we are living in a universe spawned from the unholy union of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, where Big Brother is watching us AND everyone’s addicted to something; with the truth being drowned in a sea of lies ”with a bit of Terminator, Idiocracy, Robocop thrown in... haha(?)”
I asked if they would ever do a soundtrack for a film, and turns out that at their first ever show they used La Jetée (1962) as a visual backdrop. It’s a French science-fiction featurette (28 mins long, black & white) by Chris Marker, which went on to inspire 12 Monkeys. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel.
Caroline: “Because the DFM sound is hugely emotional; dynamic changes taking the listener through the ebb and flow of a story, I always thought that if La Jetée were to have a soundtrack instead of narration, it would be a good pairing. Equal part intense joy and beauty, equal part darkness, suffering – a cacophony of catharsis by the end!”
Bill: “There’s a particular moment in the film where they use actual moving film instead of the stills, only for a few seconds, to massive effect. We try to approach the music in a similar way, using dynamics and repetition allows for moments of unprecedented impact.”Before I had even heard them I found the band logo absolutely intriguing, and there was clearly something arcane about it. A mysterious artist known as Zorad distills multiple concepts into a beautiful meaningful representation. The ancient Ogham alphabet is chosen to spell the letters D-F-M- paying tribute to Caroline’s Celtic heritage. They align vertically as you rotate the logo clockwise; this movement echoing cyclical nature of time,which is also the title of the first album. And in the centre – a triangle pointing right the familiar ‘play’ symbol. The graphic quite successfully represents the idea of their music- uniting the past, present and future into one omniscient singularity. An equally sincere depth and craft is expressed in their music,which is why it is hard to believe that Caroline has started on this musical endeavour only very recently.
“When I was 14, I bought a 35 quid acoustic guitar from the local music shop with my babysitting money. Although I never had any interest in playing music that would suit an acoustic guitar, it was cheap and so I set about trying to play that squealy riff bit from Oh, George from the first Foo Fighters album. The action was too high, and it was really hard to play but I kinda managed it. No wonder I abandoned all other efforts at guitar playing till I was 30! I was terrified of singing solo in from of Bill or anyone else, and kept making excuses to get out of it. The first song we played together before we even named the band was something really basic that I had come up with. I told him that I had a number of songs at first, to get him to take me seriously when I initially mentioned having a jam.”
Fast forward to now, Caroline writes most of her music on a busted up old valvestate and her trusty Epiphone SG; She is reluctant to ‘upgrade’ to a Gibson which understandable since the Epiphone is her first and only electric guitar and they scaled many a steep learning curve together. For her it is key to maintain ‘clarity’ both vocally and with the guitar for the quiet parts live. She prefers a simple setup on the guitar with a power clean sound, and for the heavier parts her favourite overdrive pedal is the Marshall Jackhammer that has some really fat sustain, amazing for single notes during those sections. Given her proclivity (‘truly fallen in love with DADGAD’ she says) for open tunings, unusual chord voicings, and sometimes seemingly jarring note progressions, she has crafted tones that allow for a stark presentation that compliments her brooding voice, intertwining to create an arresting soundscape.
Investigating the workings of her songwriting process reveals that the band helps to arrange and jam ideas that start quite simply as a melody sung over a moving series of chords. The magic is always just beneath the surface, as I learnt from the serendipitous birth of Dissonant Aggressors. Caroline was enjoying the sound of a few notes with a little bit of delay. “I closed my eyes and all of these words and a melody came out. and luckily I managed to record it all. It was an odd feeling- It felt like it was already written in my head and it just came out”.
The clarity of tones and flawless production really showcases the quality musicmanship by the band, who produced the album themselves at The Doom Room in Nottingham. Bill adds that they made sure to maintain the live element as much as possible, but combined some studio techniques such as automating reverbs so the different elements move back and forth in space. They did tracked the instruments separately,but managed to avoid the temptation of adding lots of guitar or vocal layers that couldn’t be reproduced live. There is some layering though- a couple of vocal harmonies; the initial tom pattern on Dissonant Aggressors are also layered to creating an “army coming over the hill” effect. That track also features Rafe on guitar, who will be joining them the on UK tour with Soden, that they are kicking off at the Facemelter .
2018 looks like it’s off to a great start for DFM, who are currently warming up for their tour with some blues/jazz/funk and a new track from the new album which has a “monumentous doom riff in the middle” that seems to be a lot of fun ( we might need to wait a while to hear it though). Bill and Caroline are also quite busy with their other band (Church of the Cosmic Skull.) She is also excited about finally setting up a small recording space, where she will work on the next album and continue growing as a songwriter; exploring new ways of constructing interesting sounds, new chord shapes and augmentations.
As Fugitive Mind faded away, the incompleteness of the ending brought forth a twinge of dissatisfaction; but then I remembered a Taoist saying - “It’s better to leave something unfinished, than to do too much, because in that way you will always be moving the right direction”.
And I for one, love the direction of Dystopian Future Movies!
Interview by Aditya Bhatt
Get tickets to see Dystopian Future Movies this Friday with Darkher and Soden here.