Guest Blog: Tough Sounds – Iran’s First Metal Label

Last week, we learned about the “dark facts” of being a musician in Iran when we spoke to exciting new metalcore duo One Missing Link. We were fascinated by this story and had to find out more. So, after doing a little online research on the topic, we spoke to the founder of Iran’s first metal record label, Tough Sounds.

Below is our interview with Hossein Amjad and his colleague Emin Aghajanian, who describe their task as “promoting the toughest scene on the planet since 2020.” They give us their thoughts on being a musician in Iran, the rock and metal scene in the country, and explain their mission with the Tough Sounds label.

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GR: Great to meet you and thanks so much for chatting to us! Let’s start with the basics… What got you into rock and metal music?

HA: “Hey, I’m Hossein; I was born in Tehran and I’m currently living here. When I was around 11 or 12, one of my friends gave me a Dimmu Borgir and a Slipknot album; after hearing that, I found out that this is what I need to listen to every day.”

GR: First of all, we’d love your insight into Iranian music. What genres are most popular with Iranian people? And is there much of a rock and metal scene?

HA: “The most popular music in Iran is Rap. Rap is also kind of illegal, and Rap artists cannot play shows. Rap and pop are very popular among the younger generation because they are heavily advertised and promoted. I’m even sure that many people here don’t even know what rock/metal actually is. But as I see on Instagram, the metal community in Iran is getting bigger and bigger with the help of the internet.

“We have bands in every genre, putting aside that I’m a member of Out of Nowhere, which I think is in the top 3 for sure. I also think bands like Padra, Crows in the Rain, One Missing Link, Mordab (not active anymore), and Nex Carnis are some to mention.”

GR: Nikan told us about the challenges that Iranian musicians face and we read that “western pop” has been banned since 1979. Can you explain a bit more about the restrictions and why musicians aren’t allowed to do things like play shows or record legally?
HA: “In general, western music was banned at that time. Western artists are also banned so they are not allowed to play any shows here, although they have many fans. We’ve had a few exceptions like Schiller, but they played instrumental shows. But nowadays, the term ‘western pop’ has vanished, and pop music is now legal, and artists can play shows and release tracks as long as they don’t have any political or sexual lyrics.

“As an Iranian artist, if you want to perform concerts and sell your music in official stores, your music has to forgo a long and difficult screening process to receive a permit. With the nature of alternative music, getting a permit and staying authentic is usually a paradox, especially for metal bands.”
GR: Is there any sign of this changing? And do you think the authorities will relax their stance on opposing rock and metal music?

HA: “Actually, we had some excellent shows a few years ago. Most of them were instrumental shows with a few cases of them being extreme metal and some underground shows. But after a while, those shows became illegal, became legal again, and then became illegal, and after that, the pandemic started, and all the shows were canceled

“It depends on who is in charge of choosing whether these shows can happen. Metal bands who don’t perform shows and don’t push the boundaries by including religious/political messages are left alone; that’s how most of them operate nowadays. I guess one reason is that we don’t have a very famous and worldwide known band from here; if that was the case, I’m not sure what would happen.”

GR: So with that background in mind, what inspired you to start Tough Sounds?

HA: “There are a few reasons why I started Tough Sounds: Being in the metal community myself and having many friends in bands are the major ones. With my web development knowledge and having many connections with foreign outlets and musicians around the world, I knew that I could make a mark on my local scene and hopefully beyond that in the future. We’re in our early years, but so far we’ve had releases being premiered on Metal Injection, MetalSucks, and Decibel and we’ve worked with Loudwire, Metal Hammer, and Knotfest on band features before.

“I started Tough Sounds when I was 22, back in 2020. Iranian bands rarely get monetary support doing what they do. So I thought to myself that I could make a website where Iranian fans could actively support Iranian bands by purchasing their releases using our local bank debit cards – since Iranians usually don’t have access to credit cards. Proper music distribution wasn’t that common among Iranian bands at the time, so I also started looking into streaming services. It’s worth mentioning that I also used my connections to promote the bands.

“Emin joined me a year after I founded Tough Sounds, and he has had a massive role in promoting and working with bands alongside me. He is a beast in his own right and does all our Publicity and PR. I’m fortunate that I found him and asked him to join me.”

GR: What do you aim to achieve with Tough Sounds?

HA: “It may sound cliche, but the main goal is to get the brilliant artists here what they deserve. After Emin joined me, we were two music lovers who spent a lot of time researching and analyzing today’s music industry every day and gaining experience after each release. Ideally, we want to find the best way to promote bands from Iran.

“On one hand, we want to guide the artists in our local scene to adapt the current release habits of international bands. On the other hand, we want to show fans from all over the globe that good bands from our country exist and have a lot to say since they have unique insight living in a country like Iran. We already have a UAE-based artist called Alpha Kenny Buddy (AKB), and we look forward to adding more foreign artists to our roster in the future.”

GR: What are the challenges of running a music label/music company in Iran?

HA: “Well, the main challenge is the stress, since there is no written law about what we do, and as we are the first ones to do this we have no idea what could happen. Rest assured that we try not to push boundaries and stay safe, and we are waiting to see what comes up!”

Emin: “I want to add that other challenges like western sanctions are hard to maneuver. Iranian banks are detached from International banks and foreign companies are usually not allowed to work with Iran. A significant consequence of this is that Spotify and TikTok, two of the biggest platforms that provide up-and-coming artists with exposure, don’t offer their services to Iran.

“These platforms are tough to sign up to from Iran. As a result, local fans can’t interact with their favorite artists on TikTok and Spotify, so their algorithms cannot push them to a relevant audience. The only option those artists are left with is growing a worldwide audience from scratch, which can be slow and challenging.”

GR: Which bands have you got signed up to Tough Sounds that our readers can go and have a listen to?

Generally, we sign bands that we think have a lot of potential to grow. To name a few, we have Padra (Thrash Metal with Farsi lyrics from Istanbul), One Missing Link (Modern Metalcore from Mashhad), Sargas (Death Metal from Tehran), God Mvker (Trap Metal from Hashtgerd), and many more to be revealed soon.
GR: Exciting stuff! So given the lack of local fan interaction, how important is it for these bands to have support from around the world?
HA: “It is the most important thing, it’s actually the biggest hope for the bands here since they can’t play live shows and, as Emin mentioned, fans don’t have the proper access to streaming services to listen to their favorite local bands. So the only income for bands here is from fans and listeners from around the world.

“Studio gear is costly, and many bands here don’t know how to get their voice out there. They usually spend years working on their first album, immediately release it, and eventually give up and fade into obscurity. That’s why I took some classes regarding music promotion and stuff to help my friends to at least become even with the expenses—and not be in total debt.”

GR: Is there anything else our readers should know about Iranian music and the work you’re doing?

HA: “I want people from around the world to know that metal bands in Iran work under harsh conditions. There is virtually no income other than getting their music streamed by people on streaming platforms. I want people to explore more music as there are many gems in Iran and many other countries that they would enjoy listening to. They can also support the bands by buying the releases on Bandcamp.”

We hugely appreciate Hossein and Emin taking the time to chat with us and providing their insight on this fascinating topic. And if there are any more new Iranian bands out there (or bands from any country, for that matter) that fancy getting your music heard and reviewed – get in touch!

You can follow Tough Sounds on Facebook and Instagram. You can follow Hossein on Instagram, follow his band Out Of Nowhere (who we firmly recommend listening to!) on Facebook and Instagram, and follow Emin on Instagram.

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