Gingerly, Iran begins to rock out

Concert permits are more readily available these days, though venues can be prohibitively expensive to rent. Potentially controversial performers like rock bands are now comfortable announcing their performances a month in advance, while previously they would give only a few hours notice to lessen the risk of the event being shut down by hard-line vigilantes. The late notice kept crowds small.

“Before if we said we wanted a concert for 200 people, they would laugh at us,” says guitarist Amir Tehrani, who has played in heavy metal and rock bands for years, both underground and in public. “These days we really have shows; now there is a lot of entertainment on the stage, and lots of recording studios.”

Government officials in Iran must approve all cultural output, from live performances and commercial recordings, to book, magazine and newspaper publishing. Though the musical thaw began during Ahmadinejad’s time, musical director Saffarian attributes the current “rebirth” of pop music in Iran to new, more enlightened officials, many of whom come from the music business.