It can sometimes feel like there is nothing new under the sun. The idea of pop eating itself has been established long enough that it was adopted as an ironic band name more than three and a half decades ago, and not long after that, Francis Fukuyama posited that all human development had more or less been completed. And yet, of course, it’s all nonsense. You just have to look further afield.
Tehran is home to 16 million people, a city with an almost unparalleled historical and cultural fecundity, largely untouched by European colonialism. Bluntly, things have developed and mutated differently there to the rest of the world and the collisions of ancient and modern that the city allows for give rise to an abundance of genuinely original artistic expression. German promoter Matthias Koch knows this better than most and through his label 30M Records, he has taken it upon himself to bring together a select group of Tehran’s current musical forebears on a compilation bursting with the shock of the new.
The most striking thing about This is Tehran? is its diversity. From the tearstained, bowed strings of Saba Alizadeh’s ‘I May Never See You Again’ to the spidery, almost midi-like manic electronics of Pedram Babaiee’s ‘Et Cetera’, none of the ten tracks fit easily into any of the stories of modern music that we are used to. The street party of Ehsan Abdipour’s ‘Sorna Lorestan’, a love letter to the titular ancient flute that electrifies the track, is jubilant, while the creeping, ghostly pace of Otagh Band’s ‘Rotenburg 2020’ sees Niusha Ghorbani’s solitary vocals being chased into the dark until they are lost and beginning to fear the worst. That song’s snatches of disjointed sonic splurts and hisses are usurped later by the scorched, atonal scratchings of Rojin Sharifi’s ‘Naked City’, a track that makes Autechre sound like DJ Sammy.
What is entirely absent is any trace of a tired, repetitive formula. Western readers can look closer to home for that.
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