The underground music culture in Iran didn’t just come out from nowhere. It emerged in increments, after years of repression and bureaucracy. Progressive metal guitarist Farzad Golpayegani, born in 1979 in Tehran, knows better than most how difficult it was dealing with the Iranian government.
“I wasn’t very interested in being an underground artist but I have been pushed into it because there hasn’t been any other way for me to play music,” Farzad says as we sit in his apartment in Istanbul.
It’s a spartan room near Taksim Square, and Farzad’s musical equipment seems to take up most of the space. With a long ponytail of dark hair and a pale face, Farzad is soft spoken and reserved – a surprise considering the intensity and energy of his metal music.
Farzad became interested in metal music at a young age, and was the first artist to successfully gain a license from the Iranian government for a metal record.
As we talk in his studio apartment in Istanbul he jams for a little while. His metal music is a fascinating blend of Western metal and Iranian classical and folk music.
“It was very important for me to show and express my influences from Eastern and Persian music,” Farzad explains.
After a few minutes though he places his guitar to the side and sighs in frustration as he recalls the difficulties of his musical career inside Iran:
“In the performance the audience should be seated, they can’t stand. Musicians are allowed to stand but we couldn’t move a lot. We couldn’t have a head bang on the stage, which is very usual for a rock metal musician.”
“Even when we have the license we’re never 100 percent sure we’re going on the stage, because maybe at the last minute an authority can stop our concert being performed.”
Farzad says that after Ahmadinejad gained power, it became almost impossible to work legally as a musician.
“They even just refused the previous licenses. For example I received the authorization for my second release inside Tehran but I was only waiting for my turn for my record to be published. They stopped my record and it couldn’t get published, after that they didn’t accept it.”
Just like for a generation of Iranian artists and musicians, the internet was where he found the last outlet of expression within Iran.
“After facing too many problems getting the license I needed to release music inside Tehran I decided to make my record available on my website as a free download.”
“I received a much bigger audience, especially abroad. A good part of my music was instrumental and I now have fans in different countries. It doesn’t matter in what language they are speaking,”
But soon even that wasn’t enough. Farzad says he felt Iran could offer him no more by way of his music, and he now lives in Istanbul. There he’s free to play music and tutor students in how to play the guitar.
“For me, the most important thing is to work as a musician and a composer and to enjoy the activity, and right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing.”