‘Would you put your life on the line for your music?’
Fortunately for us, we will never have too.
For District Unknown, on the other hand, it wasn’t a hypothetical question, it was their life.
Formed in the midst of the destruction and chaos of a war-torn Afghanistan, District Unknown was tan’s Afghanisfirst ever metal band. With lyrics fuelled by political disdain and a local following big enough to get the authorities attention, District Unknown was largely putting their life at risk to express themselves via their music.
Rockabul is a documentary that chronicles this amazing journey. Filmed over eight years, it follows the band from their inception to their absolute peak; being featured in Rolling Stone, playing in India and having the Taliban shut down their live shows.
I was lucky enough to have a chat with the film’s director, Travis Beard about this incredible story and gain some further insight into the current state of live music within Afghanistan.
“To be honest, it took a bit of a downturn after 2014 when the troops withdrew and the money dried up, that caused a bit of a vacuum across the board from everything to do with unemployment to cultural aspects,” Beard explains. “Security also took a decline, so people were more reluctant to take risks because there were more threats.
“The only thing that is really thriving still is hip-hop because with hip-hop you only need a microphone and sound card and a computer, so the footprint is a lot smaller, you don’t have to be as loud as you do with a metal band, you don’t need as much equipment.
“But that being said, about three months ago a young kid in Kabul contacted me and he is trying to start a metal band post the heightened musical peak of Afghanistan, which is kind of what we had always hoped for and it seems as if it’s actually coming into fruition now.”
Outside of the obvious; metal music being illegal in Afghanistan (it is of the belief that metal listeners are Satanists who will have flames come from their ears on Judgement day), what other challenges are musicians facing over there?
“This kid is struggling on several levels,” responds Travis. “The first is that he can’t find any musicians because the scene over there is largely dead. Secondly, he wants to put on a concert for World United Metal Day which is actually something my friend in Sydney organises and that involved over 40 countries all hosting a metal concert on the same day. So, I put it out to this kid that he could put on a concert for that to tie Afghanistan into the international metal community but now we are struggling to find venues for it and that’s a real challenge. And beyond that, if he does find a venue he then has to find ways to advertise and promote. When we promote our event over there we had to do it in a, as coined by Rolling Stone, a ‘stealth’ style of promotion to get the audience in without creating risks and threats.”
With the political state of Afghanistan still in disrepute, Travis is heading back over at the end of the year to make his new political driven documentary.
Before then, Victorians will be lucky enough to see Rockabul for a bunch of special Q and A screening with Travis in Melbourne (Cinema Nova) on May 14, Geelong (Pivotonian) on May 22 and Castlemaine (Theatre Royal) on June 16.
Pick up your tickets via potentialfilms.com/contemporary-movies/rockabul/.