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Babak Khiavchi - The Tricky Business of Underground Persian Music
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In Tehran as the heart of Iran’s music scene, most of us who were involved in the industry knew a place called Studio Bam. For many years, it was practically the only place which supported the underground music there. After nearly a decade, the production company of “Bamahang”, established in Canada, started to release Persian underground albums. Babak Khiavchi is one of the founders of both places.
You worked in one of the most famous production companies in Iran. Why did you move abroad?
The popularity and amazing feedback for our music productions such as Kiosk and O-Hum is proof that we have connected well with our target market, but our target is a very small portion of the major Iranian music market
My emmigration was based on purely personal reasons and was not backed by any business motivation. Having spent most of my childhood abroad and becoming exposed to Western culture at a very early age, I could not help but constantly compare Iran with the outside world, which was extremely frustrating. Throughout the years, I maintained my contact with my musician friends in Iran, and decided to give something back to them by starting an independent music production company to produce and promote underground music from Iran.
What are the difficulties that an Iranian music producer would face out of Iran?
musicians have several other jobs in order to support themselves, and high paying gigs will always lure them away from their main bands even if the music is not up to their own standards and beliefs
Besides that, we cater to a niche Iranian music loving audience who is pretty much fed up with mainstream Persian pop recycled 6/8 beats, is in the 20 - 40 age range, has internet access and a credit card, and also loves rock, metal, jazz and blues. The popularity and amazing feedback for our music productions such as Kiosk and O-Hum is proof that we have connected well with our target market, but our target is a very small portion of the major Iranian music market.
So far, compared to others, O-hum is quite well-known out of Iran. Is their success because of their music or because of, for example, you who support them?
Why is it so hard to be in a band and keep it in Iran? As a player, I saw that it was pretty hard to expect a musician to dedicate himself to group work. Why do you think that is?
Many Westerners still think Iran is an Arab country, and even prominent comedians like Robin Williams use an East Indian accent when they are imitating Iranian accents in their comedy sketches
How much do you think that economic and political issues would affect your career?
Do you personally intend to support any particular sort of Iranian music? Do you think there are things that should be more promoted in the West?
many closed-minded people in Iran think that daily life in the West is a non-stop orgy of music and sex and drugs and alcohol and that family and humane values are virtually non-existent
Do you consider yourself as someone who tries to introduce a part of Iranian culture to the west? Do you have any innovative ideas about that?
Yes, but our aim is to show a different side of Iran to the whole world, not what the media has traditionally represented. What goes on inside the hearts and minds of Iranian youth is very different than the traditional perception of Iran — and not just the West, but all around the world. The best way to communicate these feelings and realities is through a language that everyone understands which in this case can be the global language of music.
How much do you think Iranian music could change the West’s perception of Iran? Let me take an example. To many westerners, it’s not easy to realize how difficult it was for us, rockers, to go on stage. Do you think you can define what is going on over there to Westerners?
Likewise, many closed-minded people in Iran think that daily life in the West is a non-stop orgy of music and sex and drugs and alcohol and that family and humane values are virtually non-existent. Neither case is true. We have to focus on our similarities and a good starting point is artistic expression through music. Rock music has always been a vehicle for protest, and if Westerners can realize how underground rock music is actually being used as a means of survival of the senses by Iranian youth, they will have a better understanding of how important this music is to our youth.
Would you please tell me about your opinion on the future of Iran’s music? Especially Iran’s music in the West?
I am extremely proud that we have managed to bring Iranian underground music from the cold, damp basements of Iran onto the Internet and expose it to a worldwide digital music audience, while at the same time protecting their digital music copyrights. It is amazing what great feedback we have received and how many bands in Iran have contacted us expressing their desire to produce their music the same way. The movement has just started, and pretty soon our underground music will go overground.
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