The Terror Terror of the Chiang Mai Music scene

By | Thu 20 Jun 2024

Chiang Mai has always been a place of artistic creation, fueled by the eclectic and sometimes eccentric nature of those who call this place home or those who are just passing through and decide to stay a while before moving on. Artists, sculptors, thespians, poets, writers, photographers, musicians and more find this place a worthy muse that inspires their art in whatever form that might take.

And yet, the very thing that makes the city what it is, a creative island in the north of Thailand, can sometimes create a seemingly impenetrable barrier to gaining wider national and international recognition. For musicians and bands, the problem is particularly challenging. Venues come and go with alarming regularity, or that great guitar player you jammed with last week who really understood what you were doing has left on his own journey of discovery. Audiences swell in the tourist season and shrink in the rainy season. And how on earth does a band reach outside of the city and beyond? It is enough to fill any band with terror.

Or in this case, ‘Terror Terror,’ a mixed Thai and farang five-piece made up of familiar faces in the Chiang Mai music scene who have made the first leap to Bangkok. Their first single is set for imminent release and their second in another couple of months. They have a plan and two drummers, which is unique and no doubt an interesting challenge for the bass player.

Writing their own music, they describe their musical influences as psychedelic, post-punk, indie grunge which produces something that is exciting, challenging and refreshing all at the same time. Fascinated to learn more, I sat down with Rosalie (lead vocals) and Michael (guitar) to have a chat about the band, their plans and playing music in Chiang Mai. Putting aside the “why two drummers?” question, the first question had to be the name: why ‘Terror Terror’?

“It was the least worst name,” explained Michael. “We had spent ages trying to find something that worked and needed something for our first gig. Nikki from the band Bobkat suggested the name Terror Terror and after brief consideration, the band was officially born under that name. And now, as we write music, the name has its own identity and I find myself asking, is this a ‘Terror Terror’ song?”

Rosalie, a natural poet and the band’s lyricist, also feels that the name reflects the fear of the times in which we live today. “We have tons of information at our fingertips but less truth. There is a deteriorating sense of global order and the challenges of climate concern. Enough to fill anyone with terror. And we have two drummers so, Terror Terror.”

Michael and Rosalie had become friends over the last few years. Rosalie’s previous band was ‘Dirt Doll’ which ended in January 2023. Michael was the guitarist in ‘Operateur’ which ceased performing in February 2023. Eager to keep playing, Michael asked Rosalie to come and sing with him as he “liked the idea of having a real singer and frontperson for the band.” Rosalie was initially concerned about being able to sing over Michael’s intricate “Maths Rock” creations but now considers it quite normal. With the addition of Chanwut on bass, Juk and Nik both on drums, the band played its first official gig in October 2023.

Michael is often the originator of the idea, chords, structures and riffs, but the whole band contributes to the end product. Rosalie writes the lyrics but despite the band’s name, they are not bleak but draw on her natural poet’s abilities, creating interesting audio tapestries. Chanwut, Juk and Nik provide a strong and unique rhythm section, allowing Michael and Rosalie to create intricate melodies and hooks over a foot-tapping, driving beat. The fact that all band members are experienced musicians in their own right and have had their own musical successes makes a big difference.

“Everyone knows what they have to do,” explained Rosalie, “knows what it takes to be in a band and are prepared to put in the hard work.”

What are their musical influences? Well, many and varied. Michael cited King Gizzard and the Osees, Rosalie mentioned many bands from the late nineties and noughties. Chanwut, Juk and Nik have played in bands throughout Thailand and the USA to varying degrees of commercial success. In fact, when you look at where the band members are from, it stretches from Seattle through Arkansas, Nakhon Ratchasima, Lampang and Chiang Mai, their musical and geographic journeys and influences along with their talent combine to create the distinct sound that is ‘Terror Terror’.

The first single, available on the 22nd June 2024, was one of their earlier works in the studio. “The music continues to evolve,” explained Michael, “and we are following a creative process under the ‘Terror Terror’ banner. Our second single will be available in two months’ time which will again show our progression.”

“It’s not like it used to be,” said Rosalie, “cutting 12 tracks to create an album one year after the last one. Using music platforms like Bandcamp and other platforms, we can release our music when we are ready and not have to wait. Our fans can experience our musical journey at the same time as us.”

To make sure they have somewhere to practice and develop their music, they now have their own rehearsal studio. “Yeah, so we rented a shophouse,” said Michael, “and have soundproofed the inside so we now have somewhere to play when we want to develop an idea, or just practice the set.”

Rosalie agreed: “It is so good that after work, we have somewhere we can go and be creative, and we can do it without being bothered by other distractions. It is our space that lets our music evolve how we want, sometimes where we expect it to go, sometimes somewhere else.”

After playing at the Jazz House in Pai, they were invited to make their first appearance in Bangkok earlier this year, an opportunity they embraced with open arms. If someone asks a band from Chiang Mai to play in Bangkok, you go. Apart from anything else, it can be a bit of a reality check as big cities have many more bands who compete with you. The fact that ‘Terror Terror’ has been asked back to play again and again is testament to the uniqueness and quality of what they are doing.

And what is a ‘Terror Terror’ gig like? Well, it is not quiet, they have two drummers after all. Their music makes a statement: we are ‘Terror Terror’ but one should not be afraid.

“We want our gigs to be an experience, something new for the audience and yet familiar because of our influences,” said Rosalie.

Michael agreed that some of the best gigs he had been to left him feeling a bit “what just happened?” but aware that he had enjoyed it immensely. “That’s what I want from a ‘Terror Terror’ gig, the audience to be a bit spellbound in terms of what is happening but reveling in the experience.”

Whatever they are doing, it’s working, with gigs scheduled around Chiang Mai, Pai and Bangkok over the next few months with an increasing following of fans who want to feel the terror. So, what of the future?

“We have a plan,” said Rosalie. “We are all creators in our own right and in addition to creating music, we want to create an experience using the tools that are available to us to generate an increasing fan base in Thailand and beyond. We will be gigging regularly and continuing to create new music.”

‘Terror Terror’ are creating something and what’s more, they are starting here in Chiang Mai. Yes, they face many challenges, but they have made the first step, playing in the big city down south. Not many Chiang Mai bands have been able to do that.

So, when you are looking for something to do or fancy seeing something new, check to see if ‘Terror Terror’ has a gig. Yes, it will be loud and yes, you may find it challenging; but, it will be exciting and you will not be disappointed but rather, leave feeling that you have been part of a real musical experience, something special and wanting more.