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Hypernova: Illegal Indie-Rock from Iran

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Hypernova: Illegal Indie-Rock from Iran

Hypernova: Illegal Indie-Rock from Iran

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ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

It may be only rock and roll to you, but in Iran the authorities don't like it. In fact, in Iran you're not allowed to listen to Western music at all. And don't even think about making it. But one Iranian indie-rock group has made it - all the way from Tehran to Los Angeles.

NPR's Shereen Meraji profiles the band that calls itself Hypernova.

Soundbite of song, "You Only Live Once")

Mr. JULIAN CASABLANCAS (The Strokes): (Singing) Some people think they're always right. Others are quiet and uptight. Others they seem so very nice nice nice nice nice oh oh...

SHEREEN MERAJI: That's not Hypernova. I know. It's The Strokes with "You Only Live Once". Young Iranians are downloading The Strokes off the Internet. They have satellite TV, they're making music in a thriving underground scene. And there are a lot of young Iranians. More than half the population is under 25.

(Soundbite of song, "No One")

RAAM (Lead singer, Hypernova): (Singing) Living life in the heart of Iran. We had a dream of becoming one. (Unintelligible)...

MERAJI: Now, there is Hypernova. The youngest member is 17, by the way. Hypernova is an indie-rock band from Tehran influenced by groups like The Strokes, the Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age. Their new CD is called "Who Says You Can't Rock in Iran?" And they recorded it in Iran illegally.

RAAM (Lead Singer, Hypernova): There's an element of danger involved in what we do. But I mean the laws are so chaotic and random back home that they're hardly enforced. I mean, 99 out of 100 times you can easily get away with anything.

MERAJI: Raam is Hypernova's self-proclaimed dictator and lead singer. Raam won't tell me his last name or the last names of his band numbers, Kami, Kodi and Jamsheed. And he monitors the band's message: no politics.

RAAM: You know, we sort of have to stay on top of our game and make sure that, you know, journalists don't take too much advantage, you know, and make sure - because it's our lives that's on the line, not theirs. So you know, they can get their story, but we want our lives back.

MERAJI: The story goes a little something like this. Iranian indie-rock band struggles for seven long years in the megatropolis known as Tehran. They play shows in dank basements and at kids' birthdays. And one day the leader of the band decides to try for the big time: the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

RAAM: I got this e-mail, like, congratulations. You've been accepted to showcase at the festival. I'm like, yeah, right. It's like spam mail or something. But it was actually - it was an invitation from the festival; we've been accepted and we were all like so happy. We're going to the States, yay.

MERAJI: But it wasn't that easy.

RAAM: All the hard stuff started exactly around then. We have to, like, go to Dubai because there's no U.S. consulate in Iran.

MERAJI: After traveling from Tehran to Dubai, the band was denied visas. They were heartbroken. But they waited and applied again, this time with a faxed letter from Senator Charles Schumer.

RAAM: It was a long drive to the U.S. consulate and we're just, like, on the way to it, like, oh, are we going to get the visas or not? We listened to a whole bunch of music and there's this one song - what was that song? It was like Gwen Stefani song. It was sort of the theme song of the trip.

(Soundbite of song, "The Sweet Escape")

MERAJI: That theme song Raam mentioned is Gwen Stefani's new hit single, "The Sweet Escape." Prophetic? Hypernova got the visas. Missed the South by Southwest Music Festival, but they're here and rocking small shows.

The guys swear they're not trying to escape life in Iran. Raam says it's not as bad as we think it is.

RAAM: You know, the issue is always, you know, death to America and all these chants, and you know, it's always the poster of the American flag being bombed or whatever. It's just not like that. You know, you can't generalize the whole country on like a couple small things.

I mean, America is a pretty conservative country. And we're just the same. We're no different. And then the young kids, like back home, we enjoy the same things that, you know, any other young kids would enjoy anywhere else. That's sort of the whole point of trip. We want to show that, how great our similarities are and how small our differences are.

(Soundbite of music)

MERAJI: Raam says Hypernova's living its dream in the United States. Soon they'll be back in Tehran, rocking in the shadows.

Shereen Meraji, NPR News.

(Soundbite of applause)

BROOKS: To see pictures and download cuts from Hypernova's CD, "Who Says You Can't Rock in Iran?" go to our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

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