There Are Other Routes to Euphoria: A Conversation with Terror Peaks

Words by Kalum Winters of Do Your Best

We catch up with London-based musician Terror Peaks and discuss the influence of gabber music to his work, biblically accurate angels and the creative power of envisaging other worlds. 

In René Daumal’s unfinished (due to his untimely death) 1952 novel Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, a group of idiosyncratic and diverse mountaineers gather around the leadership of a mysterious Father Sogol in search of a mythical, otherworldly mountain. It is thought to be the world’s most magnificent feature, fusing heaven and earth with its peak and yet it is imperceptible, almost inaccessible, to humans due to the gravitational anomaly created by the mountain's mass, which bends light and all other signals around it. 

For all of its unknowability, the passage that the mountaineers must take and the promised salvation the mountain promises acts as a two-way portal through which the mountaineers must reinterpret and abandon their entire existence up until this point, with the promise of opening themselves up to visions beyond their imagination. 

59 years on from the books publication and I’m looking at this cassette in my hand from Terror Peaks, a producer from London released on Slow Dance Records’ latest imprint, MOTR. I had just finished reading Daumal’s novel having rewatched Jodorowksy’s The Holy Mountain (loosely based upon the novel) and was struck by the relic-like presence of the EP’s artwork, of its strange accumulation of non-linguistic symbols and felt not that they were nonsense, but they were something I didn’t fully understand. Listening to the EP provoked further questions, it had all the hallmarks of what you may expect from a contemporary underground dance music EP and yet layer upon layer of sounds reminiscent of Japanese gagaku, meditative new age records and the heavier end of hardcore dance scenes constantly intrude upon an ever-changing rhythmic palette that threatens to pull the rug at any moment.

It was clear that within this EP there are other routes to euphoria being mapped out by Terror Peaks and so, we sat down for a chat.

What is Terror Peaks? Where did it begin, what was the inspiration behind it?

Terror Peaks is a relatively new thing, it’s more of a project than an alias. It’s both at the same time but I used to make music under a different name, Hambling.

I was Hambling for a while and then Terror Peaks is a more recent venture. I was needing to get out of my own head a bit in terms of being a solo artist and it not being about so much. I think for me as an artist I need to get out of my own headspace and to be removed personally from the art itself. The reason for the switch is then that Terror Peaks is really a completely fantasy world. It’s an imagined, parallel world that is accessible from this world and yet is separate, this is figuratively speaking not literal.

It came about in a funny way when maybe in the beginning of 2020 I made a track called Terror Peaks before I changed the whole approach to an alias, so there is as of yet an unreleased tune that is like a hardcore gabber tune called ‘Terror Peaks’. The tune dips and dives in terms of tempo, so it was very fast paced as a gabber tune but the way it changed tempo so frequently sounded like a vision of terrifying peaks. I was really interested in hardcore music at the time, a lot of hardcore, a lot of gabber, a lot of breakcore and I just wanted to make something within that. Maybe about four months prior I tried to play a DJ set on Halloween that was pure gabber/breakcore at a Slow Dance gig and it went completely wrong and I was asked to play different music. 

In the design of how the Terror Peaks EP looks there’s a sense of mythos, of a fantastical world that comes through with the design appearing almost like a secret language that interacts in its own unique way. Were you considering the sonic elements of the release in visual terms when you were making it?

I think over the past year or so I’ve begun to think of it more and more visually and I think that is born from a need to represent it visually somehow, even if that is a very minimal statement, there is a need to have a cassette cover, to have an EP cover and that helped me to foster that. However, every line or symbol on the cover did begin as a track title. So the way it started was I wanted to represent each track title with something slightly more removed from our native language that we speak in this country. The thought-experiment was really if an extra-terrestrial civilisation were to come and visit earth and hear this music, would it be music that they could understand? Because if it contained marks of English or was of a certain structure then maybe they wouldn’t. So I was trying to make music that was more universal, and maybe more strange, to straddle more than just an English or British listener’s ear. In that sense I wanted to expand out from simply having track titles in this native language as a means of representing the music visually with a symbol. The track titles then represent the trajectory of the track, for example the first track ‘So⼁❘ ︲⏐ ˌ ˈ Showyou’ has the varying line symbols and they’re just ASCII rectangles but the different lines evoke the sonic world I was going for with that one. 

The visual design of the cassette tape followed a bit later as I began painting as a therapeutic activity and every symbol on the cassette cover I painted, then scanned and then rearranged.

It has a kind of Japanese calligraphy feel to it and I know that that’s often used as a meditative practice.

Yeah. It’s not that I drew any specific influence from any school of calligraphy but I was just taken by the desire to doodle and to meditatively do something other than doing electronic music, as obviously it is very demanding and takes a lot of time focussing on a screen so it became a very mindful activity. So the symbols were all from paintings and scans that I did, then also in the top corner of the set there is a circular, almost perfect circle, which is from a stock visual I used to use as a template in lieu of an actual cover on Soundcloud. I would use this white label image. With a lot of dance records you get a white outer sleeve, then a small black ring of the vinyl itself before the white label and so that black ring became something that I really liked and a lot of people now use a digital rendition of a white label as their digital EP art.

It’s become a bit of a meme now, as they say, so I realised I wanted to remove myself from that culture a little bit and to create a universe that was a bit more universally interpretable and not just rooted in the dance music contingent. So I would remove the inner dot of the record so I was just left with the black silhouette of the vinyl. That whole thing then morphed into the whole idea of spherical portals in Terror Peaks so I suppose the record silhouette evolved into this idea of having something within that circle with its own sonic world and its own symbols. So that transformation from one thing to the next feels good as it has that idea of a fantasy portal gate to another world thing but it also has the influence from dance music culture as well which is where this music is born. 

Talking about the sound of the record, it’s very interesting to hear the influence of gabber and hardcore as the dance music influence is clear, but there’s a lot of other influences coming through such as new age and orchestral elements that give it a sense of contradiction. Yet it still harnesses the euphoria of dance music. Were you purposefully trying to reframe dance music with these broader influences?

I have two things to say that say that seem quite contradictory but I don’t think they are; firstly, I have a desire to reframe dance music and do something new with and ‘mess it up’ to put it bluntly and if it doesn’t sound fresh or different or like it hasn’t been done before then I don’t really want to do it. But secondly is that you always wear your influences on your sleeve. Whether you like it or not or whether you fight against it or not. There’s been periods where I’ve found it very hard to make music at all because I want no sound in it that’s ever been heard before and I want to synthesise new sound which is really difficult. There was a ridiculous period in my life where if there was a kick drum in the track I was thinking ‘well every other track has kick drums so I can’t use kick drums’ which was an extreme level of limitation. It took a while to get out of that but I did once I realised you can’t help but wear your influences on your sleeve. So yeah I am always trying to mess things up but you can hear what’s going on, you can hear the influences.

I love new age music in particular, there’s a lot of stuff by Emeralds and this artist Steve Hauschildt who does lovely arpeggiated pieces. One of my favourite albums is by Paul Horn and Laura Allen and I’m not sure what they did but it’s her singing and a harp and it’s just this blissful harp suspension that makes you feel like your floating on harp with the occasional vocal undulation from Laura Allen, which is just beautiful. So yeah there’s a whole host of very gushingly euphoric and cheesy influences going into this as well so it’s not all doom and gloom, it’s more like blare and glare. 

So the euphoric angle is something I want to do in every tune which is really where the influence of trance comes in - I bloody love trance music, I could rattle a bunch of other artists both new and old like this old label called Skinnymalinky active in the UK and they just do this insane old-school trance, not like the Tiesto style you imagine but it’s a lot drier and has these really dynamic piano breakdowns in it and it’s just ridiculous. It’s in very bad taste and yet it’s also extremely well done. 

So is it the sincerity of it that makes it special in that sense?

Yeah I really love it when that happens, it’s something that me and my friends call flukey music. It’s when a tune is just really flukily done well. There’s some absolute rave classics that are like that as well and I often much prefer that to a musician that consistently puts out something you know is gonna be done well every time. I think it’s that it comes from a place of lightning-struck inspiration rather than any kind of considered ‘I know what I’m doing right here, right now’. So any music that is strangely raw and emotional and has that intangible sense of *makes grunt noise* really gets to me.

I guess that’s really what euphoria often is isn’t it, it’s pure instinct and almost following your nervous system. 

Yeah there’s almost no consideration and it’s that moment where you consider a lot less and you love a lot more, which is something I guess I’m trying to harness. 

What’s something that you listen to that you think would surprise people that listened to your EP?

That’s a really tough question as I often want to allude to as much of the stuff I listen to as possible. But I guess you could possibly draw on things that I used to listen to and a lot of my early musical education came from music that just completely doesn’t inform anything I do stylistically but they certainly do on the melody and the chord progressions. Mostly bands like Hansen, Linkin Park and strange things my Dad would show me on his iTunes library like The Spice Girls and The Pogues. But also my step-dad got me into a lot of other music like Os Mutantes and obviously Kraftwerk, but that’s much less surprising. In terms of stuff I listen to now it would probably be that I listen to a lot of grime, I guess as it’s like a rawer version of UK garage and dubstep. But I still don’t know how to make grime yet, maybe because I’m not using the right samples. But yeah I’m obsessed with like lost white label grime. A lot of the stuff you get on grime YouTube channels where there’s clips of a vinyl rip of an EP that got released on like ten copies in 2002 and all the music just sounds incredibly distorted and raw and probably sounds miles off what it sounds like on a real PA. Grime Terror Peaks tunes in the works for sure.

Who would it be your dream to collaborate with?

I’m gonna go for a few to separate them out as I don’t tend to think about loving artists and collaborating with them as collaboration to me is quite a sensitive thing as I can like someone’s music and not necessarily have a desire to collaborate with. 

But these are people that are a mixture of people I can imagine collaborating with or being shown how to do what they do.

So firstly Burial is the obvious choice as someone that I’ve always listened to and really is my main influence.

Then as we mentioned hardcore and gabber before there’s two figures here really, the first being DJ Junk who is this old-school B Boy who makes this insane, glitzy breakbeat hardcore stuff. Then there is also a more four-to-the-floor figure called Curley Schoop, who also went by the name Esoteric who I binged recently but he unfortunately died so that is a literal dream collaboration.

In terms of grime there are three producers, Jon E Cash who is a producer contemporary to Wiley. DJ Bossman who makes just bangers, I just wanna know how to make wacky bangers. That’s all this is about really, wacky bangers. 

Then there’s a load of new producers and bands like Proc Fiskal who’s still part of the grime continuum. HTRK who are really into that dub, loopy realm which I’ve got really into recently. Their older shoe gaze stuff as well is great. AEVA who is an underground techno guy. H2OP on Posh Isolation, they used to be Khalil H2OP and I don’t know how they do their vocal processing and it’s incredible. Then Ecco2k who’s EP that came out earlier this year felt like they had gotten to something that I wanted to get to first, so I’d love to see that. 

Then visually there’s a non-narrative filmmaker called Stan Brakhage, there’s so much of his stuff and I just love his style.

And to add to this really anyone doing weird shit with shoegaze. 

What are three things that you discovered during this last year of lockdowns that have stuck with you and you think will continue to stick with you?

The first thing was strange, squeaky, melodic, blissful trap music. Particularly finding weird stuff within this realm with horribly processed vocals. So the first thing in this three-piece list is really digging for horribly processed and melodic trap/drill.

The next thing I’ve discovered are biblically accurate angels. I found out about these online recently and I didn’t realise that angels in certain biblical periods weren’t represented as humanoid. So there’s one particular kind of angel in the Old Testament called a throne which literally bears no resemblance to anything human whatsoever and is rather this ring-like form, with a smaller ring inside of it and they’re constantly shifting. They’re angels and yet they’re meant to be the chariot of god themselves. 

The third thing is Ableton Live.

And finally, an artist we should look at for that you think people may not have their eyes on?

Uh….I say Uh because they are literally called Uh. They’re great, I’ve just got to know one of them pretty well and just really love their cathartic, electronic uplifting music.

Suggested:

Saint Jude - Bodies Of Water
Various Artists - SLOW001
Self Love - The Complete Illustrated Book Of Failure (+ zine)