Tag Archives: Iran

A Guide to Iran’s Electronic Underground

9T Antiope

9T Antiope

“By the time I was a teenager living in Tehran, underground music was all rock, metal, and hip-hop,” says Siavash Amini from his home in the Iranian capital. “In the past [all] musicians wanted to be mainstream, but were forced to stay small and underground.” Speaking to Amini —freshly returned from his first European tour—the changes in both the climate and the mindset in present-day Iran become clear. “Right now,” Amini says, “being underground is not as much a limitation as it is a decision to disconnect from the mainstream.”

The existence of any kind of underground or electronic music scene in Iran is a relatively recent development, arguably part of a quiet and generally slow shift in the country’s post-revolution identity. Those changes came to a head with the election of reformist and relative centrist Hassan Rouhani as President in 2013, which opened up a doorway for Iranian relations with foreign countries, all but shut off after decades of international sanctions.

The Islamic Republic that emerged from the 1979 revolution quickly quashed the country’s burgeoning pop and rock music scene, in favor of state-approved folk and classical styles. Iranian pop and rock musicians stayed all but silent throughout the 1980s, but years later, after the arrival of globalized digital media and swappable MP3s, government repression isn’t enough to stop a new generation of musicians creating digital noise, heavy techno, and textured ambience.

With rock and pop music increasingly entering Iran’s opening mainstream, it’s hardly surprising that instrumental electronic music has become the touchstone for Iran’s underground musicians. For one thing, wordless music is often too subtle or oblique to be perceived as an ideological threat and censored. For another, as in the West, the means of production have been entirely handed back to the artists, who are able to record and distribute at home, even able to send files to foreign labels and journalists while they’re at it. Local experimental musicians can now perform live regularly in Tehran (in fact probably far more regularly than like-minded local musicians can muster in far costlier cities like London or New York),  and they now also host their very own festival, called SET.

The election of an isolationist far right American President, along with the waning of liberal thinking in general, signifies no small threat to the development and progress of the young scene. Notably, Donald Trump’s infamous proposed—and briefly enacted— travel ban includes citizens from Iran, regardless of the fact not a single deadly attack has taken place on American soil at the hands of an Iranian citizen since 9/11.

“The travel ban for us is a sign of very bigger and scary thing,” says Amini. “Not that it won’t affect us as people or artists, but it puts the lives of many people from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other places in serious limbo—and, in many cases, in direct danger.” In terms of the Tehran experimental music scene—and, specifically, the SET festival—the effects of the new administration had immediate consequences. A handful of artists from the EU had been to Iran to attend SET or to perform in Tehran, but it seems unlikely that any career artist from the West would choose to do so, as having a previous Iranian visa on on your passport could lead to difficulties getting into the United States.

Here we present a list of ten artists that originated in Iran’s burgeoning underground scene —and helped develop a uniquely Iranian sound in the process.

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Akvan Brings Zoroastrian Poetry and Iranian History to Black Metal

Akvan

It’s understandable to flinch at the sight of the phrase “Aryan black metal.” Since its origins in early ’90s Norway, black metal has had a Nazi problem. At this point in the genre’s history, it’s a permanent stain, and one that has to be re-addressed with depressing regularity.

At the same time, black metal bands from non-Nordic countries have been adapting the genre’s sonic tropes for their own purposes for years. In California, the Black Twilight Circle (Crepusculo Negro), a collective of Latinx artists, has been making Mayan/pre-Columbian black metal, with lyrics in Spanish or Nahuatl and mixing native instruments with buzzing guitars and unholy roars. Taiwan’s Chthonic bring in traditional Chinese instruments, and sing about the history of their native country. And now Akvan—a one-man project from Iran—has emerged to function as an additional corrective, giving the phrase “Aryan black metal” a more historically accurate meaning.

Akvan is the project of a person who goes by the name Vizaresa, who mixes raw black metal guitars and blasting drums with traditional Persian instruments like the tar and setar. Tracks begin and end with readings from Persian history, or Zoroastrian prayers, and the lyrics tackle Iranian history and mythology. He has released three EPs since 2015, deeply considered meditations on his own culture and how it is misinterpreted—not only by outsiders, but by his own country’s leadership.

Vizaresa answered questions by email.

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Today, Stand with Bandcamp in Support of Immigrants/Basic Human Values

Bandcamp

Like 98% of U.S. citizens (including the President), I am the descendant of immigrants—my great-grandparents came to America from Russia and Lithuania as teenagers and worked in sweatshops until they were able to afford to bring the rest of their families over. Most everyone you speak to in this country has a similar story to tell, because we are, in fact, a nation of immigrants, bound together by a shared belief in justice, equality, and the freedom to pursue a better life. In this context, last week’s Executive Order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States is not simply immoral, it violates the very spirit and foundation of America.

Contrary to the assertions of the current administration, the order will not make us safer (an opinion shared by the State Department and many members of Congress including prominent Republicans). Christian religious leaders have denounced both the ban, as well as the exception prioritizing Christian immigrants, as inhumane. It is an unequivocal moral wrong, a cynical attempt to sow division among the American people, and is in direct opposition to the principles of a country where the tenet of religious freedom is written directly into the Constitution. This is not who we are, and it is not what we believe in. We at Bandcamp oppose the ban wholeheartedly, and extend our support to those whose lives have been upended.

And so all day today (starting at 12:01am Pacific Time), for any purchase you make on Bandcamp, we will be donating 100% of our share of the proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union, who are working tirelessly to combat these discriminatory and unconstitutional actions.

As another way of showing solidarity with the immigrants and refugees from the seven banned countries—as well as those impacted by the construction of the Mexican border wall—we’ve compiled a list of albums made by artists from the affected countries (Bandcamp may be incorporated in the United States, but we host artists from every corner of the world). We believe that knowledge and empathy are crucial weapons against fear and intolerance. We hope that, as you listen to these albums, you’ll not only discover some great new artists, but will also gain a further appreciation and understanding for the way music transcends all borders, and remember that, even in the darkest of times, there is more that unites us than divides us.

— Ethan Diamond, Bandcamp Founder & CEO

(Updated Feb. 2: Since our announcement, over 150 bands and labels have volunteered to donate their proceeds to the ACLU and other organizations as well. You can see that list here.)

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