The New York-based party Disco Tehran has only been throwing events open to the public for a little over a year, but to hear co-founder Arya Ghavamian tell it, the energy and community that it attempts to capture goes back far further. The name and the sound of the party—which often celebrates Persian pop, funk, and disco (though other regions and genres are well-represented)—is a nod to the vibrant scene that formed around these sounds in pre-revolution Iran, which Ghavamian and his co-founder Mani Nilchiani, obviously never got to experience firsthand. Their collective exists in part because of borrowed nostalgia for generations that preceded them, but its spirit precedes even that scene too.
Ghavamian points to celebrations like Nowruz—a new year’s celebration that’s taken place for over three thousand years in Iran and across Western and Central Asia—as a reason he started the party. “In Iran, Nowruz celebrations were the most beautiful to me, because they made me feel connected and whole,” he says. “You can celebrate it with everyone, even people you don't know. There is energy all around, because the excitement of Spring and the moment of rebirth is here.”
Feeling lonely after moving to the States, he wanted to do his part to feel some of that communitarian energy again. So he started throwing parties. First they were intimate affairs for friends, in his apartment, where he’d make stews and play music, but over the past year they’ve blossomed into these big, beautiful happenings that draw together bands and DJs from across genres and international borders. This year’s Nowruz party, which sold out a nearly 300-cap room, illustrates the idea well. DJs bounced between elastic funk and disco from around the world, as well as blistering techno tracks and acidic strains of dance music. But in between them there were also psychedelic live sets from acts like the Morroccan folk group Innov Gnawa and the brassy Balkan band Slavic Soul Party!
“At these parties we realized that we are the energy we were seeking to kindle a feeling of community and home,” Ghavamian says. “This realization gave us such joy that still lasts. Nobody should feel without a home and alienated. At Disco Tehran we open doors and share our home with everyone.”
This week’s Noisey Mix is a window into the inclusive community that Ghavamian and co have created. In some notes he shared with the mix, he says that while he compiled the set, he reached out to the vast network of collaborators and co-conspirators—one of which, full disclosure, works at VICE (hi Charlotte!)—to source tracks. Like their parties, it dives from airy pop songs to muscular dance tracks, and it’s basically the perfect way to celebrate the slow thaw of these early spring days. Below, Ghavamian explains how Disco Tehran came to be, and how the crew has sought to bring communities together into their shared joy.
Noisey: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Disco Tehran: The perfect setting for this mix is in a dim lit room with colorful lights, a pot of tea, and a good friend.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
Disco Tehran is about the feeling of home. It is important for both Mani and I to create a wholesome, inviting environment that creates a sense of belonging. In putting together this mix, I asked our artist collective to share tracks with me, then I compiled them together in a way that creates the experience of a journey through a day in Spring.
This mixtape includes original tracks "Der Trauma" by Da Book (Börft Records), "Ahvaz" by Makan Ashgvari, "Talagh (Remix)" by Nick AM, "Vita Char" by SADAF, and track suggestions by Charlotte von Kotze (Brooklyn English), Jonny Oso, Jared Proudfoot, and Luisa Montoya. Our Nowruz mixtape was recorded at Studio Mamdos.
Do you have a favorite moment on this mix?
I really enjoy the beginning of the mix. The mix begins with a poem by Jalaludin Rumi, a 13th century Iranian poet. However, the poem is recited by Ahmad Shamloo, a contemporary Iranian poet. These poets were different people who lived centuries apart, yet their concerns were similar. The Sufi master and contemporary pioneer both express their yearning for freedom and the recognition of the ephemeral nature of life. The parallel between the poets is similar to the endeavor Mani and I have with Disco Tehran, which mirrors discotheques from 1970s in Tehran.
Is synesthesia a real thing? If so, what color is this mix?
I believe so, and some people experience it viscerally! This mix is green with splashes of white and red.
Can you give me a little bit of your backstory and how it intersects with the birth of Disco Tehran? Basically, how did you get interested in music in general, and then this music specifically.
Tehran in the 1970s had a vibrant Disco scene that faded from public spaces after the 1979 revolution and entered people's private homes. Even though we didn't experience this scene directly, the collective memory of our parents embodied experience was passed onto us. With this, a great sense of nostalgia emerged for an unexperienced memory.
In the summer of 2016, Mani and I started hosting dinner parties at my small apartment in NYC. I cooked Ghormeh Sabzi, a traditional Iranian stew, and we invited all our friends. Slowly the community began to grow and soon enough, the parties were packed with friends from all over the world.
In Spring of 2018, we decided to integrate the parties into the public sphere to celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian new year. This time, we extended the invitation to the NYC community. The response was so overwhelmingly joyful that we decided to keep the party going.
My background is in filmmaking, photography, and music, Mani's background is in technology, design, and music. I always enjoyed putting playlists together for my friends, but I never had a proper platform to share my music. Disco Tehran became an opportunity to share my music and my cooking, as well as a possibility to exchange different sounds from a number of diverse backgrounds.
What makes you want to share this music with New York and the world more broadly? Basically, in the broadest sense, why do you do what you do?
For more than 3,000 years, celebrations like Nowruz have brought communities together to celebrate the new year along with the birth of Spring. In Iran, Nowruz celebrations were the most beautiful to me, because they made me feel connected and whole. You can celebrate it with everyone, even people you don't know. There is energy all around, because the excitement of Spring and the moment of rebirth is here.
The first years in the USA were very lonely for me. I was away from family, living in the suburbs of the California Bay Area. In this foreign landscape, I didn't feel that I had a community to celebrate Nowruz with. Because of tough visa restrictions, I couldn't go back home and nobody could come visit me.
Outside [of] a few Iranian friends, I felt that there was no room for my culture, so I never celebrated it. The feeling of detachment from my roots was very alienating. Every Nowruz, I wished for everyone around me, including the strangers on the street to celebrate it with me. Suddenly, an external and communal event became internal and solitary.
It all changed when I moved to NYC. Since the summer of 2016, I started inviting friends to my tiny apartment to share food and music together. On Nowruz 2018, [when] Mani and I decided to take the party to the public, it was wonderful to see everyone, Iranian and non-Iranian alike, celebrating as a community.
There are obviously all sorts of different genres and regions of music that you draw on as a DJ and that the other DJs that play with you play during your parties. Are there any specific qualities in these sorts of music that excite you most?
Yes, we look for visceral experiences in music. The sound that can move us both emotionally and physically when we are sitting alone in a room. Music that is soulful in rhythm and harmony makes the cut. Whatever the cultural background, and whichever era the music came from.
After his trip to Iran, Mani brought a lot of old vinyl back. We love going through these old sounds and fantasize about where these records have been played: maybe a sunny day in a room overlooking a garden in Tehran, or at a discotheque that has faded away.
While we do look back to find and re-introduce musical treasures from the past, we are equally interested in introducing new sounds.
Disco Tehran has become a broader collective of DJs and thinkers since its birth, can you give me the full rundown of who’s involved? What do they bring to the table that one person couldn’t bring on their own?
We are interested in seeing how our old vinyls or 70s/80s Iranian pop hits fuse with tracks from different eras and backgrounds. Since collaboration is important to us, it is interesting to see how the non-Iranian family interacts with our familiar sound.
Typically, a night at Disco Tehran is a multicultural soundscape that includes music from Iran, Iraq, Africa, and Latin America. We also integrate live performances that range from international bands to local NYC musicians. On special occasions, Mani’s band Tan Haw opens for the headliners we host.
The night transforms into electronic and techno sets towards the end. We enjoy playing music that the audience hasn't heard in other places, it is exciting to us to see how our music relates to the audience. We believe that music has the power to transcend boundaries and borders.
What does the future hold for Disco Tehran? More parties, surely, but do you have any broader ambitions that you want to share?
Yes, more parties surely. As we continue to celebrate with Disco Tehran, we would like the space to become a more immersive experience by integrating elements of performance and visual experience. We would still continue to host more intimate dinner parties together.
By building this collective, we wish to create more opportunities to transmit the work of artists that we love, as well as continue to create safe spaces for people to enjoy the multicultural dreamboat. It just so happens that it is a deeply rewarding one; in that it brings people from all backgrounds together. We see parties as one manifestation of our mission. We are definitely interested in expanding into producing and releasing music soon.
Disco Tehran's next party is April 11 at Public Records.