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Underground Music in Iran

The term ‘underground music’ in the West was usually applied to a range of various musical genres from psychedelic to punk rock, hip-hop, and rap. Whilst being different, they shared common characteristics such as being unconventional and non-mainstream, with an emphasis on the complete freedom of artistic expression and creativity. None of these varieties of underground music, except for a few of a violent nature and with gory lyrics, have ever been clandestine or illegal. But the fact that they only appealed to a cult following made them commercially less viable and therefore not available to a wider public. Through the years, some underground styles, such as hip-hop, eventually became mainstream and therefore commercialized. In recent years, the increasing availability of the Internet and digital music has made underground music easier to distribute and accessible to everyone, bringing it very much above ground.

The definition of underground music in Iran, however, is completely different from that in the West. The term is applied to any form of music which is refused a license for recording, distribution and performance. After the Islamic Revolution, rigorous restrictions were imposed on any type of music which was considered to be ‘non-revolutionary’. Western pop music was categorized as a symbol of ‘cultural invasion’, and records and cassettes had to be sold under the counter. These severe constraints prepared the ground for the first seeds of underground music to take root.

Now, after more than three decades, there has been a slight relaxation of the regulations, and Western forms of music have somehow found their way into Iranian pop music. Nevertheless, freedom of expression in musical style and particularly in lyrics is still strictly controlled, and any protest song or even lyrics with a hint of criticism will fail to obtain a license. In consequence, far from diminishing, the underground music is flourishing more than ever.

There are also many practical obstacles such as lack of facilities and soundproof studios for rehearsal which force musicians to practise literally in underground basements, if they can find one. These difficulties have driven many gifted artists out of the country, but there are still some who have refused to leave and are struggling to survive and find ways of overcoming problems.

In this multimedia report, we meet the dedicated members of one such group who have made a point of remaining in Iran and continue their artistic activities against all odds.

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