PODCAST| Matt Micucci interviews Travis Beard, director of the documentary RocKabul.
To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture
Director Travis Beard presented his documentary, RocKabul, at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands, where it had its world premiere. RocKabul is a film about the first and only metal band in Afghanistan. Beard lived in Kabul, where among other things, he ran a lively music scene; he defines the years between 2009 and 2011 as the “golden years,” and this is the time during which he came across the District Unknown, “a bunch of young boys who were aspiring to be a metal band … but they really couldn’t play.” From 2011 to 2014, there was a spike in attacks as the western forces withdrew from the country, and Afghanistan spiralled into mayhem and chaos. This inevitably affected the music scene that was beginning to flourish there, resembling something like one would imagine London during the 70’s punk movement. RocKabul is, in fact, not only about the music but also, somewhat inevitably, about the politics and the aforementioned mayhem. As Beard says in this interview: “for them, for the boys in the band and for their followers, [metal] was a way to let out their frustrations, to talk about the daily … mayhem they lived in,” in a setting where “there’s always potential for attack.”
RocKabul: Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band is District Unknown, a group who taught themselves to play with more enthusiasm than musicality. Discovered in 2009 by musician and filmmaker Travis Beard, he followed them with his camera from early on and coached them in developing their career. However, musical progress is not the only challenge they face: rock music is seen as satanic by religious fanatics in Afghanistan and its practitioners are targeted. The documentary therefore mainly plays out in Kabul’s underground music scene, i.e. cramped practice pads and living rooms, but also at the unique Sound Central music festival. District Unknown are now famous far beyond their country’s borders, but their popularity also increases the danger for the band’s members, who – just like every other inhabitant of Kabul – have to deal with daily bombings and firefights. Is their love of country, band and family stronger than the call of a more normal life abroad?