The movie No One Knows About Persian Cats adds a whole other dimension to the term “indie rock.” The Iranian film chronicles the rise and untimely demise of a duo seeking to take their brand of English-sung alternative rock from the underground music scene of Tehran to the west. As seen at the beginning of the trailer there exists laws prohibiting the performance and recording of rock ‘n’ roll music in Iran. So this kind of music truly earns the title of underground music. Musicians exploring this form of musical expression actually risk jail time.
Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad portray the musicians who in real life head the collective Take It Easy Hospital and did indeed make it to England to begin their career performing Western-style alternative rock. Their MySpace page is testament to that accomplishment. You can hear live streams of their songs on their MySpace page, including a new demo.
Their music is catchy quirky stuff with sullen, desperate lyrics, like any good brand of alt-rock music. Anyone who likes the style of early Stereolab or modern Arcade Fire should make an effort to check it out.
You can also download Take It Easy Hospital’s EP, which they claim to have recorded in Iran, at the UK site 7digital.com. Plus a soundtrack CD has already been released, which also features many of the other varied artists featured in the movie.
But adding a deeper resonance to the quality of the music is what the duo had to do to release it. Their ordeal puts to shame western bands who record under the banner of indie rock. Based on the difficulties depicted in No One Knows About Persian Cats, which, as the film established at the start, is based on true events, no musician seeking to express him or herself via independent music in Tehran takes the privilege for granted.
Bahman Ghobadi (Turtles Can Fly) shot the scenes with a handheld camera, following the musicians through many winding stairs and narrow corridors to get to spaces where musicians could play an array of musical styles without the police arresting them. The movie’s story explores several of the difficulties in the duo’s attempt to not only leave Iran but also gather the backing band to perform their music. Though their acting appears forced (these are non-actors) and the film’s super downer of an ending comes out of left field with no real purpose but to shock, the movie’s power comes from the passion for musical expression and the utter affection Ghobadi has for the illegal music he filmed below the radar of the law enforcement in Tehran.
Ghobadi spends a lot of time on letting the performances play on, which range from hip-hop to metal to folkloric (for the region). The lighting in some of theses scenes are almost idyllic, compared to the intercut, handheld street scenes. He captures the bliss of the music with a style influenced by MTV. In doing so, Ghobadi presents that metaphysical place these musicians are striving for in the moment of the music—a place of escape, even if it’s only in the form of making fleeting music.
Risking jail and even torture, the drive for musical expression in this truly underground music scene goes beyond any western definition of what indie rock means. In a world, where being able to play an electric guitar can be taken for granted, a movie like this shows how privileged we are to have the alternative music that bucks the corporate music world.