Even for those who haven’t heard a single note of his music, the story of Ashkan Kooshanejad is nothing short of incredible. Born and primarily raised in Tehran, his interest in music could often only be satisfied via black market media and clandestine shows away from the watchful eye of the Iranian government. As a student at the Tehran Conservatory of Music, he was one of the only people working primarily with computers, and outside of the classroom he furthered his education while performing in rock-oriented bands, much to the dismay of the authorities.
After seeing several of his friends, colleagues and bandmates beaten and/or arrested, and once serving in prison himself, Kooshanejad sought asylum in the UK, where he continued making electronic music and eventually adopted the Ash Koosha moniker. His self-described “nano compositions” found a home on the Olde English Spelling Bee imprint, which quietly released his debut LP Guud in 2015. The intricate and utterly unique record set the stage for an even more fascinating and complex album, 2016’s virtual reality-inspired I AKA I on Ninja Tune. In this excerpt from an interview with Hanna Bächer on RBMA Radio, Koosha discusses his start in electronic music and the unforeseen integration of his productions and politics.
When did you start playing electronic music in Iran?
I always played electronic music, but it was in my own personal space. There wasn’t a platform in Iran to play that kind of stuff. I would keep it for myself, experiment and learn more, but also be involved with different bands, from jazz to rock to any kind of combination we could make. Music that is in the film No One Knows About Persian Cats, with that band Take It Easy Hospital, is not all me, but it’s me being in a group, or working with others. I’ve done this kind of band thing different times with different people. It’s just all adding to my experience as a producer.
Take It Easy Hospital, which was formed by me and a friend, Negar Shaghaghi, were doing music that back then was kind of new to the Iranian scene. It was kind of electro indie rock. When I met the director, he was looking into other acts, but then when we performed in the studio for him right at that moment he was impressed. Obviously, it was a story, because it was right after I came out of prison.
After that, do you attempt to embody politics in the electronic music that you’re making now?
I really want to say no, but it comes out. It pops out in my music, because generally speaking – not politics specifically from Iran, but generally around the world, us as a species, the bigger picture – I’m always involved with these kinds of thoughts. It naturally comes into my music. Even if I’m not thinking about it, there is some elements you can see. There is some aggressive Iranian rhythm that pops out in the music, and later on I listen to it, and I say, “Whoa. This is exactly what I hated when I was a kid.” It was like the Iranian authorized music, or the thing that I was running away from, but it comes out in my music in a really aggressive way and it makes it interesting. That kind of groove is meant to be very cheesy and danceable and you could party to it, and it’s kind of tacky. But from my channel, it comes out really aggressive and emotional. It makes a really weird balance. The politics, the social issues, come out somewhere in the music.
I’m open to working with anything and anyone as long as it’s going to change the rules.
I’ve said this a lot: there is poetry in electronic music, but the poetry in electronic music is the manipulation and processing of sound. When a producer is sitting there doing loads of processing on a certain stem or sound or recorded voice, that’s when the poetry comes in. In one instance, they just twist a knob, and that’s it. That’s the feeling, that’s the moment, and I think in the background it’s connected to a lot of personal issues and emotions and psychological angles. It’s interesting how now I see it more and more every day, that electronic music has its own kind of poetry.
Has there ever been any exploration by you to work with rappers?
Yeah. I always think I’m going to do collaborations with different people, like vocalists, rappers. I’m open to working with anything and anyone as long as it’s going to change the rules. As long as it’s not rap – it’s something post-rap, or a step forward. It’s important to me to have that kind of perspective.
Is there an Iranian rap scene?
Yeah, there is. There are a couple of rappers. There’s one guy that I’m close friends with. His producer, these two are the ones that I always check in with, always. He’s called Hichkas. They call him the rap god of Iran, like the father of rap, because basically him and his crew brought it to Iran and made it more social rather than commercial. They were underground. I think Iran’s population is around like 90 million; I think at least 80 million people listen to him. There is no Iranian person that I’ve met that doesn’t know him. So far, I would say 100 percent. Also, he’s underrated, because Iranian culture is not popular at the moment around the world. It’s a bit hard times for Iranians. I’m doing this project with him, maybe later on, that me and another producer are going to do. It’s kind of a Death Grips vibes, but we’re going to do crazy electronic music.