Last night I witnessedhistory in the making. Disclaimer – I am a musician with a deep and unquenchable love for heavy music, so many will not agree with me. That’s okay. Pop junkies and electro-heads alike, you can put your headphones back on and skip the rest of this post.
To resume. Last night I went to Kabul’s Institut Français d’Afghanistan to see a night of heavy music and experimental sounds. First, I saw Ring of Steel – a music/image art collaboration between photographer Jake Simkin and artist/District Unknown bassist Qasem Foushanji. Combining ambient sounds of Kabul’s streets, vocal soundbites from interviews, live projections and beats and even a real live theremin!
Next, stoner rock two-piece, Lap o Jap took to the stage, featuring White City’s Travka on guitar and District Unknown’s Pedram Foushanji on drums. It was like Pelican meets Dub Trio meets Lightning Bolt. Heavy as a four-piece and grooves worthy of Kyuss or Sleep.
Finally, District Unknown took to the stage (with both Foushanji brothers plus Qais on guitar and new singer, Josef). Growling vocals, brutal drums and piercing guitars thrilled the entire auditorium. A mixture of psychedelic, doom and death metal with lyrics inspired by Persian poetry. Music of despair and anger played with a gusto and joy that, conversely, inspired hope.
But the music itself wasn’t what convinced me that we were witnessing something truly special. It was the audience of 250 Afghan young people cheering and rocking out to music that most westerners would have trouble listening to. Actually, strike that rather orientalist comparison – this is challenging music to any audience: with vocals screamed, not sung, and guitars turned up to full distortion. Yet, District Unknown were singing to a home crowd that loved what they were hearing. This is Afghan metal, something that’s NEVER been done before and they were owning it.
Anyone who calls this country backward, who says there’s no future due to some generalised perception of Afghan mentality, should have come along last night. Sure, it’s a tiny, tiny proportion of the country, but in my long experience of gig attendance, I’ve never seen such a joyous reaction to dark music.