There is a sense that the Iran’s youth is far more rebellious than previous one. Much of Iran’s youth are living a double life today, caught in the middle of a culture clash between the East and the West.They listen to Western music, they learn the world from inside out, they want to talk with women outside without fear of being arrested. These twenty-somethings just try to live as they wish, and they wait for the moment to be free and express themselves without chance to fall under the death penalty. Alex Pierce travelled to Iran to observe and learn the rising underground subculture of Iranian Aliens.

Samaneh and Shayan, a young pair rests on Kuhsar heights with a view over Tehran.

Freedom Issues

The number one problem, connected with unfair laws and religion policy in Iran, is restriction of freedom in all its dimensions. Many people heard of women cutting off their hair and dressing as men in public just to get more freedom and escape the ‘morality police’. Back in April of this year eight women were arrested in Iran for dressing up as men so they could watch a football match. Tehran municipality says that it’s a usual practice to catch such ambitious ninjas at stadium.  As well as banning women from football watching at stadiums, Iran’s strict laws extend to prohibiting women from cycling in public. Besides the other seemingly innocent acts that can result in being punished women can’t even upload a photograph of them without a headscarf and post a video of themselves singing.

Today young people are tired of these out-of-age laws and customs. “Just get your stuff together and go to another country,” someone could say. But the issue of migration in Iran is undebatable. The fact is that usually people can’t even go abroad on holiday basis, because the visa control exists under very strict conditions. The state wants to make sure that you will come back, so they check everything precisely. It may seem that they want to know if you have something to lose. Besides the obstacles, more and more young Iranians choose to stay in their country by choice. “Most of the youth in Iran are depressed because of the regime, the economy or military service, but I think we need to focus on changing ourselves,” says Amir (all names changed to protect identities), one of Iranian Aliens.

“I used to hate Iran. I used to dream of going to Australia with my family and never coming back. But now I’ve changed and I like it here… I want to stay.”

When the most part of people can’t go abroad and then they fall back to live along with centuries-long habitat, these twenty-somethings are taking inspiration from abroad to carve out their own space at home. Young rebel Iranians are looking for workarounds to make coming-of-age in Iran more bearable on daily basis. They listen to western music and create their own secretive community to feel free inside of a country-size prison. They travel around the world without going outside. This young and brave people turn an imaginary travel into reality.

Kasra and his friends gather together while on a holiday trip in a villa in Northern Iran.

The underground band “Garage480” performs a training session in a basement in Isfahan.

Background to the revolution

The internet has played a priceless role in that process – perhaps more than most people would imagine. On the one hand, it was one of the sources showing the world abroad. However, it wasn’t just officially sanctioned window to Western culture, there always were a satellite TV.  More, the Internet became an opportunity to share an opinion, to find like-minded people, and then unite. People began to dodge restrictions on Facebook and Twitter (which are officially blocked in Iran) and pay for a VPN.

Another app called Telegram has become popular for its encrypted messaging service, allowing citizens to discuss politics in relative freedom without government’s spying. Recently, however, intelligence agencies have begun arresting Telegram users, forcing those who run popular channels on the platform to apply for permits and disclose their identities. Even for the exposing article of Alex, all young people chose to remain anonymous for security reasons. But it’s obviously hard to fight with the Internet, so the knowledge unstoppably comes through rebellious souls and deductive minds.

Inside Out

As it usual for young people, Iranians like to chill out with friends and dance deep in a smoke too. Private parties and illicit trading aren’t new for Islamic society of Iran, just as underground subcultures. These underground home gigs with rock music and weed may seem an eternal escapism by cause of ruthless reality. But Alex Pierce have been there, and he found that these young people are enlightened and deeply creative. Most of them are well-educated in fact. Young Iranians, which Alex encounter, are “mostly educated, secular urbanites: a mix of inquisitive authors, musicians, students, engineers and accountants eager to engage in world affairs, particularly US politics”. Talking about other features, there is something surprisingly uncommon for the Islamic state. Alex describes the appearance of partygoers this way: “forsaken hijabs and loose-fitting clothing for skinny jeans and open midriffs, exposing body piercings and homemade tattoos.”

During a private gathering in upscale Tehran neighborhood of Sa’adatabad.

Unique Village Ghalat

Pierce travelled deep into the country to learn more about the movement in the society. There one bright student Mina, remarkable for her coloured hair and plenty of punk attitude, offered to be Alex’s guide and show the most unusual and mind-advanced city of Iran. “A sign of the change that has been seeping through can be found in the southern town of Ghalat, a liberal oasis known as the ‘Amsterdam of Iran’,” writes Alex. Ghalat is a village with population of around 2,600m which is surrounded by bushland beneath a rocky, reddish-brown mountain, natural guardians for this piece of freedom.

The atmosphere is different there, it feels like a sharp contrast with the streets of central Tehran. In Ghalat women ditching their headscarves without any trace of self-consciousness, people drink homemade wine and smoke something in a joint “that appears accepted as an open secret.” Alex’s guide says that local police turn a blind eye to the town, but some people believe that they’re bribed.

Nevertheless, the village and all the rebellious youth are a reminder that where some see a barrier, others sense an opportunity.

Photos by Kaveh Rostamkhani

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