“That music is not allowed. Look, if you listen to this ridiculous music, flames will come out of your ears on Judgment Day. It is permitted to kill people who choose this path. They have abandoned Islam and chosen the Infidel’s path. If Allah was to deliver them to us, we would throw their meat to vultures, and hang them from the trees.”
These chilling words, spoken by a Taliban judge, introduce Rockabul, a new documentary film telling the story of District Unknown, Afghanistan’s first and only heavy metal band, as they fight for their right to rock against the backdrop of war and Islamic terror in the nation’s capital, Kabul. Billed as “a coming of age documentary which deals with youth identity and freedom of expression”, the film, directed by Australian journalist/musician Travis Beard, depicts the band’s struggle to be heard in an ultra-conservative society where the simple act of strumming an electric guitar in public could result in imprisonment or death. As the story begins, in 2009, keen metalheads Lemar (vocals/bass), Qais (guitar), Qasem (bass) and Pedram (drums) have no idea how to even tune their instruments, but DU persevere to the point where they become the star attraction at Afghanistan’s first music festival in 35 years, an event which imperils both their own safety and the liberty of their families. Offering perspectives on Afghan life rarely depicted in the Western media, Rockabul is, by turns, hilarious and harrowing, inspiring and chilling, setting mundane details of band life – rehearsal room arguments, line-up changes, unlistenable jam sessions – against a backdrop of bombs, bullets and ever-present danger.
“Maybe this country is really fucked up,” one band member notes in a voice-over. “Maybe it is really broken, and it’s damned and it’s cursed, but it is still my own country, you know. It’s where I belong… If we are not talking about who we are and if we are not expressing ourselves, then we are dead.”
Faith No More bassist Bill Gould is the film’s Executive Producer. Speaking to Kerrang! from Detroit, where he’s set to play a gig as part of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer’s all-star ‘MC50’ band, Gould hails District Unknown’s “fearlessness” and describes the film as “an incredible resource, part of our musical history.”