Plus: 10 essential Tehran-based electronic artists you need in your life
Western electronic music is frowned upon, nightclubs are banned, and hosting a rave can get you fined or even locked up. Yet despite all that, Iran must be one of the richest countries for electronic music, per capita, in the Middle East.
From Sote to Soltan, you can hear it in every corner of house, techno and all things in between, from club-melting dubstep to radical avant garde electronica. You can hear it in every corner of the world, too. Deep Dish, Darius Syrossian, Pleasurekraft, Sharooz, Berhouz, Ardalan, Omid 16B, Namito, Navid Izadi, Nima Gorji, Shemroon... the list of Iranian artists based in global technoid metropolises such as Berlin, London, LA and Dubai goes on and on.
More importantly, you can hear it in Iran, as its 7,000-year-old capital city Tehran currently experiences an exciting groundswell of electronic music talent. Home to a unique, acutely underground scene, Tehran boasts a wealth of innovative and ambitious artists, as well as platforms such as Deep House Tehran and Habischman’s forthcoming Time Code project.
As an international artist who’s been based in both London and Berlin in the past, yet has now moved back to his home city of Tehran, Habischman has been one of the city’s most passionate ambassadors since he represented Iran at the 2008 Red Bull Music Academy.
“In Berlin I met and worked with some well respected artists that I’d always looked up to, like Booka Shade and Nicole Moudaber. I made some great contacts and benefited from the experience, but it wasn’t the easiest time for me personally as a close family member had become seriously ill. At the time, I decided that I needed to be back in Tehran amongst familiar surroundings and my family to allow my creative energy to return as the situation improved.
"I’m very proud of what we have here in Tehran, with such unique creativity from every kind of artist imaginable. Things aren’t quite how they’re often portrayed here, and I want to help demonstrate the artistic quality and potential we have in our country.”
Habischman paints a different picture to the one painted by last year’s documentary Raving Iran, the heavily publicised story of DJs Anoosh and Arash who, facing punishment for holding an illicit rave, fled to Switzerland as refuges and are no longer able to return and visit their families.
“That’s not a route I would take, either personally or as a career move,” he considers. “It can be hard to navigate certain restrictions and applying for a Visa takes some time and patience, sure. But if you keep delivering high-quality music and maintain a professional attitude then you can live, work and achieve what you want. There is a danger that if we present Iran to the world in the way that it was in the documentary, then people will assume it’s that bad all the time. I respect that every country has its own rules, customs and traditions. Instead of highlighting the negative, I try to make the most of the rich artistic and musical heritage that I’m surrounded by.”
Habischman’s attitude is echoed by emerging dubstep producer Soltan. A mysterious artist whose banger currency is rising with every deposit he makes on key labels such as Never Say Die and Firepower, he shares the same professional approach. Parties and raves might be illegal, but instrumental electronic music isn’t - largely because it doesn’t contain lyrics with themes relating to western lifestyles or ideology.
“My music is not political in any way, it is simply unsanctioned, not illegal outright,” explains the young artist. He, too, has seen the Raving Iran documentary.
“That was a very good story about two fans,” he reflects, “but it’s not about a person like me who makes music for a living. For me it is also about my career, not just being free to dance and party. This is a very important difference.”
In many ways, this difference is what defines Tehran’s musical terrain, and it's led to some distinctive, innovative characteristics. Clubs are non-existent and parties are very low-key and private, with often only 30 or 50 people in total, so the sound and artform of the music - which is almost exclusively instrumental - is the sole focus. This has led to a predominantly deep, immersive and often ambient aesthetic to much of the city’s sonic fusion, and includes a whole movement of world-renowned experimental artists who use galleries and theatres to showcase their craft.
Leading artists on this side of Tehran’s musical landscape include Sote (one the city’s most famous electronic artists, who boasts over 15 years of productions on labels such as Warp) Siavash Amini and Tegh, all co-founders of Tehran’s SET Festival. A regular explorative exhibition of both visual and sonic arts, SET is the cornerstone to Tehran’s experimental music scene and its events are formal, high culture, sit-down events where some of the most innovative and provocative compositions in contemporary electronic music are performed. Sote’s intrepid and complex Hardcore Sound Of Tehran cassette album (released last year on UK label Opal Tapes) is indicative of the levels of experimentalism and expression happening in Tehran.
The album’s foreword, by experimental peer Siavash Amini, is particularly telling of where the Tehran scene is at and how it arrived here. “It seemed impossible 10 years ago. It wasn't by a sudden miracle that it happened. It happened step-by-step, little-by-little. Our community grew from a few bedroom producers playing each other their music to something bigger,” Siavash writes.
“Contrary to popular belief that you can’t do techno in Iran, or you cannot perform beat-oriented music, we made it happen with Sote's rhythmic experimental electronic music, right here in Tehran. The fact that these sounds were performed in Tehran, under normal circumstances, can serve as a document of what a community can do by mutual support, self-organisation and staying patient and independent.”
It is this spirit of support, organisation and patience that has driven Habischman to launch Time Code, a new media project that he hopes to inspire the next generation of Iranian producers to learn, create and build on what’s taken years to develop so far, with regular video tutorials, production tips and industry insight.
“This whole concept of Time Code is to help others,” he explains. “I love seeing high quality tutorials and real advice that can help people progress and make better music, but what I really want to see is that high quality coming from Tehran, too. There are a lot of talented and eager artists who want to learn here, and it’s important for them to have something from a source that they can relate to. There’s no musical academy here, there aren’t many ways of promoting what they are doing, so my plan is for Time Code to help change this.”
“I’m trying to raise the overall knowledge in this city,” he continues. “People have a lot of excuses. They blame the sanctions or the internet speed. I’m trying to break excuses and set an example to show you can break through, it doesn’t matter where you’re based. If you have the knowledge and use the right contacts and do it properly, it doesn’t matter where you’re based. If you have a laptop and can implement your ideas into music, this is what you can do. You can make something that lasts forever and will inspire more people to do the same.”
Western electronic music is frowned upon, nightclubs are banned, and hosting a rave can get you fined, or even locked up. All the same, Iran is rich in musical ideas, and artists there have a sense of unity and community that puts many western scenes to shame.
iDJ's IRANIAN TOP 10
Ranging from house to experimental productions to trap, here's iDJ's pick of 10 of the most exciting artists operating in the thick of Tehran’s exciting underground movement right now...
One of Tehran’s most active and international house artists, Habischman has released on Noir’s Noir Music, Steve Lawler’s ViVA and, most recently, Hot Since 82’s Knee Deep In Sound. Rich mystic and emotional themes comprise his progressive signature, to the extent that he was invited to mix Global Underground’s first Nubreed album in seven years. He’s since shared many more similarly immersive and journey-like mixes on his Soundcloud, while his recent Deep House Amsterdam mix is a great place to start getting acquainted.
Listen to the intro on Soltan’s recent Beatport dubstep No 1 Sahara and feel the full impact of Middle Eastern fusion, as flutes and strings enshroud you in a cloud of desert sand before spitting you out into a drop that's been tearing floors apart from LA to London. It’s the latest in a growing line of premium, heavyweight dubstep cuts over the last few years on labels such as Monstercat and Firepower.
“I want people to know the sounds and music styles of the Middle East,” he explains. “When I build music now, I spend a lot of time on building the sounds. I like to draw from all the Middle East music cultures: one song will pull from Persian, Hindi, Pakistani, Iraqi, Israeli, Turkish... EVERYTHING that will make people learn about the beautiful sounds we have.”
A key figure in Tehran’s experimental movement, Ata Ebtekar (AKA Sote) spent most of his teens in Germany and his early adult years in San Francisco, studying art and sound, before returning to his home city four years ago and helping to establish the community around the SET festival. His work ranges from the brutal digital IDM drum funk of Electric Deaf on Warp in 2002, to his most recent work on UK label Opal Tapes. His latest album, Sacred Horror In Design, is one of his strongest fusions of traditional Persian chord scales and instruments such as the setar and santur with contemporary electronic music. Beguiling and singular, Sote is comfortable right on bleeding edge of Tehran's - if not the world’s - most boundary-challenging compositions.
4. Nesa Azadikhah
One of Tehran’s only female DJs and electronic artists, as the founder of the Deep House Tehran site Nesa is also one of the most influential. She established herself several years ago with her Hunger podcast series on Persian music network Radio Javan, and also broadcasts on internet station Frisky Radio, but she's actually been involved in music since the age of six, playing traditional instruments such as the tonbak, a drum she uses in many of her productions to this day. As an artist she has released an array of techno constructions and avant garde compositions, ranging from the haunted late-night techno of Tunnel to the found-sound collages of her Random City (Tehran) EP. She has also scored music for Persian films with her twin sister Niyaz. She’s shared many mixes on her Soundcloud, but this smoky, jazz-tinged blend is a great place to get to know.
5. PVRSA ROLEX
Meet PVRSA ROLEX, Iran’s foremost trap lord. In true Tehran style, his low profile is intentional: he gives little away about himself but the music speaks for itself, a dark, demonic 808 style that sits somewhere between the traps of Atlanta and the slums of Tehran. Dramatic and drenched in eastern orchestration and vocals since his earliest internet releases in 2013, he’s steadily delivered a string of dangerously-edged bass tracks that are often supported by Brazilian trap network Legion Of Trap (who also support other interesting Middle Eastern collectives such as Arab Trappers) The best entrance into PVRSA ROLEX’s world is this recent mix, where the balance between Middle Eastern and western influences is as theatrical as it is heavyweight.
6. Farshad Ferry
Tehran OG and the man behind one of the city’s only house music imprints, Shibiza, Farshad Ferry has been ploughing universally deep tech grooves for some 15 years now. Deep, swinging, lean and layered in percussion, his label’s releases have been supported by the likes of Roger Sanchez, Richie Hawtin, Marco Carola, Umek and Stefano Noferini, to name but a few. Flying the flag for national talent - whether based at home or overseas - and a frequent international flyer himself, Ferry is one of the country’s longest standing and most consistent ambassadors in house and techno.
7. Azim Fathi
After several years DJing in Malaysia (and releasing with fellow Iranian artist Fardin Aameri as Tele Vizion) Azim has now returned to his home city of Tehran and established himself in various artistic quarters. As a graphic designer, his work is called upon by events such as Shemroom’s Analog Room in Dubai and Berlin label Constant Variables; as a promoter, his Paraffin brand has held events from Lebanon to Turkey as well as in galleries in Tehran, and looks set to develop into a record label in the near future; as an artist, Azim lives on the tightrope between techno and experimentalism while his DJ sets span the deep tech spectrum, as this recent Deep House Tehran mix showcases.
You might recognise Rebeat from his successful and heavily played 2013 track If You Go Away. Flexing the evocative purrs of Shirley Bassey in a strong and spellbinding way, it’s a great snapshot of this Tehran-based artist’s sense of atmosphere and mysticism. An even stronger snapshot can be found in his Sound Into Your Heart series, which fuse the spoken word and poetry of Iranian artists with his rich, mesmerising progressive, synth-heavy trips. Highly active as a DJ, his Soundcloud is stacked with fascinating mixes.
Pr0mid is one of the most prolific and versatile artists to operate from Tehran. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who have carved their signature in instrumental music due to local censorship and restrictions, he regularly uses Persian vocals and fuses traditional instrumentation into his music that ranges from downtempo to upbeat prog. If you’ve heard any Persian-sounding track on any Balearic or chill-out compilation (such as the Musical Rickshaw series by iDJ writer Pathaan) there’s a strong chance it might be one of his - his work has been licensed to over 350 compilations! Currently working on film scores under his full name Omid Mahramzadeh, here's a really cool video example of how he operates live, wrapping his stirring synths around traditional Persian instrumentation.
One of the key artists in the collective based around Tehran’s SET Festival and experimental movement, Tegh (AKA Shahin Entezami) began making hip-hop beats in the mid 2000s but switched to a more ambient, done-based approach in the early 2010s. Conjuring oceanic atmospheres and bleak walls of sound with sweeping, slowly mutating chords in a way that could be compared to early Boards Of Canada or Tim Hecker, his work is heavily immersive and reveals more layers on every listen. His 2014 album Night Scenes is a great place to start the immersion.
Words: Dave Jenkins Tehran pic: Dotty McElhaney/Top4Themes.com
Tags: Iran, Tehran, Habischman, Soltan, Sote, Nesa Azadikhah, PVRSA ROLEX, Farshad Ferry, Azim Fathi, Rebeat, Pr0mid, Tegh, Deep House Tehran, Time Code, Deep Dish, Darius Syrossian, Pleasurekraft, Sharooz, Berhouz, Ardalan, Omid 16B, Namito, Navid Izadi, Nima Gorji, Shemroon,