Inviolate – an emotional or physical state in which the subject is free from violation or harm.
I think it’s reasonable to say that music was one of the most potent analeptics of the cursed year just past. Amidst the torrent of tribulation, grief, and strife that continues to distort our collective grasp on optimism, this writer, like many others, found frequent solace in the soothing arms of sonic catharsis, and a great deal of this came via the affecting hands of Nottingham’s eminent doomgazers, Dystopian Future Movies, to whom this week’s article is dedicated.
The term ‘inviolate’ indeed bears a certain prominence as I delved into the process of this article. Not only is it the title of the band’s utterly sublime second album (more on this later), but as a concept, it offers a haunting basis of exploration into the emotional affection of music. How does music offer us, as listeners and musicians alike, a sanctuary from the ills of life, and offer us insight into the vulnerabilities of others?
I was beyond privileged to have the opportunity to interview vocalist, guitarist, and chief songwriter, Caroline Cawley (also of Church of the Cosmic Skull), who took the time to explore the creative processes and history behind the project, and the emotional significance of DFM in her life.
Operating as a quartet consisting of Cawley, drummer/producer Bill Fisher, guitarist Rafe Dunn, and bassist Oisin O’Doherty, the band are engrossing far beyond what one would expect of their means. The DFM sound exists as a graceful hybrid of stirring complexions. Weaving between dark and brooding post-rock, shoegaze, and doom-soaked grunge, the project was born out of the discontented circumstances of Irish-born Cawley, whose personal experiences are the crux behind the project’s gripping output. Truly a band that defy any notion of comparison, it serves the experience of DFM better to understand it as a sanctum of melancholy, a cathartic extension of Cawley’s psyche in which to share our collective angst, and purge the crawling spectre of sadness.
‘The beginnings of the band came from an ‘all or nothing’ place. I was living alone in a small damp flat in Nottingham at the time. It was a rough couple of years personally and work-wise. I borrowed a mate’s guitar and messed around a little. It felt like something I needed to do and some sort of obvious step that I just hadn’t had the time or inclination to take before then.’
One aspect of the band’s sound that has always astounded me is the balance of emotional familiarity and musical unpredictability. By the word ‘familiarity’, I mean not to be disparaging – quite the opposite in fact. It is more that they capture such intrinsic and essential qualities of the human condition, distilled into their purest forms. It is something we all know and understand yet it’s nigh on impossible to describe. It is akin to the feeling of helplessness against a biting dusk backdrop, yet also the embracing arms of sleep, whisking us from the oppressive trials of the waking hours.
Rarely does a band connect with my innermost insecurities so firmly as DFM. As alluded to by their name, it is perhaps unsurprising that their output bears a cinematic scope of narrative.
‘It’s not something we try to do or force. The songs start off as big sweeps of stream of conscious emotion so I guess it’s not surprising that they seem cinematic. Like movies are built on peaks and troughs of emotion or they are stories attempting to understand or depict emotion. The songs are hopefully like emotional journeys in the same way that the most affecting cinema is.’
Yet the band never fail to confound in their ever-shifting dynamics and musicality. The soothing tones of Cawley’s voice are the essential conduit of emotion, offering the most direct bridge to pathos and understanding, meanwhile, the malleable guitars and drums are at one moment plaintive and succinct, and the next an agitated gyration of darkened experimentalism. As a coalescence of harsh sonic overpowering and ruminative beauty, they cover the full spectrum of the emotional expanse.
With Cawley admitting to being relatively inexperienced as a guitarist at the band’s foundation, the result of this actually strikes me as a significant boon to the band’s development, as this has clearly had a profound effect on their creative process. ‘The band’s sound was largely informed initially by what little I could do on guitar and the experimental methods that created the songs. If the chord progression made me want to cry, it was a keeper.’
This reactive style of crafting songs allows the music to form and evolve from unexpected dawns, rejecting the conventional structures and progressions, and staying focussed on feeling, mapping out the emotional development of the stories they reveal. Tracks like “Dissonant Aggressors” and “Fortunate Ones”, both from their debut album Time, illustrate this concept perfectly as two songs that differ greatly in their stylistic and progressive natures, but both rendering an incredible emotional journey. ‘The initial songs I bring to the band are emotional responses to life. Some songs are deeply personal and some are responses to happenings in the outside world or Kate Bush-esque singing from a character of my creation’s perspective.’
At the time of writing, the band’s output consists of two EPs, one split EP (with London’s Grave Lines), and two full-length albums. To add to this the band have developed a distinct reputation in the UK underground as an enthralling live act, utilising their hugely shifting dynamics to overpower their audiences. On the subject of gigs:
‘They are pretty intense! Probably because of the dramatic dynamics present in most songs. But for the heavier bits, especially in the smaller clubs venues, it can get pretty raucous too. It took me a while to get comfortable with performing, starting in my early 30s, I came to it pretty late. I still spend most of the performance with my eyes closed, it’s easier to just go inside yourself.’
With both Cawley and Fisher also performing in Church of the Cosmic Skull, a band of wildly different tone and delivery, DFM are one of the most well-known and respected acts of the darker persuasion in the UK today. Their acceptance into such wide circles and communities in UK underground music is a testament to both their wide-ranging musical appeal and their commanding respect amongst their peers. Alongside numerous headline slots, the band has performed alongside such renowned acts as Emma Ruth Rundle, Amenra, and Fvnerals, proof if ever it were needed of their artistic credentials and scope of respect.
In keeping with this idea of cinema, I am unusually drawn to the subjects of DFM‘s songs. As someone who generally pays a little less heed to lyrics and overall subjects within music, I found myself profoundly intrigued by the stories that the band tells. As an all-absorbing canon, the project draws from real-life world stories and interpretations of Cawley’s life and executes these stories with a magnetic quality, offering a growing universe of tragedy for the listener to get lost in. ‘Something cool that’s emerged on this album is the community that’s growing around the music. For each album, I’ve put together a series of stories about the band, the songs and – in the case of Inviolate – the artwork.’
One of the most impactful of these stories is that of Kathleen, of whom the eponymous track, taken from Inviolate, is based. The attention to detail given to the stories that developed from this within their art is reflected in the overall immersion for the listener. It’s almost impossible not to get utterly absorbed. This story found its way into production during the process of developing what would become their second album.
‘Half way through the process I found the tuberculosis sanatorium at Creagh in the West of Ireland and took those photographs. It was after that the story of Kathleen, the youngest victim who died there at the age of 13 in the late 1940s, inspired the song and a whole journey of research that informed the series of stories I wrote for our DFM community.’
As much as their work represents a gravity well of intrigue for us as listeners, it is clear that the band represents an avenue of catharsis for the members themselves, which is evident in the raw delivery and notable musical chemistry between the members. Despite having wide-ranging tastes and experiences as musicians, there is clearly a positive symbiosis that augments the band’s versatility.
‘DFM is a lifeline for us in lots of ways. The strength of the friendships and creative partnerships in the band are really special. After bringing the initial idea of the song to the band, something magical happens. We all go into our personal realms with it and produce something quite distinct. Our tastes are so varied, our experience as musicians too, so it can be really interesting to hear what comes out in jams.’
The members are evidently very invested in this project, which is exemplified by their DIY approach to crafting releasing music. Not only does the band record within their own studio and largely produce their own artwork, but they have also begun releasing their music via their own label, Lasairfhíona Records. With Inviolate released on LR, and all previous releases done so independently, this is a band that puts faith in their own abilities and exhibits the level of control that allows them to develop every aspect of their being, and they are deserving of every success for the calibre of craftsmanship they so frequently output.
Currently in the stage of writing new material, I am most excited in anticipation of what the future holds for this band and how they can expand their already expansive grasp on originality. ‘There is a theme emerging lyrically and that’s directing my writing and research. There is a fair bit of experimentation going on but progress and momentum is limited hugely by the state of the world right now.’
Though I am often guilty of waxing lyrical to the point of worship, I feel with utmost certainty that Dystopian Future Movies is a project that deserves your time and attention. Whether your tastes subscribe to the likes of ambient, post-rock, grunge, doom metal, or even further afield, this is a band that grabs you by the heart and once you are tangled within their web, nothing can shake them loose.
Dystopian Future Movies are:
Caroline Cawley – vocals/guitar
Bill Fisher – drums
Oisin O’Doherty – bass
Rafe Dunn – guitar
Check out Dystopian Future Movies‘ music via their website and Bandcamp. You can also follow their movements on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I highly recommend signing up to their mailing list to gain insights into the stories of Inviolate.