Monterrey's New Single, "Terrarium," Is the Soundtrack to Our Dystopian Present

Photo by Shareef Habib
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Most people equate dystopian science fiction with paperback books or big-budget movies. But popular music has long dipped into the realm of rocket men and the end of the world as we know it. From David Bowie's "Space Oddity" to Janelle Monae's "Many Moons," musicians have looked into a bleak future to set their tunes.

And now comes "Terrarium," a song from the Miami-based electronic band Monterrey.

The song's origin story dates back to the once-futuristic year 2016, when Monterrey frontman Roger del Pino decided to write about the effects of isolation and helplessness in the face of global warming.

"Its creation came about from a funk-inspired bass lick and a hip-hop beat sample," del Pino tells New Times. "I had wanted to explore different styles of music at the time, which is how it got its title — because it felt like a bit of an incubation tank of multiple genres. It was also an attempt at writing in a different vocal style from what I was comfortable with. However, the song never saw the light of day and got shelved."

Step into the time machine and journey to January 2020, when Monterrey began working with local producer Firstworld. When they dove into del Pino's hard drive to find songs they could collaborate on, Firstworld was immediately drawn to "Terrarium." He added some "texture and flair" and had the band re-record some of the instrumentals while splicing in some old cell-phone recordings. The result is a dark dance number that will especially please fans of the Gorillaz, who, along with Radiohead and Boards of Canada, were a big influence on the track, del Pino says.

"The lyrics paint a story of a man escaping a dying world by building a biodome," del Pino explains. "'Terrarium' is a story about his survival in the face of hostility, and it explores what it's like to cultivate one's own environment when the physical world is falling apart. It was only fitting that the release coincided with the COVID outbreak and social distancing becoming the new normal."

Though its topic is bleak, del Pino says that, under the circumstances, finishing the song was a point of brightness for Monterrey.

"Life under quarantine has been a real challenge for the band. We had several performances postponed, including III Points, which was one of our major highlights of 2020," he says. "Three of us lost our main sources of income, including myself, when I was laid off from my job of ten years in late March. [Drummer David Hidalgo] and [guitarist Aldo Canals] primarily work in the music and event industries, which were all victims of the outbreak. Fortunately, with technology, until the crisis comes to an end, the guys and I are still able to work sparsely on music remotely, using self-recorded cell-phone recordings. There is nothing quite like being in the same room together, though."

As the official May 12 release date of "Terrarium" nears, Monterrey is making ambitious anti-dystopian plans.

"We are working on a series of virtual performances that will feature the first live rendition of 'Terrarium,'" del Pino says. "We are also working on a music video for the song, which will likely follow the release. I'll also be working on a prerecorded mix for Jolt Radio's Soft Riders, which will feature a curated mix of our softer side."

The band looks forward to performing the new song during its set for III Points, rescheduled for October 16 and 17.

That said, if events conspire to knock the festival's new date off the calendar, at least Monterrey will have created the perfect soundtrack for the end of days.

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