A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Always been curious about scenes in other cities outside your own little cocoon? As much as we can, we’ll feed your hunger for insights and secrets in the Scene Report. Our distributor Nilou went to visit family this Summer and discovered herself to be a tough cookie struggling into the independent music and art scene in Tehran, Iran.
Text and photos by Niloufar Nematollahi
In a country where storytelling is the base of popular culture, I had always been fascinated by the stories I was told about the underground scene
In a country where storytelling is the base of popular culture, I had always been fascinated by the stories I was told by cousins and older friends about the underground scene in Tehran. A scene that was literally formed in basements of apartments and abandoned mansions. Ever since, I’ve always wondered about the reality of the alternative scene in Tehran. This summer I had the chance to find out.
Because of the Islamic revolution, a lot of Iran’s pop musicians left for LA in the Eighties. Weirdly enough, they still make music for the people back ‘home’ in Iran. It’s a nostalgic sound people all know and enjoy, but has become completely irrelevant because of a matter of distance and time. The same goes for the traditional music from earlier generations and the pop music the government-controlled media is supporting these days.
Western media makes it look as if life and being creative in Iran is a big struggle that makes youth want to run away to any other possible place
Western media makes it look as if life and being creative in Iran is a big struggle that makes youth want to run away to any other possible place. Without denying the fact that creating a platform for nightlife, alternative music or just any underground culture in Iran could be more difficult compared to other places because of the political and social conditions, it is still possible. While legal Iranian media is trying to avoid any alternative culture and a lot of Iranian artists have left the country in recent years, there are still people working in Tehran, creating art and music by trying to compromise with the Islamic rules of the country.
During my stay I met up with Nesa Azadikhah, Pedram Pourghasem and Ali Fallah. All are clasically trained in Iranian music and Tehran-based artists mostly working on sound, installations and visuals. We met up at typical Tehran coffee shops and they invited me to their gigs, mostly taking place in galleries near Vali asr squqre. Later I went to visit them in their home studios, we drank tea and I asked about making electronic music in Tehran over the last few years.
I went to visit them in their home studios, we drank tea and I asked about making electronic music
Pedram makes music and Ali visuals. In addition, Ali is also the manager of an all-girl rock band, The Finches. ‘I have the feeling that in Iran people don’t have enough patience to listen or even look at you when you’re presenting something that they’re not used to,’ says Ali. ‘In the beginning, when we started organising shows in galleries, I would only make abstract work that I liked myself. Soon we realised that the more abstract the visuals get, the more difficult it becomes to connect with the audience. The truth is that the audience here is not used to the kind of music and visuals we’re making. It was funny to see how scared they would be, standing in front of your computers and synthesizers when they would hear us play. We decided to make something more suitable and compromise in order to make them stay until the end of our set.’
The audience here is not used to the kind of music and visuals we are making
I visited Nesa in her apartment in North Tehran on a warm afternoon in July, where she lives with her twin sister. Besides making and producing music herself, she is creating a platform called Deep House Tehran, where she tries to bring people who make electronic music in Iran together. It all started with a shitty Instagram page that expanded to a Soundcloud, reaching more and more followers around the world. Making a podcast called ‘Tehran Nights’ and finally organising events in galleries in Tehran took their internet-based project further still. ‘Over the years the art scene has become very isolated and only tolerates a few specific forms of art, making it even more difficult to find an audience. When you’re not able to let people hear what you’re making, it also gets harder to find other people who’re doing similar things. Finding connections becomes impossible,’ she says. ‘You can easily get stuck within your own comfort zone and that’s very frustrating.’
It all started with a shitty Instagram page that expanded to a Soundcloud, reaching more and more followers around the world
The internet has played a big role within changing this kind of isolation in Iran. Reaching a bigger audience has become possible in a virtual way. It’s helping a lot of artists nowadays, also within the process of producing. Finding other people and creating a platform to experiment, has finally become possible.
Deep House Tehran
Vali asr squqre