Interview With Deimos: A Metal Band Surviving Within A Taliban Insurgency
First Published 29 September 2014
Sometimes, we here in the west take making and playing music for granted, Indeed, the bands I have covered from Pakistan all have the advantage of living in the main cities, where writing, recording and gigging as a Metal band is happening.
Words: Andy Millen
In the following interview, first posted in the Eternal Abhorrance blog, Hassan Dozhaki interviews Zarnoob Safir of Demios about being a musician in Peshawar.
Deimos is a Metal band from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Located within what is considered the hub of Taliban insurgency in Pakistan, Deimos is a rare breed among the native Pakhtuns of that area.
A Metal band influenced by both progressive and extreme ends of the Metal spectrum, existing in an area where most of the music is of a classical/folk nature, where recording studios are hard to find, and musicians to jam with even less so.
It is no small feat to maintain a music project of such nature in Peshawar – though the city has its own charms and delights, which I revelled in during my visit over the summer – it isn’t exactly the sort of place where Metal has taken root properly. Though, there is plenty of influence to be found as far as subject matter is concerned.
In my attempt to start documenting the more estranged regions of the subcontinent, I’m starting with Deimos in Peshawar.
We talk about everything from how he got into the music, its influence on him, as well as Afghanistan-Pakistan politics and drone attacks on the Taliban.
Hey Zarnoob, hope everything is fine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Hey Hassan I’m good. Hope you are fine too. Well nothing is fine here at our side. Terrorism is always at its peak. Three days ago another suicide bomber attacked the Cantt area of Peshawar and a military operation is going in my village, so things are pretty fucked.”
Your band, Deimos, is based out of Peshawar, known for Taliban insurgency. What was your motivation for creating a Metal band in such an area?
“Well having a Metal band, or I must say a Metal project, here in an Islamic conservative place like Peshawar is a pretty hard job to do. Like we have no gigs here due to the critical situation in our city and most importantly no Metal crowd at all. I don’t think a mosh pit or some crazy headbanging have ever taken place in Peshawar.
“Well my motivation for Metal band started back when I was in fifth grade and my cousin introduced me to Metal. He gave me a mixed CD of different bands. The CD contained tracks of bands like Opeth, Katatonia, Anathema, Dream Theater, Mayhem, Kalmah, Burzum, Emperor, Iron Maiden, Marduk, Blackfield, Porcupine Tree, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, Bloodbath, some classics by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
“At first when I listened to Metal it sounded very scary, depressive, aggressive and ugly. Everything was new to me. Before listening to Metal I didn’t even how an electric guitar looks like haha. I used to listen to it on daily basis and there was this one thing that was actually attracting me to it a lot and that was the aggression and the powerful lyrics of Metal. Living in a strict family where you have to be a puppet of your father and do as your father orders too is frustrating and depressive. To get rid of the frustration I always used to listen to Metal as you know back in fifth grade I couldn’t smoke a joint and get high haha.
“Opeth, Katatonia and Burzum had a big effect on me especially. The anti religion side of Metal has always attracted me, since childhood I have doubted the existence of God, and religion has always been the root of discrimination to me haha. Further when I started growing, the more I was getting deeper into Metal, and in no time it became a major part of my life.
“I always wanted to buy a drumkit and become a drummer but family, especially father, was and still is way too against music and musicians. Basically the Pakhtun culture is against the musicians. They consider the musician people of low caste. To be honest I’m myself a Pakhtun, but there is a lot of discrimination going on in our society. Anyways I always knew my family will never allow me to buy drums as they are loud and I can’t even keep them confidential. So I decided to start saving money for a cheap acoustic guitar and in the end of 2010 I bought myself an acoustic guitar and kept it confidential from my dad because I was scared of the fact that he might break it.
“Later on he got to know about it. He scolded me but never broke it. Learning guitar was not an easy job and as I didn’t know any musician in person back in time that who could teach me the basics of music. But thanks to the internet to help me in learning the instrument. And that’s how my journey to make a Metal band/project in Peshawar began.”
You’re the sole member of the band, and employ the services of a Canadian friend to do vocals as well as bass and production duties for you. Why not reach out to someone in your locality instead?
“Actually the project Deimos was formed in 2012 by me and my good old friend Sikandar Gul Khan. Sikandar is one of the best guitar players here in Peshawar. I met Sikandar in school and we both became friends because we both were into almost the same type of music and guitars. He is more of an old school hard rock guy, big fan of bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin he is not much of an extreme Metal guy.
“Our debut track was called ‘Ground Zero 9/11’. Basically an instrumental track, we released it in 2012. We tried to set ourselves different and used a tabla beat in the song as well. ‘Harmony Of The Genocide’ was our next track and the response was pretty motivating, since it got played on a lot of online Metal stations.
“As both of our tracks were instrumental and we had no vocalist, I got in touch with my friend James McCallum, who plays for Poison Oath in Canada. So I decided to collaborate with him and we made a proper extreme Metal track called ‘Rulers Of The Damned’. James played bass and did vocals.
“We then did another track with James, ‘Sins Of The Fathers’ which also featured a native Pakhtun guitarist from Peshawar, Sohrab Kakakhel, who did a guest guitar solo on it.
“As for talking about locals, Sikandar and Sohrab are the only locals I have worked with. There are good guitar players in Peshawar but finding a Metal vocalist is a hard job. Some decent rock vocalists in Peshawar I think are Jehangir Aziz Hayat, Safyan Kakakhel, Rahim Saranjam and Sohrab is a great vocalist too. I have plans for inviting Sohrab to do clean vocals for our next track.”
How do you record your songs, with the lack of any proper recording facilities?
“Well yeah, recording here in Peshawar is a huge hurdle. The first two instrumentals were recorded by Sikandar and the next two tracks were recorded in such a way that I used to record my riffs dry and then send them over to James. He would add the effects into the riffs and then mix and master it.
“The only studio I think in Peshawar is good for recording Metal is Rahim Saranajam’s studio. The reason why his studio is so good is because he himself being a Metal head and he knows how to mix a Metal track.”
Coming to Peshawar now, is there any sort of music scene there at all? There is a lot of misconception about the city and the Pakhtun lands in general.
“Yeah here we have a pretty good music scene but that scene is all about the classical folk Pashto music (I personally like the folk music) and on other the side here is some shit music going around. The fusion of rabab (folk instrument) and the guitar. I personally hate the fusion of these two instruments.
“Like it’s fine, not too bad, but like here you’ll see every talentless motherfucker picking up an acoustic guitar strumming some simple basic chords and another asswipe would be playing some totally shitty rabab lead to it. This rabab guitar fusion is actually affecting the value of a rabab. Rabab is a great folk instrument and it has always been a part of legendary music.
“As for the Metal scene. In Peshawar it is zero. I won’t say we have got no Metal bands, we have heavy bands but no Metal gigs at all. There hasn’t been a single Metal gig as yet. Some rock/Metal bands and musicians from Peshawar are Marg (my personal fav) is punk/hardrock band from Peshawar which is the only hard rock band that writes lyrics in the local language Pashto, which sets them apart. Jehangir Aziz, is also a very well known good musician from Peshawar.”
I know that you originally hail from Waziristan in F.A.T.A., where the insurgency of the Taliban is at the most, and where American drone attacks happen as well. What’s it like there? How much do drones and the presence of the Taliban affect life?
“Waziristan? Well it’s a doomed place. It’s like hell in there. The place is totally under an Islamic regime. It’s the hub of high profile terrorists. Islamic Extremism is at its peak over there. Like once there was a time every morning you wake up and you’ll see human heads chopped off and thrown in the streets. Decapitations are done by the Islamic Militia over there.
“It’s heartbreaking to see kids around the age of 10 to 15 years watching their fathers and brothers beheaded in public by the Islamists for not following the orders of the Taliban and other Islamic Jihadi groups. In Waziristan there is no police, nothing. Taliban are the law there.
“The Islamists would check cellphones of the locals and if any musical content was found, they would break their phones and beat them in public as a last warning to them. If they again find the same person’s cell containing music or other entertainment content they’ll execute him. A lot of kids have trained in Waziristan for suicide bombing.
“The drones are actually playing a positive role. Many Taliban leaders have died in drone attacks. Brutal Islamists like Haqeem Ullah and Bait Ullah have died in drone attacks. It’s a propaganda by the Taliban that the drones are killing the innocents and not the terrorists. In reality drones are killing the Islamists and those who die in drone attacks and are labelled as innocents [by them].
“Not saying everyone is an Islamic fighter, but they are actually the ideological supporters of Taliban and other extremist groups. In short Waziristan had turned into a training academy for the terrorists.”
Politically, KPK and adjoining Pakhtun majority areas have always been involved in a heated debate between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Where do you stand on this?
“Of course I would stand with Afghanistan. KPK actually belongs to the Afghans. I don’t know how a Pakhtun can say that he is against Afghanistan. The literal meaning of Afghanistan is land of Pakhtuns. I have never been to Afghanistan but the reason why I support it so much is that at least that country is purely for Pakhtuns.
“The Pakistanis have never accepted us and Balochs as their people. The Pakistani security forces are equally responsible for the chaos as the Taliban. If you ever come to FATA, mostly the colleges and schools have turned into the hideouts of army. A lot of innocent civilians have been shot and abducted by Pakistani security forces. Recently my dad’s friend son got shot three times by a Pakistani security guard. The reason was that they indicated him to stop the car but he didn’t see the indication and didn’t stop the car so they shot him.”
Do you see Metal music going anywhere in Peshawar in the next few years?
“Well if gigs started happening then Metal may get pretty good in Peshawar otherwise I find it hard to see new Metal bands being formed in Peshawar. Although it’ll be great to see new bands in the city.”
Cheers for the interview bro. Come down to Lahore, we’ll baptize you in booze.
I’ll be visiting Lahore in 2015 as it’s one of the most liberal Pakistani cities. Cheers bro. – Kafir
(Article reproduced here thanks to Hassan of Eternal Abhorrance)