Few artists can say they’re creating something entirely new and unique, but for musician and producer Danny Asadi – pioneer of Persian trap music – it’s all he’s ever done.
Growing up in Ohio listening to the contemporary electronic and hip-hop of the average US teenager and also his father’s music brought back from Iran, he innovatively modernises and weaves Persian folk rhythms and melodies together with elements of trap, EDM and hip-hop; mastering traditional Iranian instruments like the setar as well as contemporary production and drum pads for high-octane, blistering live performances. Take his Red Bull 60 Second Solo, artfully bouncing between 21st century tech and a stringed setar that’s been used since the 15th century, or even earlier.
A cinematic, East-meets-West thread runs through Asadi’s stunning visuals too, locating ultra-modern kit in ancient, beautiful landscapes alongside traditional folk instruments; a striking metaphor for his sound and entire ethos.
Identity is at the heart of this all for Asadi, describing himself – American born but with Iranian heritage – as someone that’s “in-between”, not quite of the East and not quite of the West. With Persian Trap, he isn’t just acknowledging this feeling, but embracing and harnessing it to create something totally fresh.
A Middle Eastern approach to electronic music
“It’s a style I developed when I was around 15 or 16 years old – I started playing Persian instruments and also vibing with trap music, that’s Persian Trap at its core,” Asadi explains of the sound’s origins, and combining the traditional and modern from the start of his musical journey. “It’s a more cinematic, ethnic Middle Eastern-influenced approach to electronic and pop music.
“I was amazed by the overall technology and futuristic side of music, where you could just play beautiful instruments from anywhere in the world to synths to anything, all on your computer. I loved that idea. And drum machines, triggering anything you want. At the same time, I was exposed to traditional Persian folk music and my dad came back from Iran with a Persian setar – the first Persian instrument I learned to play.”
“I knew it was possible.”
Soon he was using other Persian instruments and his first drum machine and figuring out how these elements – so seemingly different – could be used to play live. “I just loved the idea that instead of DJing I’d play everything live.
“People straight up told me it was too niche and not enough people would be into it. Or that it was almost impossible to play electronic music live – at the time there were no acts like Disclosure, it was all DJing at the time – so people just didn't see it. But I knew it was possible.”
Bringing Persian culture West side
Asadi says he was inspired by an eclectic mix of contemporary elements, as well as the Iranian influences, when developing Persian Trap: “I loved the large-scale grand elements of say Swedish House Mafia, I loved the dirty analogue, minimal, almost nostalgic electronic elements of Pretty Lights, on the EDM side I freaking loved the smooth bass-heavy trap elements of Baauer.
“My overall goal is to bring Persian culture and art, general Middle Eastern culture, West side. I think there was a time when people weren’t enthused to learn about Middle Eastern music or melodies and compositions, but now more than ever they're ready.”
“There are a lot of elements in traditional Persian music that are unheard of in mainstream music.”
“There are a lot of elements in traditional Persian music dating back centuries that are unheard of in mainstream music, specifically melodies,” Asadi explains. “In Persian music, 90 percent of it is harmonic minor, but the way those notes are articulated is a lot different than, say, in the US. There’s a way of playing violin for example that’s distinct to Persians – the way they play violin is so different to the way Americans play it. Just the way melodies are hit.”
He speaks from real on-the-ground experience too, having travelled to Iran and experiencing pivotal musical moments in his life, learning Persian setar from a teacher there.
“Persians have their own way of doing things that’s beautiful.”
“There was this block that was just music stores, everything you could possibly want,” Asadi remembers, “There were just walls and walls of Persian instruments... I wanted to go every day. It was inspiring.
“I saw two sides of Iran there. The modern Iranian people just like me – they’ve got iPhones and listen to rap – and I also saw the tribal side, outside of town. I think about it all the time, it’s so magical. I just love people who are themselves and embrace themselves. Persians have their own way of doing things that’s beautiful, and I want to bring that beauty into modern electronic and pop music.”
“Their music is crazy, the melodies they hit are mesmerising.”
At Persian Trap’s core are the melodies not just from Iran in general, but a very specific region in the country’s west. Despite starting out listening to the music played by his dad, Asadi soon went off on his own tangents, becoming “Obsessed” with music made in the breathtakingly beautiful, mountainous Lorestan Province in western Iran, particularly by the Bakhtiari people.
“They’re a very isolated tribe that aren't really talked about, even by other Persians, they’re so their own world,” he explains, describing the “Brutal trek” of this nomadic community, their robes and self-governing ways. “I just love their music. Its music is crazy, the melodies they hit are mesmerising.”
Some of Asadi’s tracks are specifically crafted in the Bakhtiari style, his spin on their traditional sound heard on songs like ‘Alleviate’, ‘Paradise People’, ‘Kingdom of the Lors’, and ‘The Villager’. “I’m fascinated with the idea of finding the most out there, isolated stuff,” he says, “completely nothing to do with modern music, then bringing it together and showing the world that music’s music.”
Collaboration is key
While the Persian Trap sound is something being pioneered by Asadi himself, he says what he does is just one part of a wider blossoming of contemporary Middle Eastern creativity in the west. He describes visual artists for example, like Jason Seife, taking the traditional iconography of the Persian rug and locating it on an Nike Airforce One, or others fusing Iranian patterns with all-American objects like basketballs.
“Middle Easterners’ art is going to be heard”
When it comes to the progression of Persian Trap, Asadi so far has focussed on the instrumental, marrying up traditional melodies with contemporary beats, next he wants to layer up vocalists and rappers over his unique sound, “The right rappers for that Persian influence, to just tastefully bring it in.” he explains. “English lyrics but Persian instrumentation, an eclectic foundation. That’s my goal.
“I feel that there’s this energy that’s about to come, people are finally ready to accept Middle Eastern influence in America. In this decade, Middle Easterners’ art is going to be heard. And it’s going to flourish.”