PNW-Imbued Electro-Cumbia: Talking with Terror/CactusApril 9, 2019
Terror/Cactus is a Seattle musical project unlike any other. The hypnotic electro-cumbia tracks off their newest record, “Impulsos,” are constantly blasted in the Nectar back-office as we work through emails. Their live performances transport you to a futuristic jungle, with vivid digital projections and geometric animal masks. It’s no surprise that we have them slotted to perform two upcoming events, April 11 with Delhi 2 Dublin and May 25 with Las Cafeteras, and hope to host them many more times in the future.
We sat down with Martín Selasco, the main mind behind Terror/Cactus, to discuss garage-infused cumbia, touring South America, and what it’s like to perform disguised as a ghostly monkey.
Nectar Lounge: Can you tell me about the history of Terror/Cactus, and yourself as a musician?
Martín Selasco: I guess a brief version of the long story is, I was born in Buenos Aires, and back in the day my grandfather had a record label down there called Music Hall. It was really, really important for Argentine rock. Then my dad moved to Miami to start up his own thing, distributing Latin-American artists in the U.S., which grew his interest in music. And like…hanging out at his label’s warehouse, packaging up CDs and helping them out as a kid, I’d come across a lot of Latin American folk music. I think that’s where the seed was planted. And just being in Miami in general, surrounded by lots of music. Music that is very different from what you hear here.
NL: How did you end up in Seattle? What was that transition like?
MS: I moved up here when I was 13, basically in high school, so a big transition. But I was excited. I was really into music, of course, at the time, and you have all these great rock musicians from Seattle. There’s definitely more of a scene for younger people to be involved here than there was in Miami, at least from what I was aware of.
Fast forward a lot, I over the years became involved in several projects. I had always been recording my own music, under different names and genres, and I had this collection of electro-cumbia music that I had gathered over the years. Shortly after Trump got elected I was noticing there was a lot of misrepresentation of Latinos, so I wanted to celebrate that identity a bit more. [Terror/Cactus] was very much intentional, wanting to do something focused on the exploration of cultural identity, something that is somehow universal in Latin America. Like it’s different styles and different places, but I thought it’d be a fun project and I’ve loved it so far.
NL: I believe you’re the first instrumental electro-cumbia group out of Seattle. What’s the reception been to your style of music in this area?
MS: It’s been good! I wanted to create something that wasn’t just copying a genre, but also somewhat had a Seattle identity. It’s very guitar focused, and there’s something eerie or haunting about some of the stuff I make. Maybe gloomy, I don’t know what it is, but I think there’s definitely a part of Seattle you can hear in the music, even though it’s not super obvious at first. To a lot of people it’s totally different than what they’re used to hearing, so it’s been exciting to see how people react to it. Like, ‘wow I never knew that type of music existed!’
NL: How did you come up with the name Terror/Cactus?
MS: A lot of brainstorming. I don’t know…I have a struggle naming things so it’s a super neurotic process, it’s difficult to explain. The reason Terror/Cactus is instrumental is because melodies come so naturally for me, but then putting words to something constrains it in this little box. And so with the name Terror/Cactus, I guess I wanted something a little bit open-ended, but also something that described the mood in a certain way. It wasn’t like a specific encounter I had with a cactus, or anything weird like that. It’s also not like actual terror, but I did want more of an ethereal, other worldly terror. That was the way I thought of it in my mind when I put the two together.
NL: So Terror/Cactus is an instrumental project because you didn’t want to be constrained to a box by adding lyrics, and your visual performance is notably “outside the box.” How are the two connected? And the masks, what was the decision behind that?
MS: Good question. I’m definitely interested in production of a live show in general, thinking of it as a theatre performance almost. Incorporating elements, not to distract from the music, but to engage people a bit more with what’s happening on stage. I wanted that aspect of the performance to be really professional and thought out.
Tying into the concept of Terror/Cactus, I wanted the performance to be an exploration of surreal experiences. The music takes you places, or transports you, but it’s not saying a specific thing. It’s more open ended. You see what comes up in your subconscious.
The mask component, I mean there’s also a lot going on there. I love the way that masks have been used in history to transform people, in theatre and in rituals. Not just the performer, or the shaman, or whoever happens to be wearing the mask, but often times the audience becomes transported to a different world. In my case, there are a lot of animals, and we use white masks so they’re kind of like…forest spirits, or ghosts that are somehow part of a forgotten, ancestral collective memory.
NL: What was it like the first time you performed with those masks?
TC: It was difficult!
NL: Can you see?
MS: A little bit! It changes the experience of performing. It’s a bit like having tunnel vision — literally — because you’re not seeing very much, but it’s also easier to turn on the performance. Because all of a sudden I’m not perceived as like, Martín Selasco, I’m perceived as this weird monkey. So I have more freedom to step outside my usual identity, dance, and walk out into the audience and do weird things. It’s liberating, is the short answer.
NL: You’re the creator of Terror/Cactus, but you also perform with guitarist David Plell and drummer Mike Gebhart. How did you get connected with them?
MS: David and I have been friends for a while. So I asked him to help me, when I first started performing this project, with the visual component. He would manipulate the visuals live in response to the music. And then we were performing at the Lo-Fi one day, and one of the other bands, their drummer during our set, I heard him yell out from the corner of the venue, “cuuuuumbiaaaa!”
NL: Someone who gets it!
MS: Yes! So I’m like, ok I got to go talk to this guy. And it turns out he’s Colombian and was really down to make cumbia music. It fell together really well. He started playing percussion, we automated the visuals and David started playing guitar.
NL: So you just got done playing some shows in South America.
MS: A couple, yeah
NL: What was that experience like? How did it compare to playing shows here, especially with the Seattle influence on your cumbia music?
MS: The two months I was down there I only played two shows, it wasn’t much of the focus. But the first show I played was in Cusco, with ALQSBS. He put together a DJ night, featuring a live performance with Terror/Cactus, and it was really cool. Cusco’s very touristy, you walk through the streets and people are trying to sell you massages and other things, but this venue was all local people. It was up toward the mountains, and the venue was on the third floor of this building and had a 180 degree view. It was really surreal.
And then the other show I played was in Buenos Aires. In addition to playing a show I did a radio segment that was really awesome. So enthusiastic, it was in this massive hall where they usually have large orchestras playing, and I was in there with my guitar and a little midi controller. But the radio host was awesome, he made me feel like a celebrity.
Then at the show I played with Experimento Mandingue, which does electronic Afro-futuristic music. Lots of samples and percussion. I would definitely go back there and try to perform with them again.
NL: So what’s in the future for Terror/Cactus? Is it a full tour down in South and Central America or are you hoping to get out to more parts of the States?
MS: Definitely need to get out to more parts of the States, because I’ve only played in Washington and Oregon so far. Mike, our drummer, moved to New York so it makes things a little difficult, but now there’s a connection in New York. We’d also love to get out to LA.
One thing I missed in South America was not being able to do full production for an event. Because I was traveling, I did my whole two month trip out of a carry-on, so I had a mini-guitar and a little midi controller. It was a super micro set-up, I didn’t even wear a mask while I was there! I love being able to wear the mask, putting up the projector, playing with a percussionist. I think the next time I go down to South America, I’d like to go down with David and Mike, bring all the gear, and make it a full experience.
NL: You released your second album, “Impulsos,” back in December. It’s one of our favorites at Nectar, we blast it all the time. What was writing and recording that album was like?
MS: So the first album [“Cerro Invisible”] I recorded over a longer period of time. It included songs I had written like five years before releasing it. It was put together mostly as a concept, and to get it out there. And then on “Impulsos,” there’s a live band, there’s a sound and a visual component. There’s a lot more live percussion being played. I wanted “Impulsos” to sound more like the live show.
NL: Where did you record it?
MS: In my kitchen.
MS: Living space, yep. I’m lucky enough, my landlady is a professional pianist and a hippy, so she loves having music around. We’ve never had a single complaint, it’s really great to be able to be loud. And we can hang out and have recording sessions in our house.
NL: How long did it take you to record the whole thing?
MS: Probably a year, I’d say. There was more experimenting, there are a couple of songs where we play around with fusing an Afro-Cuban beat with the cumbia and kind of go in and out of it. This album was influenced a lot by playing music with a percussionist like Mike, who’s super knowledgeable about different rhythmic traditions.
NL: You’re playing two upcoming shows at Nectar Lounge, April 11 with Delhi 2 Dublin and May 25 with Las Cafeteras. For someone who’s never seen a live Terror/Cactus show before, why should they come out and check you out?
MS: Because it’s different than everything else going on in Seattle. If people want to hear something new, it’s not garage music, but it’s not going to a club where they’re blasting reggaeton. It’s a medium between both. It’s still heavy and psychedelic, but also more dance floor oriented.
Don’t miss Terror/Cactus live at Nectar Lounge on Thursday, April 11 and Saturday, May 25!