Ash Koosha and the Life of the Artist in Exile

he best art arises during periods of political instability. That’s not a rule, but decades of upheaval in nations around the world have proven it to be at least partially true. From civil rights protest songs of the 1960s to Pussy Riot in Putin’s regime, music has allowed regular people to push back against the forces that would otherwise limit them. Oppression breeds blowback; contention spawns creativity.

It’s surprising, then, that Ash Koosha’s music is so devoid of political context. The electronic and visual artist has a backstory that make his art ripe for rebelliousness. He was born in Iran, where mainstream music must be authorized by the government. He studied classical composition at the Tehran Conservatory of Music, but he played in an underground rock band that landed him a brief stint in prison after a show got out of hand. He fled to London shortly thereafter, where he’s currently living in exile. He was scheduled to perform in New York and Los Angeles earlier this year, but visa troubles prevented him from doing so.

Ash Koosha has immersed himself in London’s vibrant electronic scene since he’s been living there. He operates on the genre’s fringes, approaching music from a high-minded perspective influenced by his formal education. It aims to be appreciated, not just to get bodies moving (although at times it does that, too).

His latest album, I AKA I, is an experimental journey through painstakingly orchestrated soundscapes. He’s crafted beats from unexpected places, manipulating waveforms of field recordings like a 19th century surgeon poking around in new places for the first time. It’s a visual album, but it’s far removed from the straightforward theatrics of projects likeLemonade. It was developed specifically to be experienced in virtual reality, with sound meshing indistinguishably into fully immersive visuals. That’s the way he experiences the world as a sufferer (the wrong word for such an interesting phenomenon) of synesthesia, and he utilizes the right tools to get everyone on his same level.

Ash Koosha could be making protest songs that dwell on the past. Instead, he just makes visionary art using the technology of the future. For young people living in this current global environment, perhaps that’s more revolutionary than anything.

Below, he talks about London, Iran, and the future of virtual reality as a tool for creating electronic music in those places and beyond.

Alex Oka