In the United States, there is an air of rogue sophistication surrounding the term “underground”, the assuredly intentional property of being too authentic or unpalatable for mainstream popularity. In Iran, former home to post-punk outfit The Yellow Dogs, the term takes on a legal connotation, with the threat of imprisonment and corporal reprimand looming over a music scene unsanctioned by the Ayatollahs’ authority. The emergence of President Ahmadinejad reinvigorated the prohibition of Western-style music, as depicted in the 2009 film No One Knews About Persian Cats, which took a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The Yellow Dogs provided soundtrack music, acting and a live performance to the feature that was filmed on location in Tehran, thus a meta-realistically illegal narrative based on true events.
Since relocating to Brooklyn in early 2010, The Yellow Dogs have further developed a sound that recalls the sparse and unhinged grooves of Joy Division as inflected by Persian roots and jazz fusion techniques. After their January 4th show at Glasslands alongside Jump Into The Gospel, Fan-Tan and Genghis Hans, they will begin recording the second EP, slated for a Spring 2012 release, a follow-up to last year’s indie release In The Kennel ($1 download here). I put a few questions to guitarist and vocalist Obash to gain a little more insight into their harrowing story.
Has the prominence of The Yellow Dogs or No One Knows About Persian Cats had any effect on the folks on the music scene back in Tehran?
First of all, I should say that there’s a small community in Iran that likes our kind of music; we are a bunch of weirdos for most of Iranians (guess we are a bunch of weirdos for most of Americans too), but in general the whole film did something for a bit, because before that, the underground music scene was mostly about Metal, Jazz and Fusion or Rap and Hip Hop, but after the movie you could feel a shift in the general taste. Most of the Iranians didn’t have any idea that such bands and lifestyle even existed in Tehran. Until the man with the camera showed up.
Your lyrical sensibility is informed by your history; you reject the authoritarianism of Iran, as well as the neo-colonialism practiced by the US. A large part of Americans, especially younger generations, sympathize with this democratic worldview. Would you consider this reflective of Iran’s cultural and political future?
Not at all, this is my vision, and to be honest we have no clue about Iran’s cultural and political future. At the end we are not politicians, we are a bunch of crazy kids who love playing music and having fun.
One of the things that doesn’t sound underground about The Yellow Dogs at all is the instrumental proficiency. How did you guys go about getting instruments and developing your chops in an outlaw genre? I imagine it’s hard to find electric guitar lessons.
Buying instruments in Iran was a pain in the ass, because most of the instruments that you could find was doubled priced or sometimes even fake and mostly all black market. We learned playing our instruments by ourselves or from some good friends. Covering other bands was helpful too.
Between the dark humor in “Gastronomic Meal” and the defiant optimism of “The Golden Age”, your lyrics portray a world that hangs in the balance between destruction and enlightenment. Has the move to Brooklyn improved your outlook at all, or just reinforced the notion that we’re all done for?
It definitely effected our outlook, especially if you come from one of the most strict governments to land of the free, U.S of A, and we learned that shit may be different but its all shit at the end
You’ve been asked a lot about your Western influences and what sort of American stuff is big in Iran. Which Iranian artists, aside from Yellow Dogs of course, should the US airwaves be expecting, or does the censorship make that impossible?
Although it’s censored and there are restrictions with high internet speed, artists still have a chance to get their music heard. You should definitely look out for our best friends and “sister band” the Free Keys, as they arrived to BK yesterday and will be calling Brooklyn home. This Glasslands show will be very exciting because it will be the first time for them to see us play since the two shows we did together back in the DIY illegal space we built together in Iran. Also be on the look out for the talented street artists and skater brothers ICY and SOT.
You recently tweeted, “Talking with a meth head chick in a gas station in Nebraska can be dangerous”. Care to elaborate?
Haha. She looked amazing from far away but as we got closer we learned to never mess with meth.
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