Regardless the political, economic, social or religious context, the underground scene usually comes as a response to the mainstream artistic acts broadcasted to saturation on all media broadcast channels. Born out of the need to deliver a message, from freedom of speech to other civil rights, the underground thrived under oppressive regimes, war periods or economic recessions. It has the power of creating revolutions and it even shaped whole generations’ way of thinking.

Yet, as many other things, the underground has slowly turned into another hashtag that stripped down its core values to something cool. What we take for granted in the Western world, can be often seen as a dangerous thing in other parts of our planet. Artistic manifestations could easily become enemies of the state. Absurd censorships lower down the counter culture voice.

Iran has a millenniums long culture, a culture that still echoes in so many arts even today, despite the suffocating embargo, a situation that has put pressure not only on Iran’s economy, but on the underground culture also. Yet, the passion for electronic music managed to ignite a small but passionate scene in Tehran. An emerging scene, by all means, built on illegal raves and clandestine gatherings, mostly kept secret and promoted within closed circles of friends and relatives, carefully built on trust.

When it comes to electronic music, Paraffin Tehran is one of leading voices in Iran. Apart from hosting parties with the likes of Unbroken Dub, HVL or Anthony Linell, Paraffin Tehran acts as a platform for promoting Iran’s unique electronic sound, somewhere at the border between ambient, experimental, dub techno and electro. Azim Fathi, one of its founders, now based in London, has accepted our invitation to shed some light on the complex underground scene in Iran, one he is still part of. The discussion revolved around the particularities of the scene, from the immense cultural heritage to the challenges faced by artists and promoters.

Our discussion turned into one of the most extended materials we published to date, insightful as well as inspiring. Hopefully, this will once again state the obvious: it’s not all about the money and fame, but it’s about the passion and human connections built around electronic music. And the legacy we leave behind, as artists and creators.


What’s the story behind Paraffin Tehran Name?

The name “Paraffin Tehran” originates from the connection with Paraffin Wax, the essential material for making vinyl records. During a discussion with my friends and accomplished musicians Payam Parvizi and Ramtin Niazi in a car, we envisioned creating a platform for genuine electronic music in Iran. Initially aspiring to establish a global record label producing vinyl records, we encountered challenges due to financial sanctions in Iran. The difficulty arose in transferring money internationally; the economic restrictions made it impractical to send and receive funds seamlessly. Consequently, we had to shift our focus to initiatives within Iran, prioritizing the local electronic music scene under the name “Paraffin Tehran.”

The choice reflects our enduring passion for records, despite the obstacles in realizing our original idea of pressing records for global distribution.


Do you remember the moment when you came up with the idea of creating an electronic music events brand?

My journey into event organization and curation commenced during my time in East Asia. Reflecting on my early years in Iran, where nightclubs were a foreign concept, I distinctly remember my older brother’s enthusiasm for House and Techno music. At that time, as a child, I found these genres somewhat uninteresting. It wasn’t until my departure from Iran in 2007 that my perspective underwent a profound transformation.

Living abroad exposed me to the vibrant club culture and the immersive world of electronic music. In this new environment, I had the opportunity to play in clubs and curate my own events. These experiences ignited a passion for the art form, reshaping my initial indifference into a deep appreciation for the nuances of House and Techno.

Upon returning to Iran, where traditional nightlife and clubs were still scarce, I faced the formidable challenge of introducing electronic music to a country on the brink of change. Leveraging the post-Iran-USA nuclear deal era, I embarked on a mission to convince venue owners of the cultural and artistic significance of electronic music. Through passionate discussions and showcasing the global appeal of the genre, I successfully persuaded several venue owners in Iran to embrace and promote this unique form of musical expression. This pivotal effort laid the foundation for the establishment of Paraffin Tehran and the realization of Iran’s very first public electronic music events.


Does Iran have a history of underground electronic music?

Well yes. Commencing with an affirmative nod, the emergence of electronic music in the late ’70s and early ’80s within the intricate tapestry of Iran’s history embodies a paradox of challenges and artistic resilience. The canvas of creativity underwent an abrupt shift with the seismic waves of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, putting various art forms, including music, and other forms of art like plays, cinema and etc on pause. Subsequently, 90 percent of Iranian musicians faced a stark choice: an overnight migration, predominantly to the United States, or a shift away from musical pursuits toward alternative professions.

This tumultuous period unfolded against the backdrop of an eight-year-long, bloody conflict with neighbouring Iraq, thrusting life and its comforts into disarray. Within this crucible of adversity, a constellation of luminous talents in the electronic music scene emerged, bearing Iranian origins. Figures like Leila, an extraordinary sound artist featured on labels such as Warp Records, Rephlex, and XL Records, alongside visionaries like Sote and Alireza Mashayekhi, stand as vanguards of Iran’s inaugural generation in electronic music.

Despite the upheaval, Iran’s enduring reputation for a unique aesthetic in arts and culture persisted. The future of Iranian electronic music, infused with echoes of the past, glimmers with promise. A testament to the indomitable spirit of its artists, the journey unfolds, and I, personally, eagerly anticipate the forthcoming chapters in Iran’s electronic music narrative.


I listened to a few of your sets as well as some other Iranian DJs, most of them from Paraffin Tehran podcast. There’s a lot of experimental music, infused with local music flavours, as well as electro. Are there any genres that define the Tehran underground scene?

Certainly, all the genres you mentioned, such as ambient, experimental music, electro, techno, and deep house, undeniably hold a significant presence in Iran. Experimental and ambient music, in particular, have long enjoyed popularity, reflecting the distinct musical taste prevalent in the country. However, it’s crucial to grasp the underlying connection between Iranians and the culture of electronic music, primarily forged through underground, illegal raves and parties, often held on the outskirts of Tehran.

Engaging in this clandestine realm is a risky venture, and I’ve personally faced the repercussions with multiple encounters with law enforcement. Yet, commitment to this subculture remains unwavering. The ambiance within Iran’s underground parties distinguishes itself markedly from that of nightclubs in the more liberated Western world. Unlike Western clubs where attendees often mingle with strangers, in Iranian parties, familiarity prevails. Invitations are extended only to the trusted, creating a tightly-knit community vibe. Everything in these gatherings is communal – from sound systems and beverages to substances. Each participant contributes to the event’s resources, fostering a unique shared experience throughout the night.

I’ve emphasized on numerous occasions that some of my most enchanting moments transpired in these clandestine gatherings in Iran, surpassing even the most illustrious gigs in nightclubs worldwide. Returning to our discussion, genres like breaks, experimental electronic music, electro, and ambient thrive in Iran because they embody a spirit of thinking beyond conventional boundaries. Iranians, in immersing themselves in this music and culture, inherently challenge norms and laws, adopting a smart, innovative, and unconventional approach. This, I believe, is the key to their resonance with these genres.


Can we talk about a specific sound you cannot find anywhere else in the world?

Certainly, due to Iran’s prolonged status as a sanctioned and isolated nation, Iranians exhibit a heightened eagerness to stay abreast of the latest fashions, trends, gadgets, and music. Despite the geopolitical constraints, there’s a strong connection to the international scene, with Iranians looking up to the free world for the most current trends. However, if one seeks a sound or genre emblematic of Iran, it undoubtedly resides in Iran’s classical music—a timeless and ancient tradition handed down through generations, profoundly influencing the country’s culture.

As an electronic musician, I have personally been deeply influenced by Iran’s classical music. Visionaries like Lotfi, Shajarian, Ebadi, and others from their era have left an indelible mark on my artistic journey. The mere strains of this classical music evoke goosebumps and continue to stir me to this day, showcasing its enduring impact.


State censorship is more or less like it was in Romania back in the communist times. What do you need as a party promoter in order to comply with this censorship filter and create an event?

Oh, where to start? As mentioned earlier, there are two distinct types of events transpiring within Iran: the public performances held in music halls, art galleries, and theatre halls, and the clandestine underground illegal gatherings scattered on the outskirts of towns. For the public shows, promoters, including myself, navigate a labyrinth of checks and scrutiny. The level of control is so stringent that it can be disheartening, leading one to contemplate giving up — an endeavour few in their right mind would willingly undertake.

Even when promoters diligently traverse the proper channels, securing permits and venue approvals for their events, the spectre of cancellation or a potential crackdown by various armed or unarmed forces affiliated with the religious establishment within the government looms ominously.

Now, turning to the illegal raves and parties, every facet of these events entails significant risks. Yet, fuelled by our profound love for the music and the vibrant community in Iran that fervently embraces this genre, we willingly shoulder these risks. Those of us in the electronic music industry in Iran expose ourselves to considerable uncertainties, all in the pursuit of doing what we are passionate about.


What restrictions apply when throwing a party in Tehran (number of people, location, schedule hours, type of music, dress code)?

Numerous restrictions, with the venue playing a pivotal role. These clandestine underground parties typically unfold in villas and cabins located on the outskirts of Tehran, primarily chosen for their secluded location that helps contain the music and noise. Conducting parties within residential areas in Tehran is deemed too precarious, as authorities could catch wind of the sound or a vigilant neighbour might alert them, leading to a potential party bust and substantial repercussions – quite the buzzkill, I must say! Therefore, the preferred option is to seek venues out of town, away from prying eyes. A frequent choice is the vicinity near the ski resorts on the north side of Tehran, particularly in Shemshak and Meygun.

The composition of the crowd holds paramount importance in these clandestine gatherings. Personal invitations are the norm, and the fundamental rule is trustworthiness – one must be deemed trustworthy to secure an invitation. Consequently, a sense of familiarity permeates the gathering, where attendees are acquainted with one another. In the end, everyone revels in the hope of navigating the night unscathed by police intervention or detainment.

When it comes to the dress code, within these villas and cabins, a designated room invariably serves as the changing area for attendees to prepare for the dance floor. The prevailing norm leans towards casual attire, ensuring comfort for a night of revelry. Naturally, driving around town in costumes or party dresses is impractical, especially in a country like Iran. Hence, it’s quite customary for attendees to arrive inconspicuously, dressed casually, and later opt to enhance their attire if they wish to do so.

As for the music, a straightforward principle governs our parties and gatherings: only the finest tunes make the cut, plain and simple!


Besides events, what does Paraffin Tehran actively do in order to promote the electronic music culture among the Iranian youngsters?

Certainly. In addition to our noteworthy public shows held in Tehran, where we showcase some of the most exceptional electronic music talent, our creative endeavours extend into a meticulously curated and highly influential podcast series. This podcast not only serves as a platform to share diverse sounds and voices within the electronic music realm but also stands as a testament to our commitment to collaborate with the best artists in the international electronic music scene. Through these collaborations, we aim to introduce the finest musical expressions to our Iranian listeners, fostering a dynamic exchange with the global electronic music community.

Moreover, our collaborative spirit extends globally as we engage with various radio stations and electronic music outlets. Notably, we orchestrate Paraffin Tehran takeovers, a unique initiative where we commandeer an entire day of airtime to craft a sonic journey, introducing our audience to a rich tapestry of electronic music genres.

In addition to these immersive experiences, our commitment to promoting outstanding music goes beyond borders. We have established a Paraffin Recommends section on our social media platforms, offering a glimpse into our most treasured records from artists around the world. This segment serves as a testament to our passion for fostering a global musical exchange.

Navigating the challenges within Iran, we diligently strive to create, curate, and share the vibrancy of the international electronic music scene, making the most of the possibilities within our reach.


What online channels do you mainly use for this?

SoundCloud serves as our primary channel for uploading and sharing our materials online with audiences. The platform’s simplicity and straightforward approach align with our preferences, making it our go-to choice for sharing our work. Thus, SoundCloud has our vote.


Is there any censorship on these channels? Maybe undercover people, trying to get inside these communities…

Yes, I’ve been anticipating a question of this nature to shed light on the situation. Here’s the breakdown: in Iran, every major website, including Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, YouTube, and SoundCloud, is subject to filtering and blocking. Consequently, the use of VPNs becomes indispensable for accessing these platforms. VPNs are akin to a vital necessity in Iran, as they provide the means to freely connect with these otherwise restricted platforms.

However, the reliance on VPNs comes with its own set of challenges. The use of VPNs significantly impacts internet speed, affecting tasks such as uploading shows and podcasts. Moreover, social media presence is closely monitored by authorities, especially when an individual amasses a substantial following on their accounts. Additionally, the process of purchasing monthly or yearly subscriptions poses its own set of challenges.

To delve into the broader picture, Iran stands as one of the most heavily sanctioned countries globally, with financial and banking restrictions cutting off citizens from the rest of the world. Legally, moving money and conducting trade, from minor transactions to substantial amounts, is deemed illegal and unfeasible according to US laws. So in some cases, Iranians resort to changing their money into cash and physically leaving the country to procure items not available domestically, such as records. Therefore as a DJ, you encounter a substantial challenge in staying current with the latest and coolest vinyl to include in your record bag for your shows.

The banking systems of Iran and the rest of the world, including services like Visa or Mastercard, are disconnected.

Despite the restrictions, underground and private money exchange companies within Iran facilitate the movement of funds between certain countries that have Iranian communities. While not an expert on this matter, these companies typically operate within specific countries and have local staff facilitating the exchange.

On a personal note, I’ve navigated the financial challenges for Paraffin’s SoundCloud yearly subscription fees through friends living abroad. They would purchase the subscription for me, and I would compensate them during my travels for gigs outside Iran.

Addressing the broader impact, the financial sanctions significantly affect ordinary Iranians’ day-to-day lives. The challenges posed by both the domestic government and Western sanctions create a sense of being trapped between two opposing forces. The hope that these stringent financial measures will incite a change in the regime is questioned. The ordinary Iranian populace, struggling with basic needs, may not have the luxury to contemplate issues like freedom and human rights while the government retains resources for its endeavours. Consequently, I hold a strong stance against these sanctions, as they primarily burden ordinary Iranians, hindering their access to basic necessities and goods from the international market.


With the US imposed embargo in place, how can you have access to records and production gear?

In summary, obtaining records in Iran resembles a smuggling operation. Initially, you must convert your Iranian currency into cash dollars or euros within Iran. Following that, you leave Iran for your destination country, locate actual record stores during your limited travel window, and then navigate the challenge of bringing them back to Iran, all while being aware that authorities at the airport could potentially seize and destroy them in accordance with Iranian laws. Despite the inherent risks, myself and many friends persisted in smuggling thousands and thousands of records into Iran.

During my time in Iran, I regularly traveled for overseas gigs, averaging between 15-25 shows per year. I consistently reserved space in my bags to bring back as many records as possible. On several occasions, my record bag was seized by authorities at the airport. Once, I managed to retrieve it after extensive efforts running around the airport and various authorities’ offices, while another time, they confiscated everything. If asked whether it’s worth the trouble to continue playing with vinyl despite these challenges, my emphatic answer is yes—underscored by the profound love for the music and the culture driving this movement. Records remain a crucial element in the electronic music scene and its culture, compelling us to persevere despite the obstacles we encounter along the way.

So when the moment arrived for my departure from Iran to London (I’ll elaborate on the circumstances leading to this decision later), I opted to pack only two record bags, filled to the brim with records. Subsequently, I sold the entirety of my remaining collection to Iranian DJs and music enthusiasts. The decision stemmed from the reluctance to face the challenges of smuggling records back into Iran, having experienced the complexities involved. Instead, I chose to leave the collection within Iran for others to enjoy rather than bringing them with me abroad.


Has the underground movement the power to start changing things in Iran? At least from the freedom of speech perspective.

Absolutely, the events in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini and the ensuing public anger leading to protests and an uprising were part of a broader process. This process had been evolving over many years, marked by ongoing struggles faced by the people. Even before the protests commenced, there was a sense that it was time for individuals to express their discontent with the establishment and disapproval of the government’s actions. Iranians have consistently demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the operations of the current Islamic regime since its inception in 1979. However, the regime has consistently employed brutal tactics to suppress dissent, making public protest a costly and perilous endeavour. Displaying opposition to the regime carries a high risk, and individuals must exhibit immense bravery to voice their anger openly, often at the peril of their lives.

In contemporary Iran, with a substantial young population equipped with internet access and social media, the stark contrast between their lives and those of their peers abroad becomes more evident. This realization fosters frustration as they compare the conditions inside Iran to the experiences of their counterparts in other parts of the world. The recent protests predominantly involved individuals from our generation, and I hold high hopes for them. In a country where the regime has historically been against music, art, and beauty, music becomes a powerful form of expression for freedom. Witnessing this generation, many of whom are avid electronic music enthusiasts, bravely fighting for their rights in the streets is a source of great pride. Their courage in advocating for change through art and expression is truly commendable.


Do you feel any wind of change?

Absolutely, there’s no doubt that the current system and its ideology in Iran are outdated and don’t resonate with the majority of Iranians, especially the younger generation. As I observe daily life in Tehran, it’s clear that people have moved beyond the ideologies promoted by the Islamic Republic. Therefore, I firmly believe that change is inevitable, and we’re on the brink of witnessing substantial transformations in Iran, which will undoubtedly have significant global implications.


One Paraffin Tehran resident DJ who deserves more attention world wide

My comrades and brothers in Iran, Payam Parvizi and Ramtin Niazi.

Is marijuana more accessible at underground parties than alcohol in Iran?

Certainly, drugs, especially marijuana, are undoubtedly more accessible than alcohol in Iran. Both substances can be found at most underground parties. In Iran, acquiring drugs is relatively easy, and they play a significant role in the atmosphere of both underground and public electronic music events. The country’s strategic geographical location, serving as a corridor between the West and the East, makes it a prime location for smugglers in the underworld. To simplify, both drugs and alcohol are illegal in Iran, necessitating the presence of dealers. These dealers operate efficiently, often delivering substances to your doorstep within minutes. The quality of narcotics is notably high, as Iranians tend to use the finest products.

For alcohol, the options are more limited compared to the Western world. Alcohol dealers offer specific brands and products. They often carry a portable bar in their car trunk, stocked with various liquors and beers. It’s worth mentioning that there’s a substantial market for homemade alcohol, exceeding the availability of standard branded options. However, homemade alcohol comes with significant risks, including numerous cases of alcohol poisoning and even death. In summary, while you can find both drugs and alcohol easily in Iran, the choices are more limited, particularly when it comes to alcohol.


Throwing underground raves is arguably a risky business in Tehran. Were you at some point close to the 99 lashes punishment?

Certainly, without a doubt, facing lashes, imprisonment, and various other severe consequences is a reality in this context. Explaining the situation plainly, it’s crucial to note that there are absolutely no standardized procedures in place for such scenarios. When the police and authorities become aware of your activities, the potential outcomes are numerous and often unimaginable.

Before delving into the potential outcomes of a police encounter, it’s essential to acknowledge the rampant corruption within the entire government system, extending to law enforcement. Corruption, including the acceptance of bribes, is prevalent. However, a key aspect to consider is your approach in this situation – being as generous and swift as possible is crucial. The fewer individuals within law enforcement who are aware of your activities, deemed as a “crime” by authorities, the better your chances of navigating through the situation. This strategy not only increases your safety but also facilitates the acceptance of the bribe with fewer people involved.

In this intricate scenario, speed is of the essence, allowing you to talk your way out swiftly. However, if luck is not on your side, the second and final scenario entails arrest and punishment. The extent of punishment can range from a temporary police lockup to more severe consequences such as lashes. Ultimately, the outcome depends on your luck and the individuals involved in the subsequent actions.


Is this punishment only an urban legend nowadays in Iran?

No, it continues to happen even today; I am absolutely certain about this.


3 Paraffin Tehran parties you could call memorable

The first memorable moment is undoubtedly Paraffin Tehran’s debut with Unbroken Dub in the heart of Tehran, hosted in Mohsen Art Gallery’s Darbast Platform. Following Denis’s (Unbroken Dub) public live performance at the gallery, we ventured into an illegal underground rave, where he continued to play until the sunrise—an enchanting and magical experience forever etched in my memory.

The second significant event marks our first anniversary, where we meticulously curated three days of extraordinary electronic music. The lineup featured Iranian artists, some visiting Tehran for the first time or returning after an extended absence, complemented by prominent names residing within Iran. Icons like Sote, Siamak Amidi, and Ario graced the stage, contributing to an unforgettable celebration.

Lastly, I must highlight HVL’s debut show in Iran—an acclaimed sound artist from Georgia and resident at the renowned Bassiani nightclub in Tbilisi. The live performance unfolded at RooBeRoo Mansion, a cherished venue inside Iran that played a pivotal role in shaping Paraffin Tehran. Special gratitude goes to the RooBeRoo Mansion team for embracing our vision in a country like Iran. HVL’s phenomenal live performance was followed by an underground rave, and we embarked on a spontaneous road trip across Iran, exploring breathtaking sceneries. Our journey included a retreat to Kashan, where we found solace in one of Iran’s most exquisite boutique hotels, the renowned Ameriha House.

Each Paraffin Tehran showcase in Iran holds a special place in my heart, a testament to the dedication and perseverance of everyone involved in bringing our vision to the Iranian audience. These events, despite the challenges, will be eternally remembered in the annals of Iran’s electronic music history, or so I fervently hope.


Can we talk about future plans?

First of all, I must express my gratitude for providing this platform, allowing me to share the narrative of my journey and experiences in my home country, Iran, until finding my way to London. Facing the challenges within the creative landscape of Iran, my artistic endeavours were met with increasingly formidable obstacles. The oppressive constraints imposed by the establishment, coupled with the stifling limitations on artistic expression, made every step in pursuit of my passion a painstaking endeavour. The environment within Iran became progressively hostile to artistic freedom, presenting a stark choice between conformity and the relentless pursuit of creative expression.

Navigating through bureaucratic hurdles, financial constraints, and the constant scrutiny of the authorities became a taxing routine. The inherent restrictions on events, the arduous process of obtaining permits, and the overarching limitations on artistic autonomy left me with a sense of confinement. The dream of fostering a vibrant electronic music culture in Iran collided with the harsh realities imposed by external pressures and internal restrictions.

Ultimately, the decision to leave was not just a choice but a necessity, a response to the growing impossibility of sustaining a creative existence within the restrictive confines of Iran. Departing from my homeland became a poignant chapter in my journey, fuelled by the aspiration to find a more nurturing environment where artistic expression could flourish unimpeded.

My deep passion for music is intertwined with immense pride in my Iranian roots and the struggles we’ve faced. Migration is undeniably challenging, yet viewed through the lens of an artist, navigating the increasingly challenging landscape within Iran becomes its own arduous journey.

Eagerly embracing the vibrant cultural tapestry of London, my plans extend beyond the stage performances at renowned venues like Village Underground and Pickle Factory. The city’s dynamic atmosphere has inspired me to delve into the multifaceted realm of artistic expression. I’ve embarked on a journey to curate my own unique sonic palette, seeking collaboration with diverse talents and exploring the vast landscape of London’s electronic music scene.

Additionally, my monthly radio show on Netil Radio serves as a platform to share curated sounds, introducing listeners to the intricate fusion of influences that shape my musical perspective. Engaging with London’s eclectic arts community, I envision not just performances, but a rich tapestry of collaborative projects, events, and contributions that add to the city’s pulsating creative heartbeat.

As I navigate the artistic landscape of London, I’m fuelled by the anticipation of discovering new connections, creating immersive experiences, and contributing my distinctive voice to the city’s rich artistic narrative. The journey unfolds with a sense of purpose, blending my Iranian heritage with the diverse and dynamic cultural canvas of London.

I extend my heartfelt appreciation for orchestrating this interview and extend my gratitude to the resilient artists within Iran, including my dear friend Payam Parvizi, who continue to create amidst adversity. Their unwavering support fuels my artistic endeavours. One love.