PHOTO – UNDERSIDE AT SILENCE FESTIVAL 2019 BY DIPIT RAZ
A stunning country that is home to Mount Everest, ancient temples, and a unique culture, you might not expect Nepal to have such a strong and vivid heavy metal community. What would come as a surprise to many who have not explored the fascinating world of Nepal’s underground metal scene, is that the countries streets thrive with the subculture which despite the efforts by society to supress it, hold the true camaraderie and strength to support to help aid the country in its most needed times. The scene that was unknowingly started in 2000, has blossomed from a solely underground community that was looked at with disdain, to one that is proudly spreading the message of Nepali culture through the arts. With the help of Flower K.C., we take a deep dive into what exactly makes Nepal’s metal community unique.
THE HISTORY OF THE NEPALI METAL SCENE
The small country located in between the borders of India and China has always had a unique relationship with music. It was the discovery of the country by hippies in the 60s and early 70s and Kathmandu’s infamous ‘Freak Street’, where rock began for the citizens of Nepal, with rumours that Jimi Hendrix even wrote ‘Purple Haze’ inspired by the streets of Nepal. It was shortly after this, with the arrival of western culture, that Nepal got its first taste of rock music, being inspired by the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, and Grateful Dead to name but a few – with this, rock music is now seen across the country.
THE METAL SCENE
Since the 70s, rock and metal had started to gain its footprint within Nepal, however there was no original metal material being produced at the time. In 2000 this changed with Ugra Karma, who made the countries’ first ever metal recording, and in the process unexpectedly started a new subculture within Nepal. The demo recordings which were titled ‘The Himalayan Metal of Death’ weren’t originally made for general release. Only 100 copies were made, and before they knew it the underground metal scene within Nepal was born. The scene was so underground that no-one knew how to describe the sound, and the pioneering band were even unable to describe it to those who would fill the seat as drummer. Of course, the industry and culture in Nepal never had any interest in metal whatsoever, so like many other subcultures, everything came with a DIY attitude. With no industry support, and acquiring sponsorship and promotion being almost non-existent, the community had to adapt to this themselves, with groups being founded such as the ‘Extreme Underground Metal Society of Nepal’ (since 2012) which is an independent organiser of shows in the country.
This scene is something that has always remained within the underground culture of Nepal, especially due to the biased towards owning a guitar, wearing all black, adorning clothing with patches and having long hair. The traditionalist society of Nepal meant the metalheads that resided there were instantly labelled as the worst in society. This came with much prejudice from the authorities against the underground metal culture, and despite a slow acceptance to the scene in recent years, the arm of the law did not look upon the scene with much grace. Police would pick up, arrest, and shave the hair of metal fans, and frequently shut down many metal shows. As you might expect, this oppression was something that only made the bond between the community stronger; like many subcultures around the world, the scene held its pride above the lawmakers. They were just kids playing or enjoying the music that they liked and identified with. Metal has always meant a lot to Nepal because it gives the youth something to relate to and a space to be themselves – with a rebellious and angry attitude towards society and the government, it is a visible thing that can be felt within the air of the streets of Nepal. The audience base for metal is mainly those who are young and is followed up until the early 20s – after college there is much pressure from society and family to find a job, meaning the audience base is often pressured into leaving the scene for a more ‘sensible’ lifestyle. While a young audience may mean many fresh faces and talent joining the scene, the cost of gig tickets has always had to remain low due to the youth having very little disposable income.
PHOTO – UNDERSIDE BY DIPIT RAZ
NEPALI METAL BANDS
Being labelled as the biggest metal band within Nepal, Underside are Avishek K.C. (lead vocals), Manil Shakya (bass), Bikash Bhujel (Guitars), Bikrant Shrestha (Guitars) and Nishant Hagier (Drums). The metalcore band hail from Kathmandu and are signed to Silence Records. The band first played in 2010, but did not officially form until 2011, with their first live show. Avishek used to play music before the existence of the band, but it was the band which led to his more personal attachment to music and the metal scene, originally being just a school kid like the others playing jam sessions because school was out due to the civil unrest within the country.
With the inspiration from the name coming from where they are in the world – the underside of the planet – they see themselves as not a Nepali band, but a band from Nepal, always seeking to be part of the bigger metal community and to show others that the rich Nepali metal culture exists.
The metal band have had their fair share of tours and live dates, dating back to their emergence. Most notably they have been the first Nepali band to be featured on the line-up for the UK’s Download Festival in 2019. Not only this but they have toured the UK and Europe, Australia, and of course Nepal. With a slew of both headline and support shows under their belt, they have made their footprint on the metal scene across the world, playing many metal festivals amongst other bands within the scene.
We will leave more on Underside especially for another time though…
Despite being perhaps Nepal’s most influential metal band, Underside are not the only talent that has erupted from the streets of the country. From Ugra Karma, the first Nepali death metal band forming in 1999, to Binaash’s brutal metal, formed in 2012. Like the many metal communities across the world, the scene that has been born from Nepal has the diverse offering of the subgenres that make up the wider genre, and talent that excels in creating an original sound: from Antim Grahan’s symphonic black metal, X-mantra’s thrash metal, and Chepang’s grindcore, to Dying Out Flame’s Hindi death metal. However, it is not just the raw talent that has come from Nepal that stokes the flames within the metal community that resides there: they have had visits from Asian bands including Pokhara, Nepathya, Gotsu Kotsu Totsu, and international names including Cancer Bats, and Napalm Death to name but a few.
Due to the growing discovery of the burgeoning scene that resides within Nepal, the country has been ones to play host to both local and international talent within the metal festivals that have been held there, including most notably Kathmandu’s ‘Silence Festival’…
Silence Festival was founded in 2011 by Underside. The festival was created as a means of showcasing local talent, alongside renowned international acts that share the same stage. With the mantra of making Kathmandu the “Heavy metal destination of the world,” stated bands director Flower K.C., the annual festival aims to showcase the arts and culture of Nepal and giving the heavy metal community within the country a festival to make themselves proud. Despite the hardships and challenges that face running a festival like this within such an underground community, and little profits made, it is the determination that is what makes this solely possible.
The co-organisers feel that “Silence Festival is bringing the Asian scene together, and we see it as the beginning of something beautiful for the years ahead,” bringing both creators a sense of determination on further building a solid metal community. The festival which a capacity of 1500 takes place in two courtyards of a small hotel and restaurant complex in Kathmandu and hopes to promote not just art but tourism in both Kathmandu and beyond, and for 2020 they worked with the Nepal tourism board to use music as a tourist attraction through the Silence Festival, with music-goers all over the world coming to Nepal to see the bands. The festival is always seeking to be more than just a festival however, by using its platform to support the economy through the tourism profits.
What can be said about Nepal’s Metal scene is this – there is a truly subculture or even Punk attitude behind the scene. The spirit behind Nepal’s metal music scene is something truly authentic. Juxtaposed against the relentless commercialisation of the American and European music industries, the community and the message that is held within this is something that is inspirational to many, to both those in Nepal and outside. Metal music is something that has stereotypically always had a negative connotation, being associated with violence and aggression. However, Nepal’s community is a leading example of breaking down this barrier. Perhaps what is most inspiring about the scene is the strength that this community holds – as is the rule with metal: if someone falls in the mosh pit you help them up, and this same mentality is something Nepal’s Metal community has brought to its support of its country and wider culture.
PHOTO – TESTAMENT HEADLINING SILENCE FESTIVAL BY DIPIT RAZ
Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.
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