The tragic killings of two members of Iranian expat band The Yellow Dogs rocked the local and national media outlets yesterday. Across the world, Iranian musicians were just as hard-hit by the news. “We were all shocked,” Sam Solino, keyboardist of the Tehran-based prog-rock band Liberty Square, told us in a Facebook message last night.
“Emotionally, the disaster moved the Persian rock community deeply,” he said.
The indie post-rock band garnered international attention following their appearance in Bahman Ghobadi’s critically acclaimed film, No One Knows About Persian Cats. According to the New York Times, that’s also when they began receiving unwanted attention from Iranian authorities, including police raids and detention on the basis of “Satan worship.” The bandmates sought asylum in the United States in 2009.
Early Monday morning, two of the band members, guitarist Soroush Farazmand and his brother Arash, were shot dead in the apartment they shared in East Williamsburg. The gunman, fellow Iranian musician, Ali Akbar Mohammadi Rafie, then shot himself. A 22-year-old, Sasan Sadeghpouroskou, was shot in the arm and elbow with a .308 caliber assault rifle but was able to flee with his 28-year-old brother and call 911, police commissioner Ray Kelly told Metro today.
Virtually none of the government-sanctioned news sites in Iran actually made note of the incident, since rock n’ roll doesn’t exactly jive with the austere rules of the regime. But Solino said he found out through friends and the Internet.
“We all shared the links about the news and kept each other updated on what had really happened,” he said, adding that the Persian rock community is very tight-knit in Tehran.
Fardaad Mehr, a singer and rap artist who divides his time between Iran and the United States, called it a tragedy for an entire generation of Iranians.
“Even in this scenario where they’re achieving something, they get set back…by one of their own,” Mehr said.
“It highlights the hopelessness of this generation of Persians,” he said, referring to the generation as nasle sookhteh, or “burnt” in Persian.
Mehr once performed with the Yellow Dogs at a benefit concert, shortly after the band had moved out to Williamsburg and “after the Green Movement,” he said, referring to the series of protests that occurred after the 2009 Iranian presidential elections in an effort to oust then-president Ahmadinejad from office. Thousands of Iranians, young and old and eager for a revolution on their own terms wore flashes of green and pushed through the streets. Though the protests failed to reach tipping point, the Green movement is a milestone in Iranian politics.
“We went and partied afterward and it was a blast. But like any band they seemed involved in their own politics,” Mehr said.
Tehran Soparvaz — a Los Angeles-based comedian, host, and personality who is plugged into the Iranian diaspora there — echoed Mehr, calling this not just a literal tragedy but also an ideological one. “This was a group of pioneers. The deaths hit hard because it’s like, here’s another road block in this movement,” he said, later adding, “The underground music scene is what mobilizes the youth in Iran.”
News outlets across the nation characterized The Yellow Dogs as an “underground rock band” escaping the iron fist of the regime.
Writing for The Guardian, Paul Farrell recalled the time lead singer Siavash “Obash” Karampour (who was not in the apartment and survived the shooting) told him, “In Iran there’s a law that you have to go to the ministry of culture for permission to release an album and there’s a lot of bands that adapt their music and their lyrics with those norms. And we didn’t want to do that, our music is the music that you have to dance and you have to feel the energy and feel the mood, and that’s why we decided to stay underground.”
But Solino of Liberty Square was not buying into that whole oppressed-Iranians-escape-the-
In fact, Solino’s own band, Liberty Square, has performed in public art spaces throughout Tehran and other cities. “The only reason the Yellow Dogs had to leave Iran was Bahman Ghobadi’s movie. The movie did not have license from the government and it was really critical of the government.”
Ghobadi’s film, which depicts two indie musicians navigating this “underground” music scene in Iran, also ends in tragedy. One of the two main characters gets killed in a police raid of an underground concert they’ve put on. The other kills herself as a result.
“I can say many things in the movie were exaggerated,” Solino said. “But [it] is still an important movie in portraying our problems in Iran.”