Rock and Alternative Music in Iran

In Iran today there is an underground rock scene that has been growing in popularity despite the harsh restrictions. The bands are trying to produce rock and alternative music so they can express themselves and be apart of the global community. By placing tough restrictions on bands and restricting live and recorded music, Iranian authorities seek to silence and isolate their youth. But this young, educated, population is not staying silent.

Heather Rastovac (University of Washington, Seattle) wrote about the censorship in Iran. In her article Rastovac said:

Looking to assert control though endorsing Islamic values, the theocracy began to pass legislations that confined or eliminated a wide range of cultural activities, with music being one of the most significant.”

She quoted Ayatullāh Khumeini in her article that said:

“… music is like a drug, whoever acquires the habit can no longer devote himself to important activities. It changes people to the point of yielding people to vice or to preoccupations pertaining to the world of music alone. We must eliminate music because it means betraying our country and our youth. We must completely eliminate it.”

I think both of the quotes do a nice job of explaining why the censorship is such a big deal in Iran and how polarizing it can be. When you break it down I think you have a clash between new and old. The younger, energetic, youth culture wants to express themselves and produce music so they can be apart of the global community. Then on the other side you have the Ministry of Islamic Guidance trying to arrest people and put restrictions on certain groups to stop them from playing music because of religious values and beliefs. The quote above from Ayatullāh Khumeini really shows how strongly some people feel about keeping the traditional culture and how passionate they are about it.

In an interview with BBC news the lead singer from Radio Tehran Ali Azimi said:

“For bands like us who play rock music it’s not easy to have a gig in Iran, it’s just something that you wouldn’t even try,”

“There are some bands who actually release albums in Iran and the lyrics can’t offend anyone – you could say there are safe lyrics. We weren’t willing to do that so we couldn’t release it in Iran.”

Later on in the BBC interview they discuss a documentary about the music scene in Iran. One of the lead actors from the film said:

“We never wanted to be in a position to run away from Iran, but they put you under this pressure and repression,” Koshanejad says. “You decide to leave to keep yourself alive and to do something for other people.” 

These quotes come from different people and I think both of them describe the situation very well. I liked what Ali Azimi said because he was very forward with what was happening to them in Iran. I think they decided to move away simply because of how tough it was for them and the restrictions the authorities placed on them. Then the actor from the documentary Koshanejad talked about running away because of the repression and it’s not because they don’t like Iran it’s because that’s what they have to do.

This video is a song by Radio Tehran and it’s called “Az Roozhai ke Migzarand”. The song was recorded live about a year ago in 2012. The first thing I noticed was that it took place at the 100 Club in London. The band has four members that consist of two guitars, a bass player, and a drummer. I think this is a good video because it shows Radio Tehran playing modern, alternative, rock music while also maintaining their roots. Over the past few years many Iranian bands have been incorporating western sounds and instruments into their traditional Persian melodies to brand a new sub-genre.

At around 0:20 you can hear the warm, rhythmic guitar played with the soft backbeat of the drums keeping a nice tempo. During that same time you can hear the clear Call & Response between the guitars. Around, 1:15 – 1:23 you can hear the nice dynamic control of his vocals. At 3:40 you will Azimi’s vocal control and as he holds a long note. At 3:50 you will start to hear the small guitar solo which has a unique timbre and nice rhythms.  The syncopated backbeat of the drums might be representing some of the Isolation the band might be feeling. In the interview with BBC news they found that most of Ali Azimi’s music deals with isolation, love and even boredom.

The underground scene in Iran today has taken off because the bands are working very hard to develop music and allow people to hear them. In the interviews above most of the bands have to travel and leave just so they can produce music and try to make a living. Radio Tehran is just one example the many bands striving for change from the authorities, other notable bands include: 127, Kiosk, Meera, Buddahead, Arashk, and The Yellow Dogs Band. I’m not certain but maybe in the future Iranian bands will be able to produce and play shows at home and record new albums. For now they are still unable to do so and they are continuing to work and strive towards that goal.


Davies, Rodrigo. “Iran’s underground rock scene thrives despite censors.” BBC News. BBC News, 25 Mar 2010. Web. 26 Apr 2013. <>.

Azimi, Ali. Personal Interview. 25 Mar 2010.

“Episode 2: 127’s Folk-Punk And The Progressive Rock Of Free Keys.” Iran Sound From Way Out. RFE/RL, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 27 Apr 2013. <>.

Rastovac, Heather. “Contending with Censorship: The Underground Music Scene in Urban Iran,” intersections 10, no. 2 (2009). Diss. University of Washington, 2009. Web. <>.

Khumeini, Ayatullāh . Interview by Youssefzadeh. “The Situation of Music in Iran since the Revolution”. . . Web. 26 Apr 2013.

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