Kashgar – Interview
The metal world is at the same time very small, local, and global, international. Keep this in mind when following me on a journey from the USA to Kyrgyzstan and the band Kashgar via Helsinki, Finland. A few years back an international black metal crowd had gathered at the glorious, now perished Black Flames of Blasphemy festival in Helsinki. Among them was Blauth,vocalist of Kyrgyz band Kashgar who originally hails from the US of A. Always intrigued by fellow metal travelers and metal from far corners of the world, this spring I finally sent my questions to Central Asia to find out more about Kashgar and the Kyrgyz metal scene.
The Metal Phenomenon: Could you introduce yourself and your role in the band shortly?
Blauth: I go by the handle of Blauth. My roots in metal extend back thirty years, when I first discovered Iron Maiden's 'Somewhere In Time', and stretch to the present time, where I front Kyrgyzstan's only active extreme metal group, Kashgar. For this incarnation, I am the vocalist, and was responsible for writing most of the percussion and conducting the music on the album.
TMP: Could you tell me a bit about the history and the development of the band?
B: The band started in December 2014, after I moved to Kyrgyzstan. At that time, there were some hard rock and metal cover acts comprised of some seriously talented musicians, but who refused to play anything but Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Nazareth and Black Sabbath covers. I complained to one of the musicians I knew, Ars, and he told me that I should do something about it. I was in my cups, and told him that I would, and that became the seed of the band. He introduced me to Warg, and we formed the core of the band. Over the course of a year we wrote and began performing our own tracks, eventually completing the album in early January 2016. At that time we had various session musicians, but the core remained and remains the same. We were fairly inactive in 2016 other than some shows and releasing the album, but seem to be slowly coming out of a torpor now.
TMP: What does Kashgar mean?
B: Kashgar is an isolated river valley which has its roots in Tajikistan, and winds its way through the Pamir mountains of Kyrgyzstan down to the deserts of Xinjiang in China. It's a fascinating area, and is populated mostly with isolated nomads and creatures which are endangered elsewhere: snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep, ibex, wolves.
TMP: What is the core, the essence of Kashgar?
B: The spirit of Central Asian shamanistic culture, forced through the filter of late 80s / early 90s death metal.
TMP: Where do you draw inspiration from?
B: For Kashgar? Kyrgyz myths and fairy tales, history, nature, as well as classic metal and punk: influences include Kreator, Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost, Obituary, Darkthrone, Repulsion, The Birthday Party, Sadistik Exekution, Sepultura, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Beherit, Necromantia, Ministry, AC/DC, Mercyful Fate, Danzig's various bands, Gehenna, The Stooges, Carcass, Incantation, Siouxsie, the Exploited, Discharge, Bathory, Emperor, Voivod, Pestilence, Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, you get the idea .
For life? just about the same, only I don't limit it to Kyrgyz myths, history and nature . . .
TMP: Kashgar released its first album – what do you want listeners to experience?
B: Excitement. Thrill. The charge that I used to get when plopping on a new Coroner album in the 80s! I should add that the good fellows at Manifest of Hate Creations in Germany released it on vinyl, and we really appreciate that.
TMP: What was the idea, the inspiration behind the album and its artwork?
B: In matching the themes of the album of Kyrgyz mysticism and myths, we wanted the audience to feel connected to Kyrgyz history. Thus I had my mother render sketches of petroglyphs that Ars had photographed in a very isolated spot in Naryn for the cover. For the back cover, Ars had a sketch made of a photograph he snapped of a horse's skull on a post that he arranged at something like 5,000m (my apologies to Ars if I'm getting the details wrong). We wanted the artwork to convey the feeling of the album's lyrics . . . those of the Tengri shamanistic legends of this mysterious country. On the lyrics sheet, I made a bunch of sketches based on Tengri religious symbols and totems.
TMP: You have played your first live shows now - how did that go and what can be expected from your shows?
B: We've been playing live for two years now, and have done several international shows in Russia and Kazakhstan, but we mostly play at a couple of local rock bars (obligatory nods to Tsepplin and Metro pub). If you're going to bother to play a show, you might as well make it interesting. I kind of like the punk rock ethos of not having too many props, but giving the crowd a lot of excitement and getting them involved. I try and channel Iggy Pop, Blag Jesus and Siouxsie Sioux when I'm up there . . . the other guys seem to get into it as well, although I can't really speak for them. I knocked the tooth out of a horse's skull by driving it into some kid's head a few shows back in Almaty.
TMP: How are live shows in Kyrgyzstan in general?
B: Not particularly exciting. The crowds are small. There are a few die-hards, but overall we mostly get curious looks from the crowd. We rarely expect over forty people. In Kazakhstan we get much more involved audiences of 250 or so people, thanks to the efforts of Zarraza, who are currently pushing to revive the scene there. Ars is pushing to put together some sort of metal show here in May that he's hoping will draw up to 500 people . . .
TMP: Often when bands come from unusual places, they are reduced merely to the exoticism of their origins. Has that happened to Kashgar? How do you deal with or avoid that?
B: I hope not. We have purposefully avoided the trap of becoming too musically "folky" like some bands. Our sound doesn't necessarily conjure strictly Kyrgyz ideas, but hopefully more straight early 90s metal. I guess its hard to avoid. It's kind of a vicious cycle, because there are so many bands these days and one of the only ways to differentiate oneself before an audience is by being from someplace strange. Once the listener gives us a chance as a differentiated band, then they can discover that the music speaks for itself and then enjoy it for what it is - excellent metal that stands on its own and grabs you by the scruff of the neck.
Kashgar live (Photo by Lera Pogudina)
TMP: You yourself are not originally from Kyrgyzstan – could share a bit on how you have experienced its metal scene.
B: It's pretty sleepy here. Warg tells me that there was an active scene back in the 90s, but now we pretty much are the metal scene. There is a bigger metal core / screamo scene here, but that's hardly metal. We often have to perform with those kinds of acts. I tend to sink into a bottle of vodka at those times . . .
The scene as a whole is pretty dead, but very intimate. The few fans of metal really struggle to get stuff from the outside world. Of course, due to the internet, there are a few people (particularly teenagers) who have dived into extreme metal. Usually, these kids can't afford to go to shows or buy instruments, but you do see them around with bootleg shirts that they scraped up from somewhere. On the other hand, the old Soviet system did encourage the development of music conservatories, and so oddly enough there are quite a few really talented musicians here in the classical, jazz and even rock genres. The musical pool here is really deep, considering that Kyrgyzstan has a relatively low population for Asia. I used to live in Vietnam, and the musical pool of musicians for western music was surprisingly wanting in comparison.
TMP: What would be your tips should a metal head be travelling to Kyrgyzstan?
B: Come! It's an amazing place for trekking and adventure sports. If you come, you can literally live out your Blashyrkh fantasies. Most of the country is mountains, five which rise up over 7,000m! You can stay in a yurt, do horse trekking, go hunting with eagles . . . the place is fascinating. It can be expensive to get to some of the more remote corners that I have mentioned, but the effort is well worth it. Don't forget to always bring your heaviest clothes, because even if it's a 40 degree day in the capital, you can get snowstorms in August just forty minutes out of downtown.
TMP: What are Kashgar’s future plans?
B: We're trying to work that out. We are kicking around ideas for some new tracks, one of which we performed live recently in Almaty. We have a new guitarist named Iliya who is into some major Gorgoroth worship, so perhaps our music will be influenced more by 2nd wave black metal. There was supposed to be a video for our Albarsty track, but the videographer disappeared somewhere on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and I guess got hung up filming sheep or the Taliban or something.
Many thanks for the interview - those of us isolated in these far-flung corners of the world appreciate it. Honor to the Metal Phenomenon and Offense Zine! (Editor's note: Offense Zine is another (print) publication I am writing for. More news on that to follow this spring.)