Interview with DJs Blade&Beard from the documentary, Raving Iran
Save the rave
How familiar are you with Iranian pop culture exports? You might have caught the Oscar-nominated 1997 film Children of Heaven, and can recognise Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo in films such as X-Men and Lake House. There's also the Grammy Award-winning techno DJ Dubfire, who moved to America when he was seven. If you're plugged into the Dubai party scene, you'll know of the Analog Room, a series of underground parties started by Iranians Mehdi Ansari and brothers Salar and Siamak Amidi. Other notable DJ and producer exports include Habischman and Namito, who've made a name for themselves in London and Berlin respectively. But nobody has quite made a splash in the scene as Anoosh Raki and Arash Shadram.
Forming DJ duo Blade&Beard, they're the subjects of the debut feature documentary by German filmmaker Susanne Regina Meures, Raving Iran. Screened at The Projector two weeks ago as part of the German Film Festival in Singapore, the film introduced audiences to the illegal rave culture of Iran, which even led to Anoosh's arrest. This weekend, the Zurich-based Blade&Beard will perform as part of Sunshine Nation's IMI Festival, bringing to us their brand of deep, melodic techno, interspersed with synths, percussion and bass.
But to understand Blade&Beard, you'll have to understand the Islamic Republic of Iran's attitude towards contemporary music. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, music was under scrutiny by the country's morality police, who regularly shut down music retailers and organisations for selling and promoting music that's deemed immoral or political. We see these frustrations in Raving Iran, where the Ministry of Cultural Affairs rejected Blade&Beard's cover art and album for featuring a lead female singer, Western influences and English text. On the flipside, Raving Iran also showed off an entire generation of young Iranians who attend secret desert raves and house parties, casting a lens on the underbelly of a country hardly shown in mainstream media — albeit with censored their faces.
Filming was discreet. Once, a hole had to be specially sewn into Arash's shirt pocket so that an iPhone could record what was going on. The film then follows Blade&Beard through to their first gig in Europe, playing at Switzerland's well-known Street Parade. Since then, we've seen their first release as Blade&Beard back in 2014, a deep house remix of Lorde's 'Royals'. This year, they released their own three-track EP, Dark Valley, on 23 June. It's the first catalogue number from their own label, Futurist. The label has since supported another underground techno duo, Italians Erly Tepshi and Ray Neri of Never Lost, who've aligned themselves with a similarly dark and melodic style. During Blade&Beard's set at Tomorrowland in July, they played Never Lost's 'La Storia del Tempo (Jikan No Rekishi)', one of their most memorable releases.
In recent months, they've played in countries as varied as Dockland Festival in Denmark, Jaeger Club in Norway and Tomorrowland in Germany. We catch up with Blade&Beard over email before their gig at IMI Festival in Singapore.
When did you both realise that you could do music together?
We were friends first. Anoosh was a DJ and Arash produced music, so we started six years ago together in electronic music.
Who were your electronic musical influences growing up?
Sasha and John Digweed.
Who are your favourite names in music right now?
Portishead and Recondite.
When was your first desert rave party held and what was it like?
2008. The first desert rave was indescribable. People were so shocked, we were amazed and having this experience was different.
When someone who's not Iranian thinks of 'Iranian desert parties', they think of a cool underground experience — do you think that because there was so much red tape you had to get through, it added to this "cool" factor?
We are one of the few underground communities. Iranian underground music can make some people impressed by the name of the topic. It also passed the red tape so it caught attention from people.
How do you think you can contribute to Iran's music scene and help fellow Iranians who are looking to make a career out of music?
We created our record label in Berlin to help electronic musicians in Iran or other countries around the world. We have a few Iranian artists whose sounds are similar to our music taste — we started to support them.
Are there aspects of Iran's underground music scene that you miss, compared to how you're playing in bigger festivals now?
We always miss the place where we started from, but nowadays we have to concentrate on performing at international festivals.
How has your time spent in the Swiss refugee camp and in touring Europe shaped you as musicians, and as people?
We had two hard years in a refugee camp in Switzerland. Even we couldn't seen ourselves as people — after the movie was released we could get back our freedom again and we went to the stage directly from the refugee camp.
What do you miss most about Iran?
We miss the family and the country.
What's next for Blade&Beard?
We are concentrating on our record label in Berlin, and there are some new music which we are releasing through Futurist.
IMI Festival takes place on 18 November from 11am to 3am at Old Kallang Airport. Blade&Beard will take part in a Q&A session at 4.15pm and perform at 12am. Book tickets.