/ 28 August 2006

Ayatollahs don’t dance

Playing heavy metal in Iran has its complications. The bassist for Kahtmayan says he has to plead with the audience not to dance when his band performs.

‘We have to tell people 20 times to please sit down,” says Ardavan Anzabipour. ‘If we don’t remind them to sit down and stop moving, we won’t get permission to play again.”

Anzabipour, who looks clean cut except for his tough-looking black cowboy boots, says the band’s own security crew tries to keep people from hopping or diving into the crowd. ‘There’s still a lot of head-banging though,” he says.

The problem is, that under Iran’s Islamic sharia law, dancing is illegal. But while the authorities insist that young Iranians must stay seated, they can no longer stop them from fulfilling their passion for heavy metal and other Western music.

Kahtmayan’s audience can now buy that symbol of Western decadence, the electric guitar, along Republic Street in Tehran’s city centre. Book shops now offer translations of lyrics from Megadeath and Metallica, and while state censors take out explicit sexual references, plenty of violence and double meaning remain.

Anzabipour says with pride that Kahtmayan, founded 18 months ago, is the first metal band in Iran. Other bands arrived late on the scene and many of them just play covers of Metallica songs, he says.

While metal may no longer be forbidden, however, it remains far from acceptable to the ruling clergy, and Kahtmayan struggles to get its music recorded and to secure permission for concerts.

Kahtmayan guitarist Homayoon Majdzadeh and his mates have day jobs to support themselves and have to rely on word of mouth and the Internet to reach their audience. The state broadcasting monopoly won’t get near a metal band with songs entitled Unreal and Ominous Transpose.

The title of their first and only legal album, Virtual Existence, sums up the band’s position; on the periphery, just above ground. Majdzadeh says the dark tone of the music appeals to the country’s pent-up younger generation.

‘They see this big difference between their lives here and what they see of life in the outside world. That gap frustrates them,” he says.

‘Friends my age are mostly depressed. Something’s wrong with everything here.”

The band is trying to move away from metal to something more nuanced but their fans have objected, demanding the band stick to that thrashing, throbbing metal sound.

‘They didn’t like it when we added keyboards but we had to. It was necessary.” —