Iranian-born, London-based producer Kasra V is joining the dots between Balearic hedonism and the centuries-old folk of his homeland, where an illegal rave scene thrives in spite of government crackdowns. April Clare Welsh meets the self-styled “Persian Prince” as he releases his third EP, The Window.
There are no bars or clubs in Tehran, Iran’s mountain-tipped capital city, and alcohol consumption is forbidden. But as Iranian society largely abides by the old Persian adage, “whatever goes on between four walls, stays between those walls,” the police can often be bribed to turn a blind eye, says Kasra Vaseghi, the DJ and producer known as Kasra V. Vaseghi spent his formative years in Tehran, but at the age of 17 he came to London, leaving his homeland behind in order to continue his studies (and avoid mandatory military service).
Music isn’t banned in Iran, but record stores periodically close down depending on the policies of the frequently changing government. Vaseghi grew up in the city, surrounded by the Alborz Mountain range, where the air is dry but temperatures can drop to -10 Celsius in winter. He started going to illegal raves in his early teens, meeting other young Iranians at crowded house parties where the massive sound systems would attract DJs from other cities and hundreds of dancers willing to flout the strict laws.
A knock on the door could plunge a 200-strong crowd into deathly silence, remembers Vaseghi. When that happens, the host usually talks to the police before money changes hands – but it’s not always that simple. A few weeks before Vaseghi moved to London, he witnessed the arrest of his friend’s father at a party he was hosting. “They bailed him out the next day, but it’s very expensive to do that.”
Though he moved to London when he was still a teenager, Vaseghi hasn’t severed musical ties with his homeland. Soon after moving to the UK he started presenting a Sunday night slot on NTS Radio, The Paradise Show, which places ‘70s Persian folk alongside US and European house and techno, proto-trance and some ambient and new age selections. His first EP, The Persian Prince, was released last year on Make Love in Public Spaces, an offshoot of East London label Love Fever Records, with another soon after for the same label.
This month sees the release of Kasra V’s third record, The Window EP, on Feelings Worldwide. Inspired by classic house and artists like Vangelis, Kourosh Yaghmaei, LFO and Cocteau Twins, the EP also looks to the percussive tribal music of southern Iran, where a 6/8 time signature is more common than 4/4. Kasra’s melodies are lifted from both the Persian harmonic scale and the traditional Arabic system of melodic modes known as maqam; early ‘90s trance producers also borrowed from Arabic scales to build their mesmeric synth hooks. The EP blurs the lines between hedonism and tradition, bridging the gaps between Balearic pleasure-seeking party scenes and the centuries-old traditions of Iranian folk.
Kasra is a regular visitor to the dusty bargain basement of Stoke Newington’s Lucky Seven, his store of choice for “dirt cheap” dance records, and much like Lucky Seven’s cluttered vault, The Window is built from several layers of discovery, combining feverish rave and breakbeat with snippets of birdsong, nu-disco and dreamy trance and Balearica. Further adding to the record’s early ’90s dance element is a remix from New York veteran Dream 2 Science, aka Cozmo D, whose eponymous 1990 EP is an underrated classic of deep house. Kasra is a long-time fan of the record, along with Cozmo D’s other monikers such as Sha-lor and especially Push/Pull, and was able to meet Cozmo and his wife and collaborator Lady E at Found festival in London this year. When Feelings asked Kasra who he had in mind for a remix, it was a no-brainer.
Alongside his production work, Vaseghi is also trying to gather enough tapes and records to release a compilation of pre-revolutionary Iranian music, which will cover a range of genres. He’s enlisted the help of his mother, who still lives in Iran, and one of his friends, and they have been visiting the city’s flea markets to source old music for his collection. An interior designer by trade, his mother regularly visits the markets to pick up fabric for her work, but sending tapes and records through the mail comes with the risk of confiscation.
Much of this music, made before the 1979 revolution – a coup which saw the US-supported Pahlavi dynasty replaced by a hardline Islamic republic – is not accepted by the current government. “Some of the best records were made between 1971 and ‘78,” he says. The legendary Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of Arts took place around Shiraz, in the southwest of Iran, every summer between 1967 and 1977, and featured a range of traditional and avant-garde musicians and theatre from both the east and the west, including the likes of Ravi Shankar and John Cage; Kasra’s own aunt saw Kraftwerk play there in the ‘70s. “The government used to put a lot of money into art, but it was almost too avant-garde,” he notes. “They were progressing too quickly for the time that it was happening.”
In April this year, a trailer emerged for a film about Tehran’s underground electronic scene, Raving Iran. Directed by German filmmaker Susanne Regina Meures, the documentary follows the struggle of two DJs, Anoosh and Arash, to organise one last techno rave in the desert. Despite the trailer’s eager reception, Kasra is dubious of the film’s authenticity. It “focuses on the really bad side of Iranian minimal,” he says, and also appears to “rip off” the 2009 film Nobody Knows About Persian Cats, about an Iranian couple who are sentenced to jail for playing rock music.
For Kasra, the real definition of “underground” is the half-forgotten world of pre-revolutionary Iran, the analogue artefacts he’s collecting for his compilation: “The underground where you do stuff that literally no one knows about.”