INTERVIEW: Dutch Elm | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s a rare but special feeling when you watch a band play their first live show and are struck by their huge potential. Such was the case with Dutch Elm when they made their live debut at Little Buildings (RIP) just under a year ago. The Newcastle post-rock/post-metal quartet were able to make the tiny venue feel cavernous, and while they know how to execute a crushing riff, they also understand that there’s more to the genre than just being ‘heavy’.

“Beyond making the type of music we want to hear, I think we would all like to contribute something novel to the field of post-rock,” explains guitarist Matthew Mckenna. “It’s easy for instrumental post-rock bands to create music using the same standard formula which can be really unimaginative sometimes, someone once described this as ‘crescendoism’ which I think is a good description. We do all love a good crescendo and you will definitely be hearing some on the EP, but we hope that our music will be seen as somewhat progressive in the genre.”

Since that first gig, Dutch Elm have been working to develop their sound, culminating in a collection of songs that make up their debut EP, In Hindsight, launched at Newcastle’s Head of Steam on Saturday 24th August. The band sought out local production wizard Chris McManus at Blank Studios after hearing the work he’d previously done with other local alt. bands, including Shades and Future Horizons. “Chris has such a great ear for what intricate details are needed to layer each track. With him being the drummer for Cauls, he also really pushed us to get a solid rhythm section which has made a big difference,” says guitarist Lewis Hickey.

When we play live it’s more of an immersive experience with the crowd because they really get into the instruments, they don’t have that ‘frontman’ to watch or lyrics to sing along to

With instrumental music comes the freedom and space to explore sounds without lyrical structures, but that often means having to work harder to engage with the audience. Dutch Elm, however, seem to take this potential challenge in their stride. “To me it seems that people who are unfamiliar with instrumental music of the post-rock/math-rock variety interpret the lack of vocals as a hurdle. For comparison’s sake, you wouldn’t ask the conductor of an orchestra how they convey concepts and emotions without words,” says Mckenna.

“When we play live it’s more of an immersive experience with the crowd because they really get into the instruments, they don’t have that ‘frontman’ to watch or lyrics to sing along to,” adds bassist Callum Bell. “That’s how we tackle it, by giving people the time to really tune in to the music and allow them that thinking space. I think it’s important for post-rock to be open to interpretation, or at least I think that it’s a fundamental part of the genre.”
As for the lack of vocals, it doesn’t stop Dutch Elm from addressing important matters. “In Hindsight is based around environmental decline,” states Mckenna. “We sampled the voice of Greta Thunberg addressing the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2018. It’s a really powerful speech and we’ve hopefully written a song which amplifies its meaning and pertinence.”

One thing that is apparent when speaking to Dutch Elm is the meticulous, focused approach they apply to all aspects of the band. It’s reflected in EP track Inconstant Moon; an intricate soundscape that swoops effortlessly between crunching riffs and ambient textures, flirting with the occasional mathy time signature. At their softer moments, they’re utterly hypnotic. During their heavier moments, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

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