In September 2022, Mahsa Zhina Amini passed away following her arrest by Iran’s “morality police” for reportedly not wearing her hijab correctly. The government stated that she suffered a heart attack and brain seizure, but witnesses to her arrest claimed she was a victim of excessive force by the police. Her death triggered the biggest civil rights movement in Iran since the 1979 revolution, with thousands of people taking to the streets and often facing harsh suppression from the authorities.
Over a year has elapsed and the widespread cries of “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (which translates to “woman, life, freedom” in Persian) have permeated from the Iranian streets to the creations of electronic artists who are women – specifically in the case of Azadi.MP3, whose song Empty Platform incorporates chants from those demonstrations with intense percussion.
Aida and Nesa Azadikhah, both producers, curated a new compilation of music and sound by Iranian women. Titled “Intended Consequence,” the compilation was released in August through their label Apranik Records. It serves as a sequel to their previous release, “Woman Life Freedom,” and aims to bring attention to issues within the electronic music industry. Aida explains, “We hope to use our voice and platform to shed light on these matters in an industry that is often silent.”
Azadikhah states, similar to Aida’s speech before the Israel-Hamas conflict, that their goal is to pay tribute to the courage of individuals who have adapted their fight to a new form. Currently, the Iranian people are persistently fighting through their daily actions, such as wearing clothing of their choice and not covering their hair, despite being fully aware of the potential consequences.
The female members form a vital component of the Iranian electronic music community, which has roots dating back to the 1970s. However, its progress was hindered by the 1979 revolution and its emphasis on traditional values. In recent years, the scene has seen a resurgence with the emergence of artists like Sote, Kasra V, and 9T Antiope, as well as DJs like Paramida, some of whom are scattered across the diaspora. According to Azadikhah, they have witnessed a fusion of classical and traditional music with electronic music, resulting in a new and unique sound.
The developments have progressed at a faster pace since the Amini protests. In September 2022, Azadikhah traveled outside of Iran and returned to her hometown of Tehran seven months later to find a city undergoing changes. She noticed women and girls not wearing the hijab, and men protecting them. The protests are still ongoing and have had a profound impact on society, causing people to come together and change their social behavior. Aida, who splits her time between Vancouver and San Francisco, also confirms that women all over the city are now dressing in bright, colorful clothing and leaving their hair uncovered.
Iranians’ strong connection to poetry has resulted in the use of chants as a condensed way of expressing generational trauma on the streets. This has not only reflected the dynamic nature of Iranian culture, but has also influenced visual art and music. One notable example is the work of Iranian collective Only Voice Remains, who produced a one-hour sound piece featuring voice notes, poetry, music, readings, reflections, protest sounds, and speeches. This was broadcast on London’s NTS Radio.
However, many of the songs on Intended Consequences do not contain lyrics. Aida explains that instrumental electronic music, with its flexibility and malleability, was instrumental in “making sense of our surroundings beyond just logic; expressing emotions through sound.” According to Aida, music allows others to comprehend and empathize with the experiences of those living in that era. Azadikah also believes that this form of art was particularly beneficial for “artists who were abroad and unable to physically participate in the protests” to come to terms with their emotions.
The two curators also featured their own pieces in the compilation. Azadikhah’s melancholic breakbeat song “Perpetual”, similar to her latest EP “Exhaustion”, allows her to express the range of emotions and sorrow she experienced during the events of this year. Aida’s track “Ode to Expectations” reflects on the societal expectations placed on women, which can lead to a struggle between prioritizing oneself or conforming to societal norms that may not align with one’s true desires and needs. This constant battle requires setting boundaries, which can come at a high cost. The track has a dark and atmospheric tone, which resonates with the current mood in the country amidst the uncertain situation in the Middle East. Despite this, the techno beats, continuously moving forward, still evoke a sense of hopefulness.