Interview | Zivon Gurung

Nepal Deathfest, the biggest, two-day celebration of extreme metal in the southern frontiers of the Himalayas, will welcome 2016, with the legendary German juggernaut, Fleshcrawl headlining. In the roster are the Japanese noise/grind veteran duo Sete Star Sept, Nervo Chaos (Brazil), Meat Train (UK), Rip Off (India), and Dying Out Flame, Undefined Human, Nihility, Rog, Childwife, Asphyxiate, Laash, Defleshed, Corpse Sick, and Grenade from Nepal. With less than two months left for the annihilation, we catch up with Zivon Gurung, one of the organizers of the festival, and also, the founder of Brutal Pokhara, an online webzine based in Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. It is an honor for us to present this interview, where we talk about the festival, the local scene, and more.
How was the idea of Nepal Deathfest (NDF) conceived, and how did it develop to its current guise? Who are the main persons behind the festival?

I have been an extreme music enthusiast for a large portion of my life. Been in a band, bought and traded music, wrote for webzines and magazines, interacted with musicians from all across the globe, did many shows, but still, to do a fest dedicated only to the extreme form of music in Nepal was always on my mind. The idea was always there and it was only a matter of time that it would come out of the shell.

Also, to do a show like this I knew I needed committed people who equally love and value this extreme art as much as I do. Vishal of Extreme Underground Metal Society Nepal (EUMSN) was one such person that I found who had this unmatched love for grindcore and old-school death metal or extreme metal in general, and it was so easy to connect with him instantly. I shared the idea with him and he was ready in no time, and that is how Nepal Deathfest was born.

As soon as we announced the first NDF, the response was more than we could actually handle. The bands wanting to play the fest exceeded our expectations, and even before the first edition was complete, we knew the next one had to be a two day fest. It was a big and a tough decision but we knew we had to do this, and we did it. NDF 2015 was something people who attended, still and will always talk about. Having Defiled play our fest was an absolute honor and I personally think that they set a benchmark with their performance for touring death metal bands that is so hard to beat.

The success of the fest was a big boost for us and gave us lots of confidence. Right after the successful NDF 2015, we instantly began working for NDF 2016, and by this time Aabeg (Massacre Events) (frontman of Dying Out Flame) was also very much involved with us, and it was great to have him because he knows his shit. Now we are only looking to give everyone a good two day event and we are prepared for it. 
The festival since its initiation has also been featuring non-death metal bands, especially grindcore, and now sludge. Why the flexibility?

Grindcore is probably the filthiest extreme genre of music and we always have place for that sort of thing in our fest. Like I mentioned, the fest is dedicated to all extreme form of music and not just death metal in particular. The decision to do a two day event was also fundamentally based on our intention to cover all the diverse outline of extreme music. Same is with sludge. We are open to genres as long as we find them offensive, noisy, heavy and dangerous.

You are also doing a pre-Nepal Deathfest gig in Pokhara that is mainly comprised of grind bands. Tell us something about that gig.

Yes, the pre-gig will happen on January 20. Two bands playing at NDF, Meat Train and Rip Off, are also playing alongside Pisakas (India) and Riot. Few other bands will also be added later. It’s just a small warm up gig to celebrate NDF.

What is your opinion about the underground scene of Nepal right now? Until in 2010, when the news of Satyricon coming to Nepal was there, we were pretty skeptic if a foreign metal band would ever tour the country. But then, Vader came in 2011, followed by Napalm Death, and then followed by a horde of other great metal bands, especially death metal. How did this change happen in your opinion?

Hmm… the scene is evolving just like it was evolving 10 or 15 years ago. I guess this is the theory of underground, non-commercial music everywhere in the world. We evolve and evolve but never nurture to a level of pop culture but that’s the beauty of it. No complains.

The Satyricon show getting cancelled wasn’t really going to help the skepticism either, was it? But let me just add a little info here, which I think many are not aware of, on behalf of the guys who were supposed to do that show. The Satyricon show was really going to happen up until the main sponsors shockingly pulled out or whatever leaving the organizers in disarray and eventually cancellation of the event, but that is a history now and we already have some great bands travelling the nation already. All thanks to the brave organizers who are capable of paying such huge amounts to bring big bands here.

As for what actually brought the change, I think there are several elements influencing it and out of many I think one very important factor is the internet which has played a significant role here. Every band wants to tour new places for shows and Nepal is no exception. Communication has become easier. It is easy to get in touch with the booking agencies and the bands, and also, nowadays though small in numbers, people are actually willing to pay some extra bucks to see quality bands. Everybody wants changes.
Defiled (Japan) headlining Nepal Deathfest in 2015. Photo taken from NDF Facebook page
What is the best thing happening in the local scene right now? And what is the worst?

You do not see people sitting on the floor during shows these days. Haha! Many new in the scene are not aware of this but this habit was a plague when we first started which I absolutely despised. Thankfully it is extremely rare these days.

Nepal is going through a golden era as far as foreign bands touring the country is concerned. The bands which we, as fans, thought we would never ever be able to see live are actually playing here right in front of us. Local bands have improved a lot technically on stage and the studio production is better compared to earlier days. These are definitely the positives.

But at the same time, though musically and technically we have grown a little, we are really on a downhill as far as passion, soul and blood for the music are concerned. Maybe bands expect too much out of playing metal which is really never going to happen. Same goes for the listeners and concert attendees too, and this is not a very happy sight if you are metal(ly) sensitive person.

Specially, regarding death metal, what things do you think helped in the rise of death metal as a popular extreme metal genre in the Nepali underground?

The foundation of the Nepali underground, band wise, was laid by UgraKarma and then many followed their trail looking up to them which was obvious. We had countless solid bands, which mostly existed for shorter time, making the death metal scene stronger. I would also like to add Wakk Thuu here because grindcore is something you can associate with death metal one way or the another. They completely turned the scene, which was rapidly stating to incline towards more modern forms of metal, into extreme and dangerous again. Many new kids are into grind these days.

We hear a lot of people and bands praising and longing to play in Nepal, and in front of its crazy death and grind crowd, which definitely tells a lot about our death metal and grind scene. Good stuff!

We are fortunate to have bands like UgraKarma, Binaash and Dying out Flame still active and playing some great death metal.

Apart from the Kathmandu valley, underground scenes are growing in other cities and towns like Pokhara, Hetauda, Dharan, etc. What is your thought about that? Any good bands you'd like to name from these places?

It is really great to see metal expanding its boundaries. We have been doing shows in Pokhara for the last 6-7 years and the response so far is great. Hetauda and Dharan of late have also joined the rank which gives you a great hope. There are some cool guys/promoters in both the cities and we are constantly talking about bands and the scenes and help each other with shows and all.

I strongly recommend people to check out Undefined Human, Crude Fixation and Error.

What keeps Nepali bands from trying out internationally (at international record labels)?

Getting attention of a good label is not that easy but the casual approach and the extreme dearth of ambition in bands are also taking them nowhere. So much so the bands do not even bother to enter studio for demos left alone coming out with albums and EPs. We have bands here that have been playing for years, yet they do not have one demo.  How can we expect them to go international?

The bands here really, really need to work hard on their PR and improve their music quality, their lyrics (which generally are very poorly written), the thing that they post on social media, and things like that. Right now, apart from a couple of bands, other bands are easily forgettable. Sad but true!

We can sum it up by saying that the bands need to do away with the easygoing approach and at least try to be little serious about shifting their gears if they want to achieve something out of their band. Right now it seems that their only ambition is to have fun, get some likes on Facebook, post their stage photos and start to believe they are a legend material right after their second gig.

Back to the topic of Deathfest, do you think that the ongoing political turmoil and humanitarian crisis in this country, with no signs of ceasing, have chances to affect the festival in any way?

Of course, it is going to affect one way or another. We can only hope the situation does not get any worse than what is going on right now. But we are determined to make it happen. Let’s just hope for the best!

Any specific memory that of yours during the past NDFs?

Loads of things happen when you are trying to put up an event. Apart from all the shit that happens, the time we get to spend with bands especially from abroad are always fun. Riding Tuk Tuk and rickshaw on the bumpy roads with Defiled was fun. It was nothing short of an adventure for them. Haha! I will always remember that.

Any one band that you would love to bring in the coming years? Also, how do you see the festival in the next few years?

Nunslaughter was one of my personal top choice for NDF 2017 but due to the unfortunate death of Jim. I am not sure if it is going to happen anytime soon. We have plenty of bands shortlisted for 2017. I would love seeing bands like Gorguts, Vital Remains, Unholy  Grave, or Birdflesh, etc. play here next year.

As for the fest, we have good reviews coming from all the places. The interest from the bands and booking agencies has left us surprised. We just want to build on all these positives and come even stronger in next installments.

Anything on the upcoming Deathfest you want to add?

Yes of course. Also we have our stages dedicated to two fine death metal drummers that we lost this year. Day 1 stage will be called Martin Kearns stage and Day 2 stage will be called Jim Konya stage. It is just a small tribute.

Also, Melvi, who are our official merch vendors are coming out with the official Fleshcrawl, Sete Star Sept and Meat Train shirts. Do buy them!

Thank you very much! Any last words to end this interview?

NDF 2016 is just around the corner. The country is facing a tough time. But we, along with all the bands, are very much looking forward to give you all a good show. So join us on these two days of epic extreme metal celebration. You do not wanna miss it!

The festival will be held on January 22-23. Check out the official Nepal Deathfest Facebook page for more updates.