A vital figure in Iran’s underground music scene, Mahdyar’s dauntless electronic architecture fuses restless fractal beat structures with warped Persian motifs and instrumentation. The Tehran-born producer’s long-anticipated debut ‘Seized’ comes more than a decade since Mahdyar made his initial mark as a teenager producing the majority of the newly emerged Persian Hip Hop movement at the age of 16. Retaining the grit and urgency of his hip-hop roots, Mahdyar sonically aims further off-the grid building crushing, feral soundscapes in constant flux. We check with the main man…
Interview by Dan Prince
Mahdyar a huge welcome to DMCWORLD, where in the world are you right now?
Thanks, I’m currently in Paris.
What was the first piece of music you heard after rolling out of bed today?
No Harm by Smerz
Let’s begin with a little history. Born in Tehran, Iran…you were classically trained at a young age. Was that your idea, what instruments were you playing?
I was around 4 years old, one day our kindergarten teacher said they are going to add a music class and anyone who is interested can ask their parents to sign them up. I was in love with Pink Floyd music videos so I asked my parents and they signed me up for the class. At first it wasn’t that serious, we were learning the basics of music, practicing with easier instruments like xylophone and recorder but after a year or two our music teacher told my parents that if I still want to pursue music it’s time for me to choose an instrument and learn classical music. I liked electric guitar (because of Pink Floyd) but the teacher told my parents that I should either choose violin or piano. I chose violin because it looked more similar to electric guitar. I practiced violin and studied classical music for 6 years with different private tutors and then I got bored of it and went on to study middle eastern music for 4 years with another private tutor. So I can’t say it was my idea, it was a combination.
You fell in love with hip hop at an early age, what was the attraction?
I fell in love with hip hop when I was a teenager, it just sounded very exciting to me and I had started doing graffiti around the same time so it all went well together.
When did the idea of a career in the industry begin and what were your first steps…?
In Iran, specially at that time, there was no such thing as “industry”. Persian hip hop was at its first days and rappers were using downloaded instrumentals from the internet. I met few rappers through graffiti and told them I can make music for them using Iranian instruments so we can come up with our own version hip hop instead of copying American hip hop. I became a well known producer quite fast and from there I went on to make other types of music such as electronic, fusion and film music.
What did your family think of your passion for a life in music?
They were happy that I was playing instruments when I was very young but when I started making music and told them I want to pursue this as a career, they were against it. We had many fights because of it but when I started making money, they kinda gave up fighting.
Who were some of the local artists you were working at that time?
Hichkas, Quf, 7Khat, Bidad…
Who would you say are your musical heroes?
Trent Reznor and RZA have had a lot of influence on my music.
Tell us about the government clamp downs on the scene back then…how did you react?
They arrested many of the artists that I was working with, closed every studio that we used to use and interrogated the staff. They came after me at our old address, luckily couldn’t find me. I ended up being on the blacklist of Ministry of Culture. At the end I had no way but to leave Iran in order to continue making music so I used my visa for Cannes festival and left Iran in 2009.
You moved to Paris and started to work with TV networks alongside some incredible and prestigious establishments such as the the French National Museum of Modern Art Centre Pompidou. This must have been a dream come true?
It was definitely nice but it didn’t feel like a dream come true because I was dealing with many other issues that every immigrant has to face when they start a new life.
Your debut album ‘Seized’ is due to drop next Spring. You have teased us with the first single ‘Vow’, does that mean the album is locked and ready to go? How long has it taken to create?
Yes the album is done. I’ve been working on it on and off over the past decade.
Talk us through the first single ‘Vow’…
When I was in Iran I used to record many vocal samples from a friend who’s a traditional singer called “Bidad”. I wanted to make a song using his voice as an instrument so I started writing melodies using his voice over 6/8 time signature which is common in Iranian music but not so much in western music. I didn’t want it to be repetitive or have any sort of verse chorus structure, I wanted the song to be a like painting or a film. Most of my album is like that, it doesn’t follow common structures in terms of arrangement.
The album cycles through an array of themes and visual cues, often alluding to the horrors of war, greed and intolerance. How much strength did certain tracks take to make?
Some tracks were kinda easy and fast to make, some took months but definitely put a lot of thinking and emotions in every track to a point where some can be hard to digest with few listens.
Do you travel back to Iran often, what do your friends and family think of your new life?
I can’t go back to Iran, I would be arrested. My friends and family are happy that at least I’m free.