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Despite Western Music Ban, Iranians Rock On

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Asia Life

Despite Western Music Ban, Iranians Rock On

Western culture faces political opposition in Iran, but that doesn’t stop people from enjoying some rock ‘n’ roll.

Although Rasoo’s band is scheduled to play their first performance abroad at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, the band struggles to find recognition in their home country of Iran.

“The biggest problem as a musician in Iran was that I wasn’t able to play in any shops and you can’t have fans. You can’t promote your music,” said Rasoo, the 22-year-old front man for The Muckers, in an interview with BBC.

The budding Iranian rock scene suffered a drawback following the 1978 Islamic Revolution when Ruhollah Khomeini gained power and placed the country under strict Islamic rule. Many musicians fled and those remaining were forced to go underground where their music would be out of earshot of conservative officials.

Over the years, particularly during the presidency of Mohommad Khatami in the 1990s, restrictions over Western music were lifted and Western films and clothing became widely available in the country. It wasn’t rare to find American hip hop blaring out of a car window. Iran took another big step back when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president on an ultra-conservative platform and completely banned Western music from Iran’s state radio and TV stations in 2005.

“This is terrible,” Iranian guitarist Babak Riahipour told BBC in 2005. “The decision shows a lack of knowledge and experience.”

As a result of the ban, rock groups such as Rasoo’s are forced to record in secret, and musicians who gave underground performances risk arrest not only for themselves, but for the fans who come to watch them play. In one concert raid, 60 heavy-metal fans were arrested and imprisoned. One 28-year-old musician who refused to disclose his name was forced to give up his drumsticks and attempted to escape to Australia as a refugee but was detained in a processing facility on Manus Island.

“Government officials and the religious [authorities] who are in charge will arrest you and take you to [the] Intelligence Department and anything can happen to you then,” the musician told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Despite a government which bans most things considered “Western,” Iranian youth take part in the same activities that their peers in North America and Europe do, as evidenced by an incident last year when Iranians mocked Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter for suggesting that Iranians don’t wear jeans or listen to Western music. Some Iranians even sneak across the border to Iraq to go clubbing just simply to have fun.

“Are we underground because we want to oppose the system? No,” Iranian musician Danial Izadi told AP last year. “We wanted to do what we loved to do.”