'Miserably creative'

When you think of Iran's hottest exports, it's usually oil, carpets or nuts that come to mind. But if it were up to 127, then rock music would join the list as well.

Although they are "miserably creative and creatively miserable'', being musicians in a country where they
don't have the permission to perform or sell their records, there is no other place they'd rather be. Iran is a big part of 127's music.

"The music scene in Iran is rocking,'' says cheery 26-year-old Sohrab Mohrebbi, lead vocalist, band manager and spokesperson. We are interrupting the band's rehearsals in one of Dubai International City's deserted apartment blocks, but there's little of the angst that informs 127's songs.
underground music scene

"There are lots and lots of bands,'' Sohrab says. "However they are all underground, playing in basements. Usually bands are quick to form, but just as quick to disband because they do not get the opportunity to perform or record.
"With our band, we really like what we play. We are all close friends, and we enjoy going to rehearsal, irrespective of whether we get to perform or not.''

127 have played abroad, which has helped them stick together as a band for seven years now. Founded by a
group of young Tehran art students, 127's music defies cataloguing. Sohrab admires Bob Dylan and other singer-songwriters. Other influences are Persian melodies, jazz, funk and ska, best described as a sort of folk punk, in English.

Their Dubai gig held at Bastakiya's XVA, was a heartening kick-off for their US tour where they will perform at the SXSW (South By South West) festival and tour until April 2. The group performed in Dubai without their drummer, Yahya Alkhansa; a conscript in the Iranian army who couldnot leave the country because of the conditions of military service, just another one of those little challenges that 127 is quite adept at tackling by now.

How did your band get its name?

Do you want the truth or the myth? [laughs] The truth is that it means nothing. The myth we manufactured is that 127 is the number for the modern angel of communications, called "Eemaeil'', a derivation of e-mail.

What's the toughest part of being a band in Iran?

We have lots of challenges. To start with, we don't have any money. The other challenge is getting the opportunity to perform. We mostly play in my greenhouse, which has been converted into our studio. Music, or any art, involves communicating with people.

If you don't get to perform, how does it work for you?

To release our music, we have to get government permissions for the lyrics, then for the music and lastly,
for the combination of lyrics with music. The only English song played on Iranian radio is Time by Pink Floyd.

It's not always the government that doesn't allow music to come out, it's the whole system. But Iran is just developing, it doesn't happen overnight.

So how do you get people to listen to you?

The internet is the only club in Iran. It's the only available way to spread the music. Every band in Iran uses the net, so people can listen and download the music. What we are doing in Iran with other bands is pushing the boundaries bit by bit. Right now we are trying to release our CDs in Iran. It's worth the effort, because the government and the people will realise our music is not that awful.

But does music released on the internet help you pay the bills?

We don't really earn much money. All of us have side jobs to support ourselves. We try selling our CDs and music over the internet to make our money. On the tour, we sell 127 merchandise, but it's not a big set up.

What's the bit you don't enjoy?

People approach Iranian music or art because it sounds exotic. It's what I don't enjoy. But on the other hand we manage to get better press coverage than, perhaps, a band in Manchester.

I wouldn't label our lyrics as political. We are living in certain circumstances, which impacts what we write. But in the end, we are musicians, not politicians.

Band members
Lead vocals: Sohrab Mohebbi
Bass: Alireza Pourasad
Trombone: Salmak Khaledi
Piano: Sardar Sarmast
Drummer: Yahya Alkhansa
Backing vocals: Shervin Shahamipour