At this point, one would be at fault to call the music coming out of the fringes of Iranian society “underground.” The pervasive influence of the internet has made such categorizations void, and through one channel or another, the music is simply available now for all to hear. All that is required of the curious is to do some digging.
When one looks for stirring novel sounds coming out of Iran, however, what initially becomes most apparent is the ubiquity of electronic music in the current climate. Though this does not mean that the more visceral and combustible forms of music have disappeared completely from the scene, the immense popularity of electronic music in Iran not only owes to the fact that the production of electronic music is relatively less problematic in a highly politicized sphere like Iran (since it can be made in a private space, the noisy process of creation, often free of traditional instruments, easily concealable between headphones) as compared to, say, rock-oriented music, but also because the music itself offers a space for private meditation for the listener, a chance to escape into some unknown, alien, and sublime soundscape.
These electronic soundscapes allow the listener to have a more personalized, private experience with the music – a kind of participation that is ideal for an audience that, due to the conditions dictating the restrictions of its environment, is unable to have a more active and overtly public experience with louder, more boisterous music.
With that said, in a climate where the sonic experience, for one reason or another, has become more privatized, the need for music that could, in turn, spur a listener to move, to dance, and to engage with it actively and collectively is more vital than ever. This is why The Muckers have proved to be such a refreshing jolt of energy and vitality in the present Iranian climate.
Constantly evolving and consistently striving to fuse local sonic influences with the more familiar melodies of the international scene, the music of this two-piece band led by Emir Mohseni and Sadra Forouhi, bursts onto the psyche with remarkable energy time and time again, propelling any and all spaces exposed to its funk- and psychedelia-tinged strains to come to life – to shake off their EDM restfulness, set loose their pent-up drives, and to leap, spring, dance themselves out of their solitude and lose themselves in otherworldly, evocative soundscapes of a different kind.
Their latest song Reveries attests to the development of this young band. In the span of only a few years, The Muckers have gone from eagerly emulating their musical heroes to carving out a musical style that is very much their own. The bare-boned, youthful simplicity of their early music has now been honed into an intricate and sophisticated style that harkens as much to Sly and the Family Stone as it does to Station to Station-era David Bowie as it does to the present day’s Mac DeMarco and Tame Impala, tinged also with cacophonic melodies that couldn’t have been inspired by anything but the daily disharmonies of their own, bad-tempered Tehran.
What is impressive, too, is that in an era keen on cashing in on matters of identity politics even for the promotion of works of art, The Muckers and their music turn away from politics as a whole; refusing all the many promotional tactics available to a Middle Eastern rock band to exploit their origins in hopes of garnering the customary fifteen-minutes afforded to the “eastern exotic.” There are no interviews to be found with them bellyaching about the sociopolitical situation in Iran and the obvious restrictions impinged upon them because of it, and no topical, area-driven song that can provide them with quick publicity; nothing of the sort. Rather, their songs are always about such simple, universal themes as love and loss.
Mohseni’s foremost grievance with his native Iran is the fact that his hands are tied when it comes to performing his particular brand of music live and for a large audience. After all, the Muckers’ music is one that aims to physically move those that are in its vicinity, and, unfortunately, despite the country’s slow acceptance of some forms of rock music, the kind that inspires movement is still considered licentious and taboo.
Though he could spend his time grousing and grumbling and ascertaining blame on this setback spurred by parochial politics, Mohseni is instead not only increasing the level of his creative prolificacy day by day, but he is also looking for alternatives, looking towards any place possible that would allow him to perform his music for a much larger audience and under less stressful circumstances.
The last time The Muckers played a show in Iran was in March 2014, at a secret event carried out with much apprehension inside the residence of a foreign delegate. That night, they played for a rare audience of 150 people, which has so far proved to be their largest audience, as well as a sweet but bitterly unrepeatable experience. Mohseni feels that this inability to perform consistently is an impediment to any creative mind, and he fears that the longer his hands remain tied, the more it can handicap the great reserve of vitality that both himself and his music unswervingly maintain.
“I have no idea what the prospect of performing in a different setting might be like,” he says, pacing nervously around the kitchen of his Tehran apartment home. “It’s going to be terrifying, but it’s still an adventure, and I want to have that adventure. I need that adventure. My music might even change, might even sound completely different if I’m finally given that chance go elsewhere. Even though this urge to arouse my own sleepy Tehran has been at the heart of our music since we started, leaving this city could give me the chance to feel like I finally belong somewhere.” He hesitates for a moment, rethinking his words. “It might even give me enough distance from this place so I can one day regain what is that I feel I’m losing, that I can return to Tehran with a better understanding of this place – with even more compelling music and greater energy to inject it with. The Muckers got started here. My love for music came from here. And I grew up here. I’m not going to just let that all go.”
Not unlike many of his generation of Iranians, Mohseni grew up exposed to the music of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, and Boney M. on a much more regular basis than that of local Iranian musicians. His upbringing had always been bolstered by an idealistic westward gaze, and at this point, he senses the urge to finally move towards that direction, despite the many risks and the knowledge of having seen many Iranian musicians – some, his own friends – journey to places like New York only to either meet tragic and fatal ends, or to come face to face with the less dire but still discouraging reality of suddenly finding themselves transformed from a unique novelty band from a very unique sphere of the world into mere, miniscule fish in a large, forbidding pond.
“I am risking everything,” he emphasizes, still carrying on with his frenetic pace around the room. “I am risking never seeing my family again, I am risking losing a home that I nevertheless grew up in, turned into who I am in – whatever that means, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it still matters. And I’m doing all of this just so I could perform my music without any worries, so I could have an audience. Even though I want to move away, for at least some time, I still don’t want to lose my home. But still, I’m willing to take that risk. If an artist, especially a musician, can’t reveal his art to the world, can’t perform his music, then I believe that they might as well be dead. It’s not enough to just sit around and share what you’ve made with friends. You still want more. You still want your music to touch other people too, to make them feel something. It’s universal. If our music has managed to help anyone here, then I want to be able to perform it live elsewhere and see if it has the same effect on others.”
The joy of listening to The Muckers’ music – rather than stemming from a passing thrill of hearing an eclectic variation of contemporary rock that hails from a place as unexpected as Iran – comes, instead, from the simple fact that this is a band, on full display, still wholeheartedly convinced by the healing powers of music, the kind that doesn’t concede to the private headphone-meditations that have become the norm in its native environment, but music that exists precisely so it can burst free into the midst of an audience willing to collectively engage with it.
Whether a song of theirs is sorrowful or carefree, The Muckers’ music insists on retaining its rhythm, letting that movement-inducing repetition gradually and spontaneously move forward and develop, until it can finally give way to that inevitable, invigorating, and most necessary emotional release.
Charged with this kind of sonic urgency, The Muckers intend to make their mark on the international scene.
“Playing music is the only thing I know. It’s the only skill I have,” Mohseni remarks, finally sitting down, calmed even by the process of rehashing, out loud, his reveries. “Since I was fifteen, I’ve been playing music, moving from the Beatles songbook to my own. My own music! Here I am now, twenty-seven years old, and I’ve tried to make my own small contribution in this field I love. But I need to be heard, and I want to grow. And you can only grow so much surrounded by these mountain,” he says, pointing out to the Tehran mountain range outside his window.
Fortunately for The Muckers, this dream is drawing closer to becoming a practical reality. In March, the band partnered up with Wiener Records, a subsidiary of California’s Burger Records, and will be releasing their first EP, appropriately titled Endeavor, sometime in the fall of 2016. Among the tracks featured on Endeavor is the sprawling yet personal To the Core of the Sun, which can be listened to below.
A North American tour is likely to follow so long as Mohseni and Forouhi manage to get their visas to enter the United States – something that proved problematic and disappointing in 2014 when the band was twice refused their visas to the United States despite an invitation to perform at that year’s SXSW, turned away for having served their two obligatory years of military service in Iran.
With any luck, the third time will indeed prove to be the charm.