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Iranian rockers react to govt oppression

Members of the Iranian electronic rock band The Casualty Process, which gained international notoriety from its previous project “The Plastic Wave” for featuring a female lead singer, spoke on campus Thursday about being censored and suppressed by Iranian religious authorities.

Hosted by Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA!) at the Bechtel International Center assembly room, the band played an hour-long concert before participating in a question-and-answer session.

In 2006, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took power in Iran, rock music was banned and underground music studios were forced to shut down. Saeid “Natch” Nadjafi and Shayan Amini saw that their garage band had reached a dead end.

The next year, Nadjafi and Amini planned an underground rock concert for 200 people in Tehran, Iran, where they lived. To their surprise, 700 people — mostly uninvited — showed up.

“We lost control,” Amini said. The Iranian authorities soon arrived, and about 200 people were arrested; the others ran. Nadjafi and Amini, as well as their female lead singer, Maral Afsharian, were imprisoned for 15 days and fined the Iranian equivalent of $50,000.

“Unfortunately they labeled us as Satanists,” Amini said with a smile, to the audience’s laughter.

After being released from prison, they wanted to continue making music, but found few available options.

“The only thing I had at the time was my computer, so I thought it would be a good time to make electronic music,” Nadjafi said. Thus, The Plastic Wave was born.

The three bandmates rehearsed in private because they were not authorized to perform in public, mainly because of Afsharian’s gender. The songs were not in themselves politically controversial, but in Iran, where female vocalists are taboo, the authorities still found more than enough grounds for condemnation.

If anything, their notoriety back home gave them an edge that made them a more attractive band in the United States. In 2009, The Plastic Wave was invited to the renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, which attracts more than 30,000 attendees. They were unable to attend however because their applications for U.S. travel visas were denied.

Nevertheless, another opportunity soon presented itself when their music reached Austin Dacey, who, through his foundation Impossible Music, organized a concert to introduce The Plastic Wave to a Brooklyn audience. In March 2010, a counterpart band performed The Plastic Wave’s music in a Brooklyn theatre. From Iran, through Skype, the band members watched an American band perform their songs. Afterward members of the audience stormed an empty stage to chat with them.

“It gave me a lot of energy,” Nadjafi said.

Amini and Nadjafi spoke about almost losing hope living in Iran.

“It seems you’re trying for nothing,” Nadjafi said. “All you can get is negative energies from everywhere. Me and Shayan have been working together for 10 years…we have wanted to quit more than 50 times.”

Nadjafi and Amini also spoke about the reception of non-traditional music like their own by the general population in Tehran.

“We have our audiences in Iran,” Nadjafi said. “I don’t know why, but if you listen to the kind of music Iranians listen to, they are so modern…If you produce something great, they find you easily. In Iran, we have some great friends and fans that are following us.”

He added, “I think a great example is the concert. We planned for 200 people. 700 came. We didn’t invite them.”

The event made some audience members appreciate their own rights.

“I think it shows how fortunate we are to have the First Amendment and the right to express ourselves,” said Lewis Marshall, a graduate student who attended the event.

Amini said the group’s next step is to seek asylum, as the members’ visas will expire in three weeks. In the meantime, they said they plan to tour in several other cities in California, including Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.