Occasionally records pop up on email lists which, simply by virtue of their titles, beg to be heard. Raks Raks Raks: 17 Golden Garage Psych Nuggets From The Iranian 60s Scene certainly hit this mark. Indeed, at one point you wondered whether it was too good to be true; the title ticked so many boxes (garage, psych, Iranian, 60s…) you wondered if it was designed by some enterprising committee of music forgers. Indeed, there's virtually no independent info about the artists online. But not only does this stuff sound completely of the time, but after a bit of contact with the compilers there's a fascinating story behind it. Released on the Raks Discos label, it's a long running labour of love for Dutch and Turkish collectors, who jointly sent some responses to my questions.
The first question was how the hell they got wind of this music. "Knowing the fact that under the Shah's rule, that Iran had a relatively liberal entertainment scene, I always thought that there had to be music from the 60s and 70s which was influenced by the western rock and pop, crossing with local music." The last decade has seen some impressive Turkish psychedelic rock come to light, and it was in this context where they first came across Iranian material. Digging around for Turkish rock in the late 90s in Istanbul, they found a green vinyl disc on a label called T4 by a group called The Rebels: "When listening to it with Turkish friends they pointed me at the strange rhythm. ‘I saw her standing there’ the Beatles tune received a rhythmic workout that sounded more than impossible for European bands." But tracking down records in Iran itself proved extremely difficult for a number of reasons: language barriers, the government suspicion of pre-revolution culture, the collapse of the vinyl record industry, the difficulty of getting people to trust tall, caucasian record collectors, etc. Finally, in the mid-2000s, learning Persian started to unlock some of the secrets of records they were finding in junk shops.
Before the revolution, the Shah’s rule was supported by the West, and certain areas of society were almost slavishly anglophile. "Most usually the people involved in the scene were youngsters from the urban middle class with good education and who could have access to buying electric equipment and drum sets which were expensive posessions and very hardly available to non-professional musicians. The bands are mostly from Tehran, the capital city, followed by Isfahan, Tebriz and Shiraz which had liberal families." Although 60s music was not large commercially, it was nonetheless a busy little scene: "Only a couple of bands, such as The Rebels and The Golden Ring captured the interest of the record buying public with one or two records. Other than that, all other bands have been poorly self-produced with very low sales. It's obvious they were favored more by live audiences." The scene was helped by vinyl records being extremely easy to produce: "Iran was never part of the worldwide copyright networks, pre and after revolution, which helped the prices of the phonogram discs to be very cheap coupled with the fact that Iran being one of the prime producers of petroleum products, such as vinyl."
Nonetheless, the vinyl industry eventually collapsed, and the years of internal strife and external conflict pushed the 60s music scene to the back of the collective cultural memory. "The 1979 revolution changed a lot of things, music being one of them. Shah-era music, save for instrumental classical or religious music, was banned and especially items with female singing on them were confiscated wherever possible. As we said, vinyl was out of the window as early as 1976 anyway. The first years of Islamic rule were incredibly harsh which also surprised a lot of locals who did not think it would be this hard. Add to that the devastating eight years of war with Iraq, nobody cared for the recent musical past in those years and it has always been forbidden to sell these materials at any shop."
The music itself is almost impossible to dislike: rattling garage tracks with mostly Persian lyrics, lightly wayward tuning but a very slight sense of drone. For me it's more surf influenced than genuinely psychedelic, but it’s got a certain grit which is nothing like the candy pop confections of the West Coast surf guitar scene. The collectors describe themsevelves as interested in "that fantastic moment the ‘new’ music entered countries that do not come up in our minds as we are referring to early rock or garage music", and Raks Raks Raks certainly has an intangible weirdness – not quite Western, not quite Eastern. The music is almost as strange as the story of how it was unearthed.
The best Michael Jackson clip you'll see over the coming weeks and month of media coverage.
The legendary saxophonist and de facto leader of The Sun Ra Arkestra Marshall Allen plays a one-off UK show at London’s Café Oto on 6 July. Allen, who is touring Europe with the Arkestra during July, will be joined by the Arkestra’s piano player Farid Barron as well as some of London’s leading free music players for this exclusive and extremely rare event. Tickets cost £16 in advance, £18 on the door.
But in an exclusive offer, readers of The Wire can claim a special discount and get tickets for just £14.
To buy discounted tickets, click on either of the links below (NB Discounted tickets are limited and available on a first come first served basis): We Got Tickets or SU Tickets For more information on the event click here
Check out an exclusive excerpt from Jeff
Mills's DJ set as The Wizard at Sonar 2009, 18 June:
If you're in Barcelona for Sonar today &
this weekend, come by The
Wire's stall in the editorial fair (it's in MACBA's main
building) and say hi... We'll be around all today and tomorrow
selling back issues + free CD w/each issue, T-shirts and earplugs
(!) checking out the music and generally hanging out. Inspired by
the artistic environment, we've constructed an interactive
sculptural installation as an added attraction (see below)
Stay tuned... We've got some rough and ready video excerpts of Jeff Mills's DJ set as The Wizard, Luomo (Sasu Ripatti aka Vladislav Delay) and Konono Nº 1 live onstage to upload when we get a chance.
Interesting link forwarded to me recently of
Keith Rowe describing in
detail the thoughts and ideas behind his recent
ErstWhile/ErstLive release. Some fascinating ideas here, but
such is their conceptual density throughout each minute of the
piece, you wonder how (or if) a listener is expected to gain access
to this extraordinary inner world of ideas and schemes from the
relatively austere music on the disc.
This rare glimpse into this artist's inner monologue is nothing like my experience of playing onstage, though. Most of my thought processes were along the lines of 'what shall I do for the next few minutes/where do I want to be in ten minutes'.
I'm probably the last person on the planet to
discover these, but I only just ran across these recordings of Fela
Kuti from Nigeria in 1965. Some of these early tracks have been
released elsewhere, and often it's a little like hearing the early
Wailers – the pieces just haven't fallen into place yet.
However, these recordings, made for a show called Voice Of
America, I understand, are surely must-listen material....
You may have noticed the Real Office Ambience,
field recordings of The Wire office recorded by Jez
riley French, which you can download from our website.
Jez's contact mics seem to have disturbed some karmic balance at The Wire, because I've sensed several weird audio disturbance since he's been in. The noise-cancelling headphones that are an essential part of a Reviews Editor’s armoury have started feeding back strangely when the battery runs down, giving a wistful, medium pitched sinewave like a robotic sigh before they conk out; the portable CD player that I keep close at hand has started skipping on the first track, so that a Touchin' Bass compilation of electro began to sound like Errorsmith crossed with Oval; then the jack plug of my iPod started malfunctioning, and a Rinse FM download of a funky/house set began to sound like it had been run through a ring modulator, leaving a ghost of the music without any impact or warmth.
The office ambience may never be the same again; perhaps some sacred convent has been broken.
Adventures In Modern Music, 11 June with Rob
Young: Comus are one of the great forgotten English progressive
folk groups. Their 1971 album First Utterance was a blast of savage
pagan energy directed against hippy complacency. Amazingly, the
group have reformed and will play First Utterance in full at this
week's Equinox Festival. Rob will be joined by the group's
main singer and songwriter, Roger Wootton, to discuss Comus's
history and influences, and play a selection of music by Comus and
their contemporaries. Resonance 104.4 FM or online, 11 June, 9PM
On Saturday 13 June Anne Hilde Neset will be hosting a special extra edition of AIMM where she'll be joined by the international art/music collective Ultra-red (who currently have a show on at London's Raven Row Gallery) members Dont Rhine and Robert Sember to discuss their various projects. Resonance 104.4 FM or online, 13 June, 3:30PM BST
The WFMU blog has a number of MP3s that purport to be 1957 recordings of composer Edgard Varèse conducting a jazz workshop group that includes Charles Mingus, Teo Macero, Art Farmer and others. The music is very moody and abstract and well worth hearing. Claims that it somehow represents ground zero for free jazz should be taken with a major pinch of salt, however.