Written by Mass
Opting Out Instead of Rotting in This Cycle
In the bumpy and rocky history of rock and alternative music in Iran, few names are as revered and highly esteemed as Hadi Pakzad, especially among the younger generation of musicians who appeared after the 1979’s revolution. Rock music in this land goes way back to 1960s and 1970s, but there was an extended hiatus for about 25-30 years. Born in 1982 and in the city of Mashhad, Hadi held a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering but was chiefly engrossed in philosophy, literature and music. He started his work as a young alternative musician in 2002, but had to work in the underground scene, until 2016 when a compilation of his previous works was “officially” published with a permit from Iran’s Ministry of Islamic Guidance. Later that year, on May 27th, he took his life after an overdose on tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
Back in the early 2000s, alternative music was a rather unknown phenomenon in Iran and not many listeners took this music in. Even fewer were the musicians who were familiar with this genre and were eager to work within it. Hadi was, according to many, the first who undertook this journey and started his own music: a more modern, more inward-looking, more depressive and more expressive than the first generation of Iranian rockers in the 70s and on a whole new plateau compared to his contemporary “pop” artists. Even by the standards of the genre, his music was exceptional and had its own high qualities. And by quality, the cleanness of sound and a high level of production or mastering are not in mind; but this term denotes a musical excellence in terms of the experience the listener gets when they engage themselves with this auditory endeavor. To some, his productions are not standard alternative or rock music as Pakzad added electronic tinges to his music later on in his career and brought the excessiveness of rock vigor down a notch on some tracks.
As he matured through life, so did his music shift and transform. Fear Land (2002) was his first release and had a more experimental nature, testing the waters of Iranian music and his own capabilities, to the extent of incorporating traditional Iranian instruments (setar and ney) on Mara Mibini (You See Me). Being in the musical dark, Hadi created his most personal, rawest, purest and most touching music in this album. Living Under Ground (2005) had him steering towards standard hard rock, with a touch of heavy metal here and there. Following this line was Doctor (2007) with a more (post)punkish attitude in composition.
On Aflatoon (Plato – 2009) we have introduction of electronic drum as a major instrument throughout the album, yet keeping the same angsty edge of his previous albums. On For Four (2010), in addition to his familiar trademark sound, he once again gets back to experimenting with and pushing back the boundaries of his music, this time into the territory of industrial rock on several songs, more specifically on What Does It Mean and The Gun. In 2012, he published Communication with the Deaf to drift even further into electronic music somewhere in the vicinity of electronica, new-wave and electronic rock. On his last album, Vertical Cemetery (2013), he recreates the music of his early years and embraces his “rock” self a bit more tightly and warmly than his other later works. It is worthwhile to mention that in 2016, a few months before his death, he was finally allowed to publish a “legal” album. It was titled Darkness and was a compilation album and included a remastered version of some of his older songs.
Focal to Hadi’s concept of music and musical production are the notions of lyrics and expressionistic story-telling. The songs, regardless of their nominal genre or subgenre, are all a narrative of literary value, sometimes a dialogue between two present companies (including the singer himself) and at times one with an absent character and at others one with the listener; we can mention Mercurial Fountain, Death Angel and You Didn’t Have To as respective examples of such expressions. Another common technique is a soliloquy of pain and self-doubt which spreads all through his career; you can take The One I Loved to Be and Miss Myself as two prominent examples. Recounting personal stories is yet another frequently-utilized lyrical technique; Chess or Sepehr could be prime examples of this method.
Whether an interior monologue or a dialogue with somebody else or in any other form, Hadi’s lyrics are thought-provoking, philosophical, existential and tremendously depressing. Such themes as loneliness, existential crisis, alienation, rejection, resentment against society, painful memories, loss, and humans’ condition in the natural world are quite frequently applied to many of the songs all through his career. Some songs like Doctor, Xanax, Artificial Chemistry and even Death Angel have direct ties with natural science; Scientist, Earth, Vertical Cemetery and Where Do I Come From revolve more around philosophy and existence; People, Robot and Book are the social reproaches; Free Spirit and Postman reflect interpersonal conflicts and Nature’s Guilt and Strike are example of intrapersonal concerns and disquietude; Spring, Minutes and Glassy Jail depict pain and grief; There Is Nothing, Death Angel and Law speak of the artist’s own death and Miss Your Face and She’s My Mom have loss of a loved one as their motif.
Virtually all the lyrics were written by Hadi himself and they echoed his struggles and the issues which he put questions to. There are, however, two exceptions: You Look at Me (You See Me) and What Does It Mean? which are two famous poems by the legendary and immensely revered Persian poet of the fourteenth century Hafez.
On May 27, 2016 and at the age of 33, Hadi took his life in his own apartment as a result of an overdose. His untimely death devastated his few friends and many fans alike. He had always been concerned with death and had perhaps contemplated that for a long while as his lyrics somewhat betrayed his latent death drive and his macabre inclinations. His legacy is an assemblage of inimitable songs, each a leaf of the tragic book of his life. As there had been no one like him before he appeared in Iran’s music scene, there will probably never be anybody who can come close to his stature and repute. Hadi Pakzad was a human of another existence.
His discography and highlights of each album:
- Fear Land – 2002: In remembrance – Spring – You look at Me (You See Me) – Minutes
- Living Under Ground – 2005: Glassy jail – Living Under Ground
- Doctor – 2007: Miss Your Face – There is Nothing – Doctor
- Aflatoon (Plato) – 2009: You Didn’t Have to – Fascinating Flower – Death Angel
- For Four – 2010: Miss Myself – Postman
- Communication with the Deaf – 2012: Button of Doom – Free Spirit – Communication with the Deaf – Yellow Harmony (ft. Belle Triste)
- Vertical Cemetery-2013: The One I Loved to Be – Haze to Clarity – Where Do I Come From
- Darkness – 2016 (Compilation)