The Tragic End For Iranian Rockers Seeking Musical Freedom In The U.S.

The Yellow Dogs, from left, Arash and Soroush Farazmand, killed on Monday, and Siavash Karampour and Koory Mirz.

The Yellow Dogs, from left, Arash and Soroush Farazmand, killed on Monday, and Siavash Karampour and Koory Mirz.  Photo: AP

The Yellow Dogs is an Iranian rock band, formed in 2006. Members include Siavash Karampour (vocals) and Koory Mirzeai (bass), as well as brothers Soroush Farazmand (guitar) and Arash Farazmand (drums) until the two were murdered on November 11, 2013.

The Yellow Dogs were from Tehran, Iran. They sang in English and played Western instruments, citing Joy Division, Talking Heads and The Rapture as an influence. Their music was not approved by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and was therefore illegal.  They performed in Bahman Ghobadi’s Cannes Un Certain Regard award-winning film, No One Knows About Persian Cats  and were interviewed by Reza Sayah for CNN before leaving Iran.

On 8-9 December, 2009, the band was interviewed by the U.S. government at the U.S. embassy in Istanbul, Turkey and their comments about the Iranian Green Movement Protesters, Iranian counter-culture, freedom of expression, trends in drug usage and music in the authoritarian state were reported in an unclassified U.S. State Department document later released by Wikileaks titled, “Iran/culture: So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star.”   The U.S. government officer interviewing the band members described them as “astute, well-informed, and resourceful.”

The Yellow Dogs played their first aboveground (legal) concert at the Peyote club, in Istanbul, Turkey January 2010.   Two days later, they flew to New York City.  Their second aboveground concert was at the Cameo Gallery, in Brooklyn, New York.  Since then, they played Santos Party House (Gojira’s first gig in NYC) and the Delancey  in New York. And they played the Wave in Austin, TX as part of the SXSW festival.  They played the 92nd St. Y Tribeca in New York in an afterparty for the U.S. opening of No One Knows About Persian Cats. Also on the bill for this concert were the band, Hypernova, who are also from Tehran. Koory and Looloosh were part of the original line-up of Hypernova. But they did not leave Iran when other Hypernova members departed for the United States.

April 13, 2010 Milan Records released the No One Knows About Persian Cats motion picture soundtrack.  The Yellow Dogs track “New Century” is included in the motion picture soundtrack, and bassist Koory appears on the CD cover and on the movie poster. IFC Films released the movie on demand on April 14, 2010 and in theaters on April 16, 2010.

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Ali Eskandarian, a performer who was not part of the band, was among those killed. Photo: AP

On November 11, 2013, a shooting took place in Brooklyn that involved Yellow Dogs band members.  According to band manager Ali Salehezadeh, guitarist Soroush Farazmand and drummer Arash Farazmand, along with Ali Eskandarian, a musician friend who was not part of the band, were killed by another musician named Raefe Akhbar. Originally, media reports described Akhbar as a former band member who had been thrown out of the band three days before. In later reports, however, it was stated that he was not a member of the Yellow Dogs, but had been kicked out of a different band (Free Keys) the previous year.

The Free Keys, which Mr. Rafie had joined as a bassist, left Iran to join their friends in the Yellow Dogs in 2011, the New York Times reported.

“At 318 Maujer Street, the Yellow Dogs occupied the lower apartment, and a rotating group of Iranian friends and acquaintances, including Mr. Eskandarian, lived in the upstairs apartment. The residents saw themselves as an artists’ collective, holding house parties with of-the-moment music and cheap beer for musician friends and hosting exhibitions of friends’ artwork. Mr. Sadeghpourosko’s artwork covered the walls of the living room, which the Yellow Dogs used as a practice space.”

They were a familiar sight on their quiet street, where small apartment buildings abut warehouses, often skateboarding or biking around with a dog. Neighbors noted their long hair and tight jeans, the young people of mixed ethnicities streaming into the building for parties, and the music that poured out.

Humble and eager to learn, they arrived early to gigs in their van and stayed late, mixing with fans. And though they sometimes spoke Farsi to one another and a few of their songs had politically potent lyrics, on stage they were like any indie band. “When you close your eyes, you just listen to the music, they sound very much like a regular band,” except for Mr. Karampour’s “exotic” vocals, said Jify Shah, the owner of Cameo Gallery, where the band often played.

At first, it seemed that the Free Keys would slip into Brooklyn’s music scene as easily as the Yellow Dogs had; they shared a rehearsal space and a manager, Ali Salehezadeh, who hoped the Free Keys’ story of music under political duress would resonate as the Yellow Dogs’ had. But it soon became clear that the band needed work, a friend of the band said, and that the Free Keys liked to party hard. They lacked the Yellow Dogs’ entrepreneurial spirit and ambition, the friend said.

Those in the know believed the Yellow Dogs were ascendant, ready for a national tour or even a record deal. “Everyone knows it’s only a matter of time and the Yellow Dogs are going to be huge,” said Ishmael Osekre, a Ghanaian musician who had booked the band for several shows. “That is why my heart is so broken — the idea that you left friends and family and love, and then for it to end in the way that it has, is just so unfair.”

eMusic Profile: The Yellow Dogs (YouTube)

Yellow Dogs, Iranian Band, Earned Fans Through Intensity and Promise

By The New York Times

For most aspiring young rock stars, the night two years ago when a music critic walked into a music club in Brooklyn and laid eyes and ears on the intense, dark-haired foursome on the stage might have been their first significant break.

The critic, J. Edward Keyes, said the band he first encountered at Glasslands Gallery that evening, the Yellow Dogs, immediately caught his fancy because “they projected such incredible intensity.” Right away, he said, he knew that they should be the next new band featured by eMusic, the Manhattan company where Mr. Keyes is editor in chief.

But even though the Yellow Dogs — a self-described “post-punk/dance punk” band — had not signed a contract with a record company, they were far from undiscovered. They carried a rare and intriguing label: rock band from Iran. And they had already appeared in an award-winning film and been profiled by CNN and Rolling Stone.

So there was outsize reaction on Monday when word spread that two members of the band were among three Iranian musicians shot to death in a townhouse in East Williamsburg before dawn. The killer was another musician who had come to New York from Iran more recently, the police said.

The early morning rampage shattered the image of the group as easygoing expatriates who supported one another’s dreams of becoming rock stars. It also left the band without one of its founding members, Soroush Farazmand, 27, a guitarist who was known as Looloosh.

Mr. Farazmand and his brother Arash, a 28-year-old drummer, were among four people shot in the house, which was the band’s home base. Two other members of the band, the bassist Koory Mirz and Siavash Karampour, a singer known as Obash, were not there when the shooting started.

The trio of Koory, Looloosh and Obash was “really the core of the band,” Mr. Keyes said. “They were always adding and dropping a fourth member.”

The core, though, had held together since their days dodging the police in Tehran, where merely inciting young people to dance could have landed them in jail. Their travails were portrayed in “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” a 2009 film by the Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi.

After the film won a special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was screened at festivals around the world, the musicians became objects of global fascination.

“The government suddenly got very interested,” Mr. Karampour said in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2011. “They made a TV series about musicians and said all these people are Satanists and we have to execute all of them and they don’t believe in God. So after we saw that stuff and after the film we thought, man, we have to get out of the country.”

The bandmates sought visas in late 2009 to go on tour in the United States. According to notes from a State Department cable that was released by WikiLeaks, they told the consul staff in Istanbul about their encounters with Iranian officials.

They recounted several occasions when the police raided their closed-door concerts in soundproofed basements or isolated warehouses. “One raid led to the detention of one band member under official charges of ‘Satan worship,’ ” the cable said. It took a combination of bribes and parental pleading to get him released after two weeks, it said.

Even after settling in Brooklyn, the band avoided being as political as some Iranian-Americans wanted, said Mr. Karampour.

“We try not to say Iran, Iran, Iran; because the essence of the band is not only that we’re from Iran,” he told Rolling Stone. He added that their songs were “surrealistic, symbolic” stories. “You can relate them to Iran or to America, whatever. We don’t want to be a political band only.”

Neighbors and other people who had encountered the bandmates in New York described them as friendly, fun-loving young men who could often be seen riding skateboards to and from the townhouse.

Rahill Jamalifard, a member of another Iranian band, Habibi, said the shootings shook the community. “It’s devastating because you see these kids — they were initially in this movie that Iranians are really proud of. And it’s like, ‘Oh look, we have an indie rock scene. I recognized them. I heard of them.’ ”

Yellow Dogs –  Awards and nominations. Its first official screening was at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize Ex-aequo in the Un Certain Regard section.

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS  – CANNES Film Festival

Plot

The film follows two young musicians (Ashkan and Negar) as they form a band and prepare to leave Iran shortly after being released from prison. The pair befriends a man named Nader (Hamed Behdad), an underground music enthusiast and producer who helps them travel around Tehran and its surrounding areas in order to meet other underground musicians possibly interested in forming a band and later leaving the country.

Cast

  • Hamed Behdad
  • Ashkan Kooshanejad
  • Negar Shaghaghi

Bands and musicians

Jake Bugg, Shangri La – First Listen Track-By-Track

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Jake Bugg, Shangri La – First Listen Track-By-Track

Just 13 months after his hugely successful debut album was released, Jake Bugg returns with its follow up. ‘Shangri-La’ was recorded in Malibu with superproducer Rick Rubin, who’s worked with Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Kanye West to name a few. The resulting album is an energetic snapshot of a young songwriter buoyed with the sort of confidence you would expect from a teenager with the world at his feet.

There’s A Beast And We All Feed It
A brief intro for the album, this short skiffle sees Bugg worry to himself about living life to the max and having someone to hold close when times get tough. It also includes the line, “scared someone will tweet it”, a rare nod to the modern world from Bugg.

Slumville Sunrise
The song that comes complete with a video directed by the legendary Shane Meadows. The frantic caper caught on camera by the director of This Is England is matched by a jaunty tune, the second in a row on the album. Having toured his debut album relentlessly, including gigs with Noel Gallagher and The Stone Roses, ‘Shangri-La’ opens with the feel of an album Bugg will tear through on stage and have a bit of fun with.

What Doesn’t Kill You
Drummers on ‘Shangri-La’ include Red Hot Chili Peppers’ member and Will Ferrell lookalike Chad Smith as well as Pete Thomas, who recently worked with Arctic Monkeys on ‘AM’. As you would expect, there is a sharp energy that runs through the percussion of the album and ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is one of Bugg’s tightest songs to date as well as one of his catchiest. It seems hanging with the legends is rubbing off on the lad.

Me and You
“All the time people follow us where we go,” sings Bugg on this laid-back acoustic ode to a lovelorn relationship. Nods to “flashes” (camera?) as well as the lyric “all of these people want us to fail,” and celebrity gossipers suggest this song is about Bugg’s short relationship with top model Cara Delevingne.

Messed Up Kids
Bugg said in the lead up to making ‘Shangri-La’ that he wouldn’t be able to write about the council estates and characters of Nottingham any more now that he’s touring the world and selling thousands of albums. While this is true for the majority of the album, ‘Messed Up Kids’ is a return to the social realism that made Bugg’s name. Telling the story of drug dealing Johnny and homeless girl Jenny, this song is also a nod toward Bugg’s ability to write a crowd-rousing anthem, and suggest that he has been listening to more Oasis than Don McLean in recent months.

A Song About Love
Jake Bugg is arguably at his best when he’s rattling through a fast-paced scuttling song, densely packed with lyrics and melody. However ‘A Song About Love’ sees his progression as a big time balladeer. While his voice struggles to carry the demands of such a huge song, it’s comforting to see him tackle such an ambitious track.

All Your Reasons
Earlier this year, Bugg spoke of his disappointment at working with songwriters in Nashville and discovering they had become lazy. “They were presenting songs they’d already written, not caring what I wanted,” he said. “I had to say: ‘No mate, let’s get our guitars out and see what happens together.’ It was really disappointing.” Sadly, ‘All Your Reasons’ sounds like a song that was recorded before he built up the courage to make his voice heard. A largely forgettable blues number and the first time ‘Shangri-La’ dips in quality.

Kingpin
Channeling the same 60s icons as The Strypes mainline with every blues riff and R&B howl, ‘Kingpin’ is a vintage firecracker from the Bugg canon and one which will be a live favourite.

Kitchen Table
“We’ve not been together for some time now, after how I handled it you’re not to blame,” sings Bugg as he laments the end of a relationship and his own role in its downfall. “We just grew out of love,” he cries – sounding heartbroken and soulful.

Pine Trees
Brittle to the point of breaking, ‘Pine Trees’ is a lo-fi moment on an album which sounds thoroughly expensive throughout. Just Bugg and his guitar, it’s a timely reminder of the rough and ready charm which endeared us to the Nottingham teenager back in his early days.

Simple Pleasures
A slow-burning build up gives way to a rip-roaring chorus and ponderous, almost psychedelic guitars in a song that places Bugg close to Richard Ashcroft in the urban poet stakes. “Maybe it’s all that you’ve done wrong, so just bite your silver tongue that you lied with, lied to yourself,” he snarls, angrily as the atmosphere around him escalates to breaking point. A momentous release never quite arrives but ‘Simple Pleasures’ adds new textures to the album and feels more modern than a lot of the retro material found elsewhere.

Storm Passes Away
This final song brings the album to a close in intimate style with Bugg kicking back and delivering an effortlessly breezy goodbye kiss to ‘Shangri-La’. Similar to ‘Pine Trees’, this feels like a closer look into Bugg’s soul, as if we’re joining him in his bedroom as he knocks around ideas for songs and jots down notes for lyrics.

Rock Legend Lou Reed died aged 71

R.I.P. Lou Reed

Today is a sad day for those who appreciate and love good music. Rock legend Lou Reed died.

Lou Reed, who took rock ‘n’ roll into dark corners as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist for the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, died Sunday, his publicist said. He was 71.

“It is now officially confirmed that Lou Reed did pass away several hours ago,” said Peter Noble.

Noble didn’t disclose details of Reed’s death.

Reed was a rock pioneer who went from record label songwriter to a member of a short-lived, but innovative and influential band.

“Lou Reed’s influence is one that there are really only a tiny handful of other figures who you can compare to him,” said Simon Vozick-Levinson, a senior editor at Rolling Stone, which first reported Reed’s death.

“He spoke incredibly frankly about the realities of being an artist, being a person who lived life on one’s own terms. He didn’t prettify things. He didn’t sugarcoat things. He showed life as it really is and that’s something that made him a true original, and one of our great all-time artists,” he said.

Reed, violist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Maureen Tucker played their first show as the Velvet Underground in 1965.

Photos: People we lost in 2013

“The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet. I’ve lost my ‘school-yard buddy,’ ” Cale wrote on Twitter.

The Velvets tackled taboo topics like drug addiction, paranoia and sexual deviancy.

Rock mythology has it that even though they were around only for a few years, everyone who went to a Velvet Underground concert went out and started a band.

Rolling Stone ranks the group’s debut album, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” as the 13th greatest of all time.

And performers from David Bowie to R.E.M. and U2 have cited them as inspiration.

Reed “was one of the first artists to experiment with guitar feedback on record and to show that sort of ugly noise can actually be quite beautiful and moving. He also, lyrically, wrote about all kinds of topics that were taboo before he started exploring them,” said Vozick-Levinson.

Reed gave a voice to gay and transgender people in a way that had never been done before by a popular artist, which made his work incredibly important to many people, he said.

In 1970, Reed left the Velvets for a long solo career turning out classics like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Sweet Jane.”

“People say rock ‘n’ roll is constricting, but you can do anything you want, any way you want. And my goal has been to make an album that would speak to people the way Shakespeare speaks to me, the way Joyce speaks to me. Something with that kind of power; something with bite to it,” Reed told the New York Times in 1982 while promoting his album “The Blue Mask.”

Reed’s wife, Laurie Anderson, told The Times of London this summer, that Reed had a life-saving liver transplant in May.

“R.I.P. LOU REED….A LEGEND,” the Pixies wrote on their Twitter page.

Iggy Pop wrote simply: “Devastating news.”