Dark side of the metal: An interview with Roy Dipankar on his film, Extreme Nation
Roy Dipankar's critically acclaimed film Extreme Nation isn’t just about heavy metal music. As a note from Roy puts it, ‘It’s a film about nations. It’s a film about dark music.’
In essence, the film features five years of travel across the Indian subcontinent, documenting stories of the underground music subculture spanning India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
You’d do well to strap in, and expect repeat mentions of terms related to extreme music — such as, ‘power electronics’, ‘the occult’ and ‘new wave nationalism’, not to forget political ideology, abrasive and shock-inflicting music, imagery and art.
But that’s running headlong into a scene that really has a lot more to offer — above all, a sense of freedom, brotherhood and unity in the music.
Here's the complete interview with Roy Dipankar:
Which of the bands from the film do you listen to most, when you're by yourself? Is there any one album or band here that you count and regard as better than the rest?
Before and during the initial phase of the filming, I did give these albums a spin too many as that would get me into the elements of writing and planning for the film. I wouldn't dare rank one above the other, as every artist or band holds its own aesthetic.
Genocide Shrines from Sri Lanka and their landmark 2015 album, Manipura Imperial Deathevokovil: Scriptures of Reversed Puraana Dharmurder is one of my favourites. The Jamat al Maut (Congregation of Death) EP from Pakistani anti-establishment grindcore duo Multinational Corporations also holds a special place.
And I remember meditating on the grand offering from Czech black metal band Cult of Fire's essential esoteric album named in Hindi as Mrityu Ka Tapsi Anudhyan (Ascetic Meditation of Death).
How much attention have you found otherwise being drawn to this underground subculture? Is the scene looking any better for some of these bands, after this film?
Early in this decade, and as time progressed, when the Indian subcontinental extreme metal and noise bands exploded in the scene, they created quite a stir.
More so in the international area, where the press, underground labels and following took cognisance of the fact that such powerful art existed this side of the globe.
The outlook towards the underground music has definitely changed through the years now. There is great acknowledgement of these bands and the art they create even before the release of the film.
I do get messages and mails from Europe and South American audiences who watched the film or want to watch it because they are fans.
In fact, in Korea at the world premiere, a few fans approached me saying they own merchandise, CDs and tapes of these bands and loved to see them on the big screen.
How does the aggression of metal affect you at a personal level? How do you relate to the angst and violence of heavy metal culture?
It is actually the other way round (laughs). My (inner) aggression reflects in the music that I listen to or create. One doesn't necessarily need to be an outwardly aggressive person to listen to metal and vice versa.
The imprint of the frequencies and artwork and the imagery and the powerful performances are a great release for those performing as well as those in the audience. I believe it is the subversion that attracts people to the culture. We are not particularly living in an ideal world.
Music has always reflected the existing inner voice generations through history and has been documented in the form of culture or subculture. Personally, I relate to the angst and violence as a great vent out, a cryptic message, an occult propaganda or maybe just a subculture.
Does it ever seem obvious, and appealing in a way, to find Satanistic and devil-worshipping aspects in heavy metal culture? How far from urban reality are such ideas?
Probably if we were to talk in the 1980s or the '90s or early-2000s we would have been at a tangent. But when we look at society or urban reality of today, and I am talking of the Indian subcontinent, our mainstream culture does reflect a lot of dark influences.
Our web series have dark themes now. Our movies flirt with a lot of these themes now. And audiences have grown mature enough to consume dark content just as they would, to a romcom or action or a drama.
When it comes to satanic or devil-worshipping themes, the Indian subcontinent has a very interesting aspect. Indian theology and esoteric mythology holds good and evil as a way of life through thousands of years of traditional storytelling in the form of song, dance and fine arts.
And this highly reflects on the subcontinental bands. In the Indian context, even Gods and Asuras deal with the same duality here, unlike how the western world tries to over-simplify things into Lucifer and God.
How much of your interest was it to draw a parallel between the Indian metal subculture with those in the West? How would you distinguish the Indian metal scene, as one that's different from those in Europe, or anywhere else?
Not just in India but select extreme music artists and bands from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal posses a massive element of uniqueness that separate them from those in the West in terms of lyrical content and styles of rendering music though hugely influenced by the initiators of the subculture from Europe and the Americas.
Promoters and gig organisers here have successfully held metal festivals edition after edition due to a growing fanbase.
Tell us about the other sounds that you've been listening to. Tell us about your top indie acts to follow in 2020 - from India, and from around the world.
Time and again, I do explore psychedelic rock bands from the past like Hawkwind, Uriah Heep and the likes.
I do listen to a lot of international electronic artists like Robert Koch, John Maus, Amon Tobin, Aphex Twin, Daedalus, CHVRCHES, early Tame Impala, a lot of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and world music like Tinariwen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Fatoumata Diawara.
When it comes to the Indian indie space, it never has been a better time than before. I was ecstatic to hear the news that Chennai's (my town) TheF16s to be on the SXSW 2020 selection.
I have been personally following their progress since the early days, and having played at festivals and gigs that I have had a role in organising, it's a great feeling.
There is exemplary calibre coming out of India today and putting out consistent performances in the nation like Skrat as well as going global like Oorka, Pulpy Shilpy, Lifafa, Peter Cat Recording Company.
We also have powerful social and political voices and rhythm in the music of Ofro and rapper Arivu, music producer Tenma with The Casteless Collective as well as The Swadeshi movement. The revolution is real.
Do you keep in touch with Nima Lavafpour and NAFiR? Give us a sense of how it felt at the screenings of your films - at Kolkata, in Indonesia, Korea or anywhere else? How does it feel to gain that manner of recognition, at international festivals?
Nima is a good friend and we are connected spiritually. He does talk to me from Iran, his home. We wanted to screen Nafir there however shelved plans it would be too much of a risk with the current political situation.
Extreme Nation had a red carpet welcome and three screenings at the Jecheon International Film Festival, South Korea in August 2019. It was with an amazing response both from film and music lovers as well as academics.
The warmth and hospitality was amazing and they are crazy about music films! International recognition in handful amounts for an underground film is an excellent confidence-provider and encouraging curiosity-arouser closer to shores.
What does it take for 'a non-conforming artistically debauch A&R' to make it in the industry? (We found this on an online profile!)
Ha ha ha! Crazy question that! However on a serious note, once an A&R, always an A&R. It's a matter of knowing. And when you become non-conforming and artistically debauch with stories and talent around you, it simply paves the path to new sounds to discerning audiences.
Point is to work both sides of the candle, during the day with the label amongst music executives, and the nights at recording studios or meeting producers, visiting and digging live spaces. That is where you find of next batch of talent at root level.
Tell us a little about the challenges, and the difficult times, in your personal journey - from discovering new talent, music and bands to crowdsourcing funds for films. What's the most exciting thing about what you do?
I love doing what I do - explore sounds, images, people and spaces to engage with them in artistically musical landscapes. Hence challenges like - creating a new space for musicians or treating an album release a particular way for audiences or devicing of fresh ways to engage cinema and subcultures - is more of a pleasure.
Crowdsourcing was intense but extremely satisfying once you get to reach and exceed targets for your film funding. I became a father the same time. So yes, it was a unique experience.
The most exciting thing for me would be carving the initial stepping stones towards commencing a new project that invariably opens up new dimensions.
It gives you a thrill that's so enriching for your soul & life force. Just like my next subculture film on reggae sound system led by Selekta / RJ / music producer Dakta Dub, straight out of Hyderabad.
Extreme Nation will be screened on Friday, 22 November 2019 at 6.30 pm at The Gallery @ InKo Centre. The screening will be followed by an interaction with the filmmaker. Strictly for ages 18 & above. Entry free. Limited seats.